Brittle Days

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On the UCI & race radios

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So the bunfight continues between Pat McQuaid and various ProTeam directors about the use of radios in UCI races. There are two things that strike me as being interesting here:

1: The reason the UCI give for a radio ban is to induce more exciting racing. I would like to know what other options for achieving the same result the UCI considered and then rejected. Here are some alternatives:

  • Reduce the number of cyclists in each team from 9 to 6. Force the sprinters’ teams to combine to catch escapees.
  • Increase the number of teams in each race. More potential winners means less certainty over who will be first over the line.
  • (Re-)introduce time bonuses to encourage combative riding for the top positions

2: Pat McQuaid is pugnaciously defending the UCI’s position as the leader of cycling worldwide. He has fallen into the trap of confusing management of a thing with ownership of a thing.

The UCI exists because there is consensus amongst competitive and professional cyclists that a body is required to fairly administer the sport. Like any bureaucracy, though, it is self-interested and wants to remain alive.

But the strategy of claiming that cycling ‘belongs’ to the UCI and it can change the rules how and when it likes is high-risk. Either the teams and cyclists will agree to these terms, or they will simply leave. Some of them will leave to other sports, and some will leave to form breakaway leagues – as happened in the UK in the early 1940s with the creation of the British League of Racing Cyclists from the National Cyclists’ Union.

The UCI’s position is particularly weak as it has no ownership of the sport’s great races. The Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a Espagna, the Classics. None of those. The only race that the UCI owns is the World Championships. Hence the need for the new UCI-owned Tour of Beijing to go straight onto the ProTour.

The teams don’t want to race in Beijing; the sponsors don’t have interests in China. The only reason for the Tour of Beijing is to increase the UCI’s revenue and reach.

And this is why the UCI’s position is extremely weak. It would be trivial for the teams to hold racers back from competing in the worlds, boycott or soft-pedal Beijing and then in the resultant finger-pointing and recriminations start up a new league with the blessing of ASO and RCS.

And that is why Pat McQuaid’s bullish attitude is a bluff. The real power in cycling is with ASO, RCS, and the team sponsors. They have all the money and the power follows. McQuaid’s bluster  is a smokescreen to hide a bureaucracy that is mired in ineffectiveness and self-aggrandisement and that really has very little to offer the sport.

Written by tomsulston

04/05/2011 at 15:50

Posted in cycling

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