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Priorities Lost

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This blog originally appeared in De Telegraaf.

The priorities in professional cycling are lost. In the last few months, that’s become crystal clear. The unhappiness of the teams regarding the role of the International Cycling Union (UCI) has never been so bad. In letters and interviews from UCI President Pat McQuaid, I have been labeled as a troublemaker and singled out, however my vision is no different from the vast majority of the other teams. Maybe I say things in a less diplomatic way, but I stand behind every word.

The heart of the matter lies in that that the UCI continually pretends that the teams and the riders are not key players in cycling. There is a serious lack of respect and the teams are treated in an authoritarian way. It appears as if the UCI’s main objective is to take away any single one of the teams’ initiatives. What we see is that the policy of the UCI is very predictable. In an open letter to the riders, they have attempted to pit the riders against the management of the teams. That has been very badly received, both by riders and teams. We have never declared war against the UCI. Those words come only from Pat McQuaid. In addion, we have never used the words ‘break-away league’ either. That term also comes from Pat McQuaid. As teams we advocate for the governance of the UCI. But we do believe that professional cycling must be a special branch within the UCI. This includes a structure in which the stakeholders (including organizers, teams and riders) actually have a say. Currently that is not happening.

The famous radio ban has become a joint cause for the teams and riders to fight together on their shared beliefs. Unfortunately, the riders and teams don’t even get the chance to explain or defend our point of view. Strangely enough, this ban was not even initiated by the UCI. The idea came a few years ago from the head of French TV when he expressed the hope to see more attractive Tour de France stages. The UCI persists on this matter without any good argument.

The way the UCI has introduced these rules has angered all teams. First of all, this introduction was not done following the correct procedures. Secondly, the UCI imposed this ruling in their typical manipulative style - starting step-by-step in small races where little opposition was encountered and then 18 months later in the most important races where all top teams participated. And then they complain that the teams protested only one and a half years later.

It has now become a battle, with the UCI wanting to assert its authority and not suffer any “loss of face.” We, the teams, regret this. It is time that the UCI understands the interests and obligations we have as teams. While it is nice to see the sport as a way to promote youth’s involvement, the UCI must realize that there are other interests at play, including those of our sponsors (who fund our sport) and fans.

It is nice to see Pat McQuaid dictating to the riders to behave more as individuals. In that case, perhaps the UCI should go one step further by eliminating all trade teams, but still ensuring that the riders get their salaries (from a different source). In a team you are dealing with team interests which means that a rider is at the service of a team and the goals of the team. It cannot be that every rider attacks randomly or as they choose. Team tactics are part of cycling. It is not an individual sport. We also have our responsibility towards our sponsors, who spend millions to fund our sport. It is very absurd that we now have to defend ourselves, but we will continue – for the benefit of all stakeholders.

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