this article originally appeared on The Roar
Many would have never heard of a TUE until last week, other than the one that brings you closer to FRI, but in the past seven days or so ‘Therapeutic Use Exemption’ has entered the lexicon of cycling fans the world over.
Reaction to the news that Sky applied for and received an exemption for glucorticosteroids on Chris Froome’s behalf just before the Tour du Romandie back in late April has been mixed on cycling websites and forums.
When Australia’s Tiffany Cromwell won the 2013 Omloop Het Nieuwsblad classic she had every right to be delighted – and one reason not to be. She’d just cemented her name on the European scene with what was arguably the biggest win to date in her career, trouncing Megan Gruanier of Rabobank in the sprint to seal a brilliant victory.
The win brought her the spotlight her talent deserved and gained her a reputation for being a no nonsense rider who could mix it with the best in the sport. Surely, a win like that will have brought in a nice little pot in prize money? Well, not quite.
This article originally appeared in PezCycling News.
Let’s cut to the chase. Tinkoff-Saxo’s Michael Rogers is a divisive figure and many would have watched the finale of yesterday’s Stage 11 of the 2014 Giro d’Italia in a slightly perplexed state, unsure whether or not to cheer on the Australian’s undoubtedly impressive solo break that culminated in a handsome victory.
Much of the blame for that uncertainty lies in large measure with the UCI, given that of the three incidents involving Rogers that have led people, rightly or wrongly, to suspect that the rider in question may have knowingly doped in the past, the world’s governing body has been directly at fault in two.
The first of these ‘incidents’ came in May 2013, when the French sports newspaper L’Equipe published a list that had been leaked from the UCI that was laughingly labeled ‘secret’, which contained the name of 40 riders, ranking them according to the level of suspicion with regards to doping.
Rogers warranted a ‘7’ on the scale, which was defined him as having supplied values that provided “overwhelming evidence of some kind of doping, due to recurring anomalies, enormous variations in parameters, and even the identification of doping products or methods”.
Was there any action taken as a result of this list? None. Not by the UCI, nor the World Anti-Doping Authority (WADA), nor by any team or rider in the form of litigation against the UCI or L’Equipe.
Everyone kept mum, and it was business as usual the very next day. Had the list been leaked to try to ensure a clean Tour de France that year? Was it an attempt to name and shame riders into cleanliness? Why were no blood values ever released to support the claims made? Why did not one single rider ever speak about the list?
Too many questions, and absolutely zero answers. It was a screw up by the UCI of rather mammoth proportions, and it left the cycling public more confused than ever as to the state of their beloved sport whilst simultaneously guaranteeing a smudged question mark over any remarkable performance by any of the riders high up on the list.
As in yesterday, as with Rogers.
Next cock-up for the UCI where Rogers was concerned came when he tested positive for Clenbuterol on the 20th of October, 2013 at the Japan Cup, after having been in China previously. We all know about this little cherry-bomb of a drug and China and there’s little need to go over that too much.
However, it’s worth noting the UCI’s inconsistency in dealing with Clenbuterol cases. Alberto Contador and WADA dragged the sport through the mud for months before he was finally banned then cleared then banned then stripped of his titles won during the period when he was riding but shouldn’t have been and yes, it is all very confusing.
Rogers and other riders who returned positives after racing in China have been cleared whereas Chinese rider Fuy Li, formerly of Radioshack, was suspended for 2 years for a positive test for Clenbuterol.
In the case of Rogers, it seemed that there would be little to gain from taking minute amounts of the drug and most felt that he had indeed ingested contaminated meat. However, having said that, the UCI must decide what level of Clenbuterol deserves a positive ranking, and thereby apply the full sanctions to anyone over that limit.
The riders too must take full responsibility for the food they eat, and any rider with any trace of Clenbuterol below any limit set by the UCI should automatically be banded from racing for one year. This will send out a clear message that the ‘I didn’t know what I was taking’ defence is unsupportable in the current climate.
The fans deserve more. They deserve to know exactly what is going on and the UCI must establish a rule of consistency to bring back the trust of the public with regards to doping in our sport.
This needs to be done because I am sure that many of you out there were in a similar boat to myself, watching something on the road into Savona that left you uneasy and unsure of how to react. I also apologise for taking up perfectly good column space with 700 words on doping, but having read several articles on the stage this morning it was obvious that there was yet again a glossing over of what is the most pressing issue that our sport faces.
All this was brought about by a victory by a man on a bike – something that should be so uniting and beautiful, and yet, thanks to the incompetency that has gripped the UCI for far too long, was not much short of utterly confusing. Rogers though also shares some blame for the doubts, as he is yet another rider who worked with the infamous Dr. Ferrari in his career, between 2005 and 2006.
“It was a mistake,” he said at the time, hand-winding the gramophone upon which that old record was playing.
What else happened? Ah yes, Cadel Evans was again so comfortable that he may as well be racing in his slippers and wearing a smoking jacket. He will win this Giro, if his luck holds out, and if you can find a more deserving winner of a Grand Tour in the past few years, I’d like to know his name.
Evans is all gumption and very little style, but his aggressive tenacity is hugely impressive. All those years I thought he was the most boring man in the room, he was probably just the cleanest…
Rogers may well owe Evans and BMC a pint too for his win. Evans is not a sentimental man but it looked for all the world like he sent his teammate to the head of the race in those final 3km to slow down the chasers that fancied their chances of reeling Rogers in.
In the end though, the Australian veteran won, and, in the end, I’m still not sure what to make of it all.
Last year’s Giro d’Italia started with a star-studded field, with the 2012 Tour de France winner Bradley Wiggins of Team Sky rolling up to the start alongside the eventual winner, Vincenzo Nibali of Italy.
Mark Cavendish took five stages and the Points Classification, becoming only the fifth rider to win the competition on all three Grand Tours. Wiggins limped out of the race after Stage 10, complaining of a chest infection, though anyone who witnessed any of his rides could see that he was suffering from more than just that.
this article originally appeared on The Roar
America leads the way in many spheres, from obesity to arms stockpiles, jacked-up baseball players to serial killers, and it has just gone and set another benchmark that the (sporting) world should sit up and take notice of – or rather, its cycling federation has.
Or at least I thought it had. Then I dug deeper and found that, yet again, we have a situation of the wrong people trying to make the right noises whilst doing very little whatsoever.
Sound familiar? A little like the UCI? Well after all, this is a cycling federation we are talking about…
One of the great oversights in the struggles and tussles that have gone on within the sport of cycling in regards to doping over the previous few years has been that, in general, the people who care about the direction that the sport is headed in and want it to face up to its dark and depressing past have felt that their voices have been marginalized, ignored and, at times, forcibly silenced.
For years world cycling’s governing body and its presidents, and infamously its most high profile rider, either looked the other way when anyone voiced concerns or suspicions of banned drug usage or went out of their way to ridicule and bully the doubters and accusers to the point where they were left isolated from the sport they’d grown up with.
We all know the Betsy Andreu story, the wife of former pro Frankie Andreu whom Lance Armstrong called “a crazy bitch” (but not fat, you’ll remember) as he duked it out with her over her allegations that he used several banned substances.
Former World and Olympic champion Nicole Cooke retired at the age of 29, explaining in her heartfelt letter that she was leaving a sport that was infected by cheats, stating that “I have been robbed by drug cheats.”
Graeme Obree, former world hour record holder, was forced to leave the first and only top-level European pro team he signed a contract with within weeks of joining them after he refused to dope, and when he made that news public he too was shunned by those in charge (the only people, in fact, with the power to have started to implement change in the drug culture of pro cycling).
These are three of the most famous examples of the marginalised, but for every Graeme, Betsy or Nicole there are hundreds if not thousands of clean riding individuals who have been left out in the wastelands by the cycling authorities’ refusal to allow their voices to be heard. Disenchanted, many, like Nicole, have walked away from competitive cycling.
And so I awoke to read that USA Cycling has just set a precedent that every cycling authority in the world can follow, if it has the gumption and the wherewithal to do so. And if they do and if the information gleaned is acted upon properly then perhaps, just perhaps, those who have borne witness to the dark practices that have for so long infested this sport will be heard, leading to getting more of the cheats out and the ‘good guys’ back in.
The letter, in full, reads:
Recently, UCI President Brian Cookson announced the formation of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) to investigate historic doping in cycling and allegations that the UCI has been involved in previous wrongdoing. As we all know, doping is not limited to the sport of cycling, but cycling is among the most aggressive sports in developing new levels of drug testing, and the new leadership of the UCI recognizes that we, as a sport, can only prepare for a better future by learning from the past.
The CIRC is a vital part of the process to bring integrity to every level of cycling, but this important commission can only work if the cycling world wants it to. Therefore, I am appealing to any USA Cycling members to come forward with any information that can assist the CIRC in its inquiry. This is your opportunity to take responsibility for our sport and help it become a sport in which we can have the utmost trust and confidence.
Below are important links to help you learn more about the role of the CIRC as well as an email address to contact the commission with any information you may have that will aid their investigation. I strongly encourage your full cooperation for the betterment of cycling.
As always, please feel free to contact us directly with any questions you may have about this process.
CEO & President, USA Cycling
Chair, USA Cycling Board of Directors
We, the cycling public, should push for this exact same appeal to be made in Australia, the UK, Italy, France, indeed anywhere where competitive cycling exists.
But… then I remembered the name Steve Johnson, and started to check him out online. Then it started coming back to me. Johnson has ties to Thom Weisel, longtime Armstrong supporter, and to Armstrong himself, and to other shady characters who litter the American cycling landscape such as Jim Ochowicz.
I found this from the SF Weekly from September 2005, which succinctly sums it all up:
Johnson, the widely quoted USA Cycling official, appears to suffer from a serious conflict of interest between his organization’s role as a doping cop and his personal, institutional, and financial ties to the diversified business world surrounding Lance Armstrong. Financier Weisel is Armstrong’s longtime patron, employer, investment manager, and friend. Weisel is also Johnson’s longtime patron and friend and the founder of a nonprofit entity that employs him.
And then there’s this little fact: Johnson essentially works for Armstrong. In addition to serving as chief operating officer of USA Cycling, Johnson is executive director of the USA Cycling Development Foundation, an affiliated nonprofit organization founded by Weisel, who serves as president of the board of directors, according to the foundation’s most recently available IRS returns, filed in 2003. According to the foundation’s current Web site, the board of directors now includes Lance Armstrong.
“This whole thing isn’t a big deal for Americans,” Reuters quoted Johnson as saying of Armstrong’s doping troubles last week.
Reviewing the excellent Wheelman by Reed Albergotti and Vanessa O’Connell on Red Kite Prayer, Padraig sums up my feeling on all this perfectly.
“It is my hope that Thom Weisel, Steve Johnson and Jim Ochowicz receive the scrutiny they deserve. When I think of the harm done to cycling by the doping of the last 20 years, guys like George Hincapie and Levi Leipheimer seem like small potatoes compared to the disservice done the sport by Weisel, Johnson and Ochowicz, and yet there’s no discussion of banning them from the sport. Justice is rarely just, huh?”
And yet here is the same Johnson, sending out his appeal that aims to “bring integrity to every level of cycling”, yet reminds us, like a teacher scalding a spoilt child, that “this important commission can only work if the cycling world wants it to.”
‘If we want it to?’ It’s what we’ve wanted all along, Steve. I can think of one way that you personally could help us to claw back some of that ‘integrity’ in an instant, and it will involve you putting a few treasured momentos in a box.
Sometimes you just have to step back and applause the bare-faced cheek of these guys. Quite spectacular.
by Dr. Conor McGrane
Brian Cookson seems to have delivered on his election promise to set up an independent commission to investigate the UCI’s actions during the doping crisis which included the Armstrong era. In Dick Marty, Peter Nicholson and Ulrich Haas he has appointed a heavy weight group of politicians, sports lawyers and even war crime investigators.
Interestingly the UCI is fully funding this commission, one of the reasons I believe the one proposed by Pat McQuaid fell was that he wanted WADA to part fund it.
There doesn’t seem to be any guarantee of amnesties or reduced bans for those who co-operate and I suspect we all have mixed feeling on this.
Over all though it looks a strong group with a wide ranging remit and a large amount of independence. They aim to report within a year and we should all look forward to this although I suspect many involved with the sport will do so with trepidation.
In parallel to this, other processes are ongoing.
The MPCC (of whom I am very proud Cycling Ireland was the first national federation to join) continues to examine the practices of medics involved in the sport. Not only do they look at WADA restricted drugs but they also look at the workings of other drugs. Recently they asked member doctors to stop prescribing the painkiller tramadol in competition. This is something that Sky’s doctor has said they used to do but have now stopped in competition and indeed was something I personally prescribed but have now stopped as well.
The honestly of Sky’s doctor on this issue was something I found refreshingly open and honest and something to be applauded.
It also opens Pandora’s Box on other drugs permitted under WADA but about which there are concerns.
Cortisone in its many forms remains a useful drug in treating inflammatory conditions but is also a drug which can be abused.
There is also a drug used to treat high blood pressure called telmisartan which has reputed fat burning properties. I have heard anecdotal evidence it is being used in pro cycling (and presumably other sports). It should have no place other than in treatment of high blood pressure and again is something which needs monitoring.
I suppose my point is again that outside of banned drugs there is a large grey area where drugs which have a useful role in treating illness are being used in healthy athletes with the aim of improving performance.
The fight against doping is not just about avoiding banned drugs but also about avoiding inappropriate and indeed unethical use of others.
If we want fair and open sport then we need doctors who are bound by ethics somewhat above and beyond that of simply avoiding the use of banned medications.
We have a long way to go but with the UCI making moves in the right direction, organisations like the MPCC bringing issues like the above out into the open and doctors in teams starting to speak out openly and honestly, I see genuine hope that we are starting to change the culture of pro cycling.
There is however no room at all for complacency…
By Shane Stokes
This week’s news that Brian Cookson will ensure that the UCI looks into the matter of a long-running appeal for compensation from the widow of a pro rider who died in a race in 2005 is encouraging, even if the final outcome is not yet certain.
The Italian Alessio Galletti competed for Lampre, Saeco and Domina Vacanze during his career, and was in the colours of the Naturino Team when he collapsed during the Subida al Naranco event. He suffered a heart attack and died, leaving behind his wife Consuelo, their nine-month-old baby Marcus and their-then unborn son Manuel.
The insurance company which had backed the team refused to pay out compensation, claiming that only accidents were covered and not death from natural causes. In 2007 the Italian riders’ association wrote to the UCI appealing for its help, pointing out that the governing body had signed a convention dealing with the insurance riders should have.
The UCI answered by saying its legal department was looking into the matter. However, according to the Italian Professional Cyclists Association (ACCPI), it then ignored all further correspondence and has done precisely nothing in the six years since.
After the ACCPI issued an open letter to the new UCI president Brian Cookson, he moved swiftly.
“Many thanks for your email and the information you have provided about the sad death of Alessio Galletti in 2005 and the impact on his family,” he replied the same day that letter was publicly released. “Professional riders are central to our wonderful sport of cycling so please be assured that I do take this very seriously indeed.
“I will make sure that the UCI investigates the details and we will get back to you with a more substantive response in due course.”
The final outcome to that will become apparent over time but the fast response and tone of his answer suggest that the UCI might finally be moving to resolve the matter. If so, it will add to other encouraging signs which have been seen since Cookson took over from former president Pat McQuaid at the end of September.
Others include the news that the Briton had a team of investigators on standby outside the UCI headquarters in Aigle and, minutes after his election, directed them to enter the building and to lock down computers, documents and any other information that could be of value in the planned Independent Commission investigation.
Reports suggested that a computer belonging to McQuaid was seized, although the Irishman contradicted this.
A second sign of decisive action was the decision to end the services of the UCI’s longtime lawyer, Philippe Verbiest, who had been part of both the McQuaid and earlier Hein Verbruggen presidencies. Also shown the door was UCI director general Christophe Hubschmid, who along with Verbiest had appeared to try to ensure McQuaid’s re-election.
Thirdly, Cookson came through on a number of election promises. At the end of October he published the salary he will draw from the UCI (340,000 Swiss Francs [approximately 275,000 euro/$379,000], and 110, 000 Swiss Francs less than he said McQuaid was receiving). He also confirmed an Independent Commission would be formed in consultation with WADA, with the purpose being a full investigation of the UCI, claims of wrongdoing by it and how it tackled doping in the sport.
At the same time, he and the UCI also pledged their support for the new women’s commission, headed by UCI vice president Tracey Gaudry, which has the goal of developing that area of the sport. That goal will include one hour highlights of the women’s World Cup races, to be distributed free of charge to broadcasters.
In addition to those measures, Cookson has confirmed that the UCI is working on setting up a new and apparently completely independent anti doping commission, thus separating the roles of policeman and promoter of the sport.
This measure is one which many feel is necessary for the credibility of cycling, and should lead to greater confidence in testing results.
So far so good, then. Cookson has been in office two months and has ticked off several of his pre-election promises.
Other goals such as reforming road cycling and developing a structure that increases long-term financial stability in the sport will take more time to tackle.
However Cookson told Bloomberg this month that he was opposed to the so-called World Series Cycling project which had been proposed by some as a way of introducing that financial stability.
He said he had concerns about the effects the planned new races could have on cycling’s traditional events; under the original proposal, some key races would be shortened, while other long-standing events could be reduced in status below those which would be introduced.
“The heritage of cycling is very important,” he was quoted as saying. “You could have, say, a race from Paris to Lyon but it wouldn’t be as exciting as Paris-Roubaix.”
It remains to be seen what measures will be adopted in the medium and long term.
There was however an area that some may have been curious about; while the World Series Cycling proposal had been waved away, Cookson said that the UCI was still speaking to a number of organisations, including BSkyB.
The company said in a statement that it “maintains an open mind about whether there’s an opportunity to extend its relationship with cycling as a broadcast partner.”
It is also a long term supporter of British Cycling and is the prime backer of Team Sky, two bodies which Cookson has had an association with. He was president of British Cycling from 1997 until earlier this year, and was also previously on the board of the company which owns Team Sky.
If BSkyB does indeed assume a bigger role in the sport, that could in theory lead to questions about potential conflicts of interest.
One question that fans would have is if the involvement of BSkyB could mean that cycling would become a sport visible via that company’s satellite channels only. If so, this would potentially reduce the exposure cycling would have, and could force those who are not Sky subscribers to pay out a large sum each year to watch the sport.
This is all conjecture, of course; it remains to be seen if BSkyB does indeed get involved in a bigger way, and how that would impact on viewing habits and requirements.
It is however a reminder that Cookson’s presidency will be judged on what happens months and years down the line, not in the first few weeks.
It’s impossible to predict the outcome, even if signs are encouraging thus far. McQuaid too had promising beginning to his presidency before things started to become complicated with the UCI-ProTour spat, various doping scandals and Lance Armstrong’s red-carpet return.
Time will tell if Cookson’s honeymoon period is akin to that of a couple that grows closer and stronger over time, or if it will be the initial rosy glow of a marriage which descents into something far less enduring.
The sport deserves the former, and so here’s hoping that’s how things play out.
Shane Stokes is the editor of VeloNation.
this article originally appeared in The Roar
Changes are being rung in under the new presidency of the UCI by Brian Cookson – from confiscating computers and hard drives from MacQuaid’s people right after his victory to setting out a roadmap for the sport’s recovery – but one of the toughest challenges facing the governing body is the rehabilitation of women’s cycling.
Though it may be somewhat natural to think that any pro athlete is relatively well paid, for the women that push their pedals for cash, nothing could be further from the truth.
In fact, the vast majority of female pros have to negotiate their own contracts, seek out personal sponsorship alone, struggle with the uncertainty that their scheduled races will even be held and generally fret over paying their bills, never mind putting money into the bank.
Here’s a little fact that illustrates this point: the Giro d’Italia forks out €90,000 to the overall winner while second place takes €50,000 and third place €20,000.
The winner of the women’s Giro received – wait for it – €450.
That is not a typo. There are not two, nor even one, zero missing from that figure.
The winner of the women’s version of the Belgian Classic, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, received just €360.
Once these winners have shared their ‘loot’ out amongst their teammates, they may have enough for a celebratory dinner – at McDonald’s.
Cookson though is making strides in the right direction, and when Brian Cookson appointed Australian Tracey Gaudry to the post of vice president, he was making a clear statement of intent.
Gaudry, who became the first ever woman to hold the post, is known as a former professional cyclist and, interestingly, is a member of the Anti-Doping Review Violation Panel to report to the Board of the Australian Sports Commission.
Gaudry has been brought in by Cookson for several reasons, the first being that he considers her to be ideally suited to carry out the duties required of the vice president of cycling’s governing body, and also to specifically tackle the problems facing women’s cycling.
Gaudry is no stranger to the challenges faced by the female peloton, one of which is the cancellation of races due to lack of financial funds.
In 1999 Gaudry won the Tour de Snowy in her first year as a pro rider, a race that was canned in 2003 due to the lack of sponsorship.
Gaudry is currently working on the setting up of a Women’s Commission that she says reflects the UCI’s new desire to diversify.
“We will have 6 or 7 members of both genders, Europeans and non-Europeans, from all disciplines, former and current athletes, National Federations, women coaches, organisers, teams and broadcasters,” she says in an interview on the UCI website.
“The Commission will be set up by the end of the year and we will present our strategy for the coming 12 months and beyond at the next Management Committee meeting in late January.
“In order to develop women’s cycling it needs, among other things, better visibility,” she continued. “But I want to specify that we will have a transversal approach: we will work with all the commissions [road, track, and so on] because the rise of women’s cycling must involve everybody. It is not something that concerns just one department.
“For the first time, there will be a woman in each commission, which is another clear sign from the UCI. We will take on board the proposals that the other commissions make to us and we will make propositions.”
The shortsightedness of the traditionally male-dominated UCI has led us to this point where there is a real and drastic need for measures such as this one.
Indeed, how and why there has never been a Women’s Commission is something that beggars belief. In a world where some 50% of the population is female you would imagine that the governing body of a sport that is suited to all would actually do something to get women on bikes, rather than neglecting them so forcefully all these years.
Speaking of male and female professional cycling, Tiffany Cromwell said to me in a recent interview that “you really can’t compare the two, they are completely different.”
Cromwell went on to state that the women accept that the two strands of cycling have differing histories, but also said that in many ways, the existence of most female pros is not that different – through their entire careers – to young, aspiring amateur men who live in team houses and in rooms above cafes at the start of their journeys.
Just about every female cyclist bar the very best riders also have to work or are studying, preparing for a later career, knowing that they will never become rich, or even well-off, from their cycling careers.
“We do it because we love it,” said Cromwell. ‘You might make a little bit of money but you’re not going to retire off of that. You don’t want to think about it. It’s how it’s always been, it’s sad but I guess we can show the beauty of the women’s side rather than comparing it to the men’s.”
And there, in a nutshell, is the answer to those who bemoan the lack of distance covered in women’s racing or the lack of brute power on display. What the women bring to the sport is different, and it is a difference that should be appreciated, not bemoaned.
Indeed, in many ways the shorter races that are a feature of the women’s side of the sport lead to far more exciting racing than many men’s events.
The sport needs to encourage women to ride, develop new races with UCI funding and outside sponsorship, and bring in television companies to help further support the enterprise.
Right now there is a female rider who may well be the greatest rider the sport has ever seen – men or women – and yet we barely see her. Mention Marianne Vos to casual followers of the sport and many will never have heard of her.
We may be getting somewhere though, thanks to Cookson, Gaudry and the spirit shown by the women riders in their pursuit of their dreams. In many ways, it is they who are the true carriers of the flame of passion and love of this great sport, simply because they do not do it for the money.
“You have to think about how lucky you are,” said Cromwell. “I am riding my bike every day, I travel the world and see beautiful places, and my passion is my job. There are not many people who can say that.”
The UCI has long been looking to Asia and to China in particular as the next frontier in cycling, offering the world governing body what it sees as the best opportunities to expand not only its brand but also its influence and to bolster its finances.
Pat McQuaid had first hand experience and knowledge of the Asian scene as race director of the Tour of Langkawi, the Tour of China, and the Tour of Philippines before he became President of the UCI in 2005. Indeed, it was this experience combined with the desire to open up the Chinese market to the UCI that saw the formation of the Tour of Beijing in 2011.
That event, the third edition of which has just finished, was hugely unpopular when first shoehorned in as the final event on the 2011 World Tour, with several teams plainly stating that they saw no point in turning up. The UCI responded with its usual finesse and threatened to strip those teams of their ProTour licenses if they failed to show in Beijing.
The teams responded in kind by demanding that the UCI postpone the implementation of the radio ban it had been ready to enforce. Both sides backed down, thus saving face, and we saw a Tour of Beijing where what crowds there were found themselves far from the action. Many of those present watching were said to have been bused in by the authorities in any case.
The inaugural Tour of Beijing was in fact a dull, staid affair that barely any real cycling fan had any interest in – much like the 2013 and 2013 editions, it could be said.
In Australia, where the cycling scene is more advanced than in Asia, there is the Tour Down Under, an event that can justify its place on the cycling calendar for several reasons, not least the competitiveness of the racing but also, critically, by the sheer volume of people that turn up to cheer the riders on.
Asia though demands a different approach. Even in the countries where the traditions of racing are quite well developed, such as Malaysia and Japan, there is nothing to match the depth of support seen at the TDU.
The kind of ‘trickle-down’ effects of top-tier multi-stage racing simply have not been shown to work in and real, tangible way here.
However, though the number of participants taking part in any sort of organized racing in Asia still remains relatively low, the number of people actually riding bikes continues to grow exponentially.
As someone who has lived in Asia now for 15 years, I continue to be amazed by the increase annually of the number of people out on the road (and in particular by the number of women). These people are riding top-end carbon fibre bikes with all the gear on – they are just not racing, with too many feeling that the leap from weekend ‘fun’ riding to competition is just too great, which, given the lack of racing culture and the lack of entry-level events here, in most cases is.
At the level just below World Tour events – such as at the 2.1 Tour of Thailand, 2.2 Tour of East Java and the Tour of the Philippines – you will find Pro-Continental and Continental teams that, though certainly competitive, do very little to inspire any real interest in racing from the locals beyond cheering them past for a few moments as the colorful peloton speeds by.
They also bring in very little economic gain to the local economies, the teams being packed with young, jobbing pro riders who have very little expendable income and whom are also unlikely to return to enjoy the local culture with a family any time soon. Not only that, some of these Asia Tour races are lacking completely in drug testing procedure. I know because I’ve raced in them and, as times, not a single rider has been tested over the entire race.
The whole approach to the Asian scene is misguided, like much of what we saw coming from the UCI under McQuaid.
So how can we combine the UCI’s desire to expand into the Asian market with the top teams’ desire to keep their riders interested in the racing, and to inspire the local riders to step into competitive racing whilst also putting something back into the local community?
I ’d suggest a series of one day ‘Asian Classics’ held over a two week period throughout the region in or around the time period that the current Tour of Beijing is held. Keep the racing exciting for the pros by having the races on courses that not only showcase the beauty of Asia – something the current events here just completely fail to do – but also choose routes that place similar demands on the participants as do Roubaix, Amstel or the Tour of Flanders.
To encourage locals to get out and participate also, an ideal format would be to have an early sportif on the Saturday, an amateur race version in the afternoon and the Pro version on the Sunday.
One event could be the Japan Cup, which has provided a very popular format of racing for several years now. Another could be in Taiwan, possibly mid-week, a third in China and another in whichever country the UCI feels would most benefit from such an event – or possibly a second in China.
This would mean a bit of traveling for the World Tour teams but would guarantee interest here in Asia and, I believe, in the rest of the cycling world too, and is surely more appealing than grimly pedaling around Beijing for a week. With one or possibly two races midweek, the whole ‘Asian Classics’ series could take place within a 2-week period, maximizing the appeal to sponsors and riders alike – and to any fans intent on seeing every race.
On top of all this, include a women’s event and make maximum benefit from the popularity of cycling amongst women in Asia, which on visual evidence alone far outrstrips Europe.
This has to be an improvement on what we have now, a race that is foisted on teams particularly that don’t want to be there and one that stands isolated from the real fans and the wider community.
Races such as the Tour of Thailand and Tour of Singkarak and others like it that make up the UCI Asia Tour should continue, but with just a little more thought the cycling community and cycling industry could be getting so much more from the Asian cycling scene – and, crucially, putting something back in.
New UCI President Brian Cookson is already making some strides with the women’s side of the sport. Let’s hope that the UCI can start to reevaluate its approach to the Asian cycling scene.
Writing about hope again? For the second time in a week? Surely not! It must be the medication…
And yet here we are, barely over two weeks into Brian Cookson’s presidency and the rumblings of change are to be heard across the land.
I know, it’s too early yet to blow the trumpets and to get out the bunting but there have been three developments this week that have reeked of common sense and the bleeding obvious – two things that had been long banned under the presidency of Pat McQuaid.
Rumour has it that both common sense and the bleeding obvious have made their return after being rescued from a remote Swiss farmhouse where they were being held against their will by several of the Irishman’s cronies.
There were found after a dawn raid to be severely undernourished and very pale, though both are recovering in a Geneva hospital.
McQuaid, when interviewed about the case, said “I know nothing”, the most sensible thing he’s said since taking over the UCI captain’s seat in 2005.
So, what’s happened in the past few days that suggests that the winds of change are blowing?
First up is the fantastic news that the women’s Tour of Britain has been granted 2.1 status by the UCI.
This raises the race alongside the Route de France and the women’s version of the Giro and it is I feel hugely important not only in that it means that the women now have one more top event to race in, but it also provides evidence that Cookson’s claim to be ready to support women’s cycling has substance to it.
The organisers of the event, SweetSpot, are obviously thrilled at the news.
The SweetSpot director Guy Elliott said: “We are absolutely delighted that the UCI have awarded us 2.1 status for this exciting new event.”
The elevation to 2.1 means that the world’s top racers will be in attendance, thus allowing the British spectators a chance to see women’s cycling at its best, which can only help to counter the argument that women’s cycling is not as watchable as the men’s.
SweetSpot also announced that the event will have full road closure, accommodation provided and – shocker – prize money. Yes, if you thought that every women’s race has prize money you were mistaken.
How bad is it? I’ve been told that the winner of the women’s version of the Giro walked away with just 450 euros earlier this year, which, after sharing among her teammates must have left her enough for a fast food banquet at best.
The second notice of change was the announcement that Cookson contacted Paul Kimmage, the former pro and journalist who took on Lance Armstrong over doping allegations, to tell him that the UCI would be ending the legal action against him taken up by McQuaid.
The former president claimed that Kimmage had defamed the UCI when he published his opinion on the way the governing body was handling the sport and wanted his pound of flesh, taking on his compatriot over what seemed like a playground grudge when cycling was reeling from the Armstrong case and had no need for more mudslinging.
Cookson has looked at the case and decided that to continue makes no sense whatsoever (probably because Kimmage was right in the first place), and has withdrawn the action.
“I had a call from him, just before he went to Beijing,” Kimmage told VeloNation.
“He told me that they were in the process of issuing a release to the extent that the they are going to drop the case against me.”
So on that score I am sure most would agree, well done Mr Cookson.
Again, it’s little more than common sense and the bleeding obvious, but after what went before we are left in a state where we lavish praise on someone behaving in a civilised and sensible manner.
Perhaps that will prove to be McQuaid’s most lasting legacy: to make otherwise basically competent bureaucrats appear to be saints.
At this rate Cookson will get a bronze statue of his image on a plinth somewhere and a standing alongside the great revolutionary leaders from the ages.
Thirdly, and this is a little more tenuous to link to Cookson’s siege of the Bastille than the first two, there is the news of the dismissal by Belkin of Luis Leon Sanchez for being named in “too many” doping affairs.
“His name crops up in too many files,” said a Belkin spokesman, which could signal the end of the Spaniard’s career.
The team settled with the rider so that it could not be taken to court over the matter, but the fact that the team said that the “confidence between the team and Sanchez has been broken” sets a much overdue precedent that could be taken up by other pro outfits.
Could this have happened under McQuaid? Doesn’t really matter if it could or not, the fact is that it never did. I suspect that Belkin whiffed the smell of change in the air also thanks to Cookson’s ascendency too, and that this played its part.
And so yes, I think these three developments signal the potential for our confidence in the governing body to come out of hibernation.
The times, they might just be a-changin’.
this article originally appeared on The Roar