this article we look at the disturbing facts surrounding
the UCI’s handling of major issues and the management
of our sport in general. As examples the Pro-Tour and the
Tyler Hamilton case are used to illustrate the UCI’s
unsavory management style.
Aah the Pro
Tour – is it just
another botched job the UCI can lay claim to, or will it
in fact become something good
for cycling? Based on what we’ve seen so far, and
tainted by the UCI’s history of dictatorial-style
leadership, I’ll be betting on the former… here’s
the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale), and in particular
the UCI president Hein Verbruggen, have
an image of
indifferent arrogance. The overriding impression to the
cyclist and cycling fan is that as far as the UCI is
concerned it is “my way or the highway”.
obviously in place to serve a purpose, so what is the purpose
of the UCI? The official ‘mission
statement’ starts off like this:
the International Cycling Union (UCI) is to develop and promote
of cycling without discrimination
any kind, in close cooperation with National Federations
and major associates.
The UCI constitution
statement goes on to clarify:
The UCI represents
the interests of more than 170 National Federations, 5 Continental
riders, 600,000 licensed riders, millions of cycling
athletes who train regularly and more than a billion
So the UCI
claims to be working for all aspects of the sport and representing
more ‘than a billion users’. Reflecting
back on recent times and in particular looking at the UCI’s
handling of the introduction of the Pro-Tour and the Tyler
Hamilton case one gets a very different picture. We see an
organization that rides rough shod over everybody. They appear
to work in a vacuum with little or no regard to the democratic
process or to the weight of facts that appear to dispute their
standpoint. As for representing us all, that, from my point
of view, is new. The UCI’s focus appears to be firmly
set exclusively on the elite level of our sport.
Taking a charitable view one would hope that the UCI is genuinely
working in the overall best interests of the sport. At the professional
level of the sport it is obvious that commercial interests will
drive many decisions. Many of these decisions will be designed
to benefit sponsors and others with vested financial interests.
This is as it should be because at this level it is all about
business. To ensure that the sport and its participants are represented
fairly the UCI should be providing the checks and balances necessary
to promote both an attractive business environment as well as
a genuine sporting environment.
years as a specialist in international sales and marketing
I was always amazed at how
quickly and easily we became detached
from those that we served – our customers. We would have
our corporate meetings, set goals and objectives, do market research,
analyze data and make heady decisions. Yet every time we went
out into the real world we would discover that our customers
were not happy or had expectations not addressed in our plans.
to our plush corporate offices the real world soon faded away
again. To modify or even completely redesign
our programs was simply too much work. In particular, convincing
colleagues and upper management on the credibility of data
gathered on customer visits was a very difficult (if not impossible)
challenge. Force feeding the customer was by far the easiest
way to proceed.
we see now the UCI is trapped inside its own corporate cocoon.
Even worse it displays a level of sheer
is truly disturbing. Granted it is dealing with some extremely
complex and disturbing issues but this does not condone isolating
itself from those it represents - its customers.
proposed Pro-Tour has tremendous forward-looking implications
if implemented appropriately will benefit the sport in very
ways. One of these is to deflect the increasing commercial
focus on the Tour de France. Sponsors, advertisers and the
OLN’s cycling coverage this year) prefer the Tour as
their promotional vehicle of choice. One objective of the
is to ‘spread the wealth’ across the many great
races that fill the racing calendar. A noble objective if
the UCI appears to be creating the program in a vacuum. For
most of this year we have had rumblings from many
teams and individuals concerned about the practical application
of the new rules. The primary focus appears to be at the elite
level (limited to 20 Div I teams) with very little consideration
for anyone else. In fact the media and others talk of the new ‘super
league’. Where does everyone else (the ‘billion users’)
fit into this new scheme?
the program only appears to integrate the great European races.
Are the rest of the world’s
races excluded? As the UCI describes the Pro-Tour today, it poses
more questions than it answers.
the UCI is looking at the entire sport with a global view and
from Div I pro teams down to club level riders. The UCI have
failed to communicate this effectively (or maybe even at all). What we should
be seeing is a clear statement describing in simple terms the overall concepts
together with a plan that presents a phased-in introduction together with the
benefits to the cycling community at large.
this we see the three Grand Tour organizers delivering a letter
to the UCI withdrawing from the Pro-Tour
in its current form. Considering that between
them these organizers are also behind many of cycling’s most prestigious
races (i.e. the classics), this withdrawal would seem to kill the Pro-Tour even
before it is launched. In response the UCI has angrily responded by saying that “with
or without you the Pro-Tour will be launched”.
a presumably radical development as the Pro-Tour, why is it
that the UCI has not used a working committee
comprised of all the various constituents
of cycling’s community? Perhaps they have but then did “the Congress” (the
UCI’s ‘supreme controlling body’), acting in true corporate
ivory tower fashion, take the working committee results and fashion them to their
liking. Whatever the process it would seem that at this point, and with a little
over two months to go until the 2005 launch, that the Pro-Tour has very limited
support, is severely flawed and requires considerably more work to bring it to
maturity. Regardless of this, the UCI in splendid and arrogant isolation is going
to proceed just as it wishes.
Drugs, Blood and Cheating
The UCI’s methods in handling the Pro-Tour are again very much in evidence
with the Tyler Hamilton case. Issues of drugs and other forms of cheating have
plagued our sport since its very inception. The very first Tours were rampant
with such scandals. In 1967 we reached a dramatic point when Tom Simpson died
on Mont Ventoux pursuing his Tour dream with the aid of drugs. The infamous Festina
affair in 1998 almost finished the Tour (and much of cycle racing) for good.
Even as I write we get news of doping at the Para-Olympics. Unfortunately wherever
sport is practiced cheating will lurk in the background.
Combating this evil is not a task to be envied and in this respect the UCI
must be commended for sticking with the issue and maybe in many respects leading
sporting world in its attempts to eliminate drug use.
said it is also the responsibility of the UCI to employ testing
procedures that have developed
credibility for accuracy through exhaustive research and
use. To accuse individuals based on questionable test results is as heinous
an act as the crime itself. I do not pretend to understand
the scientific theory
and application of the tests that have driven Tyler Hamilton into his current
that I, like so many of us, have read recently I can only interpret
that measuring certain aspects of human blood is a very difficult
stretches beyond the latest known scientific capabilities. Amongst the huge
of support for Tyler there are many letters on his web site (the guestbook)
from people involved in scientific testing and from others
that have had very bad
experiences as a result of erroneous test results.
seem that the science of blood testing is far from perfect.
In some cases people have been diagnosed
with life ending results. Many years later those
same people are more than happy to report that they are still living a very
healthy life. More than one of Tyler’s letter writers pointed out that numerous
innocent people have been sent to jail based on incorrect DNA evaluations.
test used on Tyler is “based on probability and interpretation” which
means in effect that there is no definitive ‘yes/no’ result. In effect
a group of experts make an interpretation of the available data. With respect
to the IOC tests and the now well known issue with Tyler’s B-sample, we
get a picture of sloppy laboratory procedures and unprofessional management.
So far the UCI has refused to admit these and other negative facts concerning
the efficacy of the test processes.
vantage point of a distant observer one can only take the facts
The method used to test Tyler’s blood samples would seem to be very far
from perfect and scientifically unproven. At the human level we are seeing an
almost unprecedented level of support from around the world for Tyler. His reputation
for honesty and impeccable integrity has fueled a community conclusion “based
on probability and interpretation”. The verdict – not guilty.
Tyler’s employer, Phonak, have taken a unique stand. We have become
accustomed to seeing riders declared ‘positive’ after UCI drug/blood
tests being immediately released from their contracts and expelled from their
team. So far Phonak has done the opposite. Even though they have suspended him
from racing for the team, they are supporting Tyler until such time conclusive
evidence against him can be presented. Perhaps one of the most dramatic statements
was made by the Phonak team owner Andy Rihs, “I have the suspicion that
an example must be made of Hamilton in order to show that the test functions”.
This of course is a direct challenge to the UCI and speaks volumes for the faith
and trust that Rihs has in Tyler.
So in the
highly charged Hamilton case the UCI is again demonstrating
an arrogant stand based on flimsy scientific evidence.
Before condemning Tyler, or any other
athlete, it is the duty of the UCI to demonstrate to us all that the tests
that they employ are based on scientific fact and can be proven
to deliver credible
results. Based on past UCI performance this probably will not happen and as
a result we will have to live with serious doubt and half-truths.
Perception and Reality
For years the UCI has guided our sport along a path that
has been intended to improve and grow it to everyone’s
benefit. Unfortunately the impression of authoritative
arrogance and severely flawed management practices has
growing rapidly in recent times. Their management of the Pro-Tour proposal
and now their approach to the handling of the Tyler Hamilton
case indicates a heavy
handed attitude that precludes open and honest discussion. Maybe behind the
scenes this is not the case but the UCI would do well
to start communicating openly
and honestly with all those it claims to represent.
expression states that “perception is reality”.
And the perception right now is that the Pro-Tour could inflict
severe damage to our
sport. For Tyler the reality is that he is in a living hell with his reputation
and career on the verge of collapse. The UCI needs to think long and hard
before it takes another step.