Eisenga believes Cookson’s presidency will be positive for cycling’s future
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Monday, October 28, 2013

Eisenga believes Cookson’s presidency will be positive for cycling’s future

by Shane Stokes at 11:13 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
AIGCP chief emphasises need for various stakeholders in sport to all pull together

Luuc EisengaAIGCP managing director Luuc Eisenga has said that he believes that Brian Cookson’s election should continue to help the sport along the right road, suggesting that the new president will be more of a bridge builder than his predecessor, Pat McQuaid.

Eisenga has been involved in the sport for many years and has seen the numerous spats which occurred during the past decade, including fights between the UCI and race organisers, teams, WADA, USADA and others. He believes that the restart which occurred when Cookson became president on September 27th should be good for the sport, but hopes that the other stakeholders also think beyond their own direct needs.

“As what everybody says, he is somebody who listens, who is open to the opinion of all the stakeholders, without judging right away,” Eisenga said, when asked by VeloNation what impression he had build up of Cookson prior to his election. “He sees that there are some really big challenges ahead and he sees that you can only do that together. But I must say that also in the past year, year and a half, also from the side of the UCI they started to see that too.

“So the process has been started already, and that is only good.”

In January Eisenga succeeded Jonathan Vaughters as the head of the Association of Professional Cycling teams (AIGCP), relinquishing his previous role of manager of innovation and technology at the Rabobank and Blanco squads.

It was a big change to make but Eisenga has settled into that role, and will have an important part to play in the sport moving forward.

While he is representing the teams’ interests, he underlines that cooperation across the board is key, rather than any one group having a myopic approach and seeing only what is good for them in the short term.

“One of the points I made in the Professional Cycling Council meeting with the guys at the UCI, the staff, is that we started this stakeholder consultancy process and that worked in a sport where we have been fighting too much in the past years.

“The process is one whereby people must talk together and must walk together. I think we are at the point where there is so much potential….the sport is relatively low when it comes to media value, commercial value, and in order to develop it, everybody has to work together.”

The key, he emphasises, is cooperation and having a longer-term vision, looking further down the road than before. “From time to time everybody has to take off their own hat and think of the general interests of the sport. What is good for the sport is good for the riders, good for the organisers, it is good for the teams and it is good for the UCI,” he said.

He said that there was already a good consensus seen when a proposal from the Pro Cycling Council was presented to the other stakeholders several weeks ago. “That worked, that was good consensus. I am convinced that the new president also follows that line, where there is a fair share of power, where there is a fair share of influence and a fair share of revenue for everybody.”

One example of the UCI and the teams pulling in the opposition direction occurred over two years ago when the governing body sought to ban race radios from the peloton. The teams were not in agreement, stating that the radios helped to make the sport safer. There was a standoff, the teams threatened to boycott the inaugural Tour of Beijing but, after weeks of tension, a compromise was eventually reached.

The radios were blocked in most events, including the world championships, but were allowed in WorldTour races. In return, the teams agreed to race in Beijing and since then, there have been no more efforts to impose a radio ban on those top events.

“For the past few years the sport was, historically, always one where there was tension between the stakeholders,” said Eisenga. “If you only focus on the differences in interests that every stakeholder has, you are never going to solve problems. If you start to think about how many things you have in common, then you realise there is way more in common than you would actually think. And that opens ways for collaboration.”

People such as Vaughters have spoken about the need for a more sustainable financial structure in the sport, with the current sponsor model offering little long term stability. If a sponsor decides to walk away, teams are plunged into uncertainty until such time as they can find a new backer.

As was the case with the Vacansoleil DCM and Euskaltel Euskadi teams, sometimes no solution can be found and the team folds, even if it has an ongoing WorldTour licence. It creates little confidence, as team owners know that any point in time their investment could go up in smoke.

Eisenga sees this area as one in which is crucial to find a solution. “There are still things that should be better; the financial stability on teams is the key to the development of the sport, because we want to see a different behaviour in the sport. So it should be more stable,” he said.

“There should be a stable situation where teams cannot disappear from year to another because there is one sponsor missing. In a system like that, there is no team that is going to invest in young riders, making a safe and clean environment for riders to perform, giving them the time to become better.

“Those are the things we have to change, and again we can only change them together.”

Asked what is the single biggest priority for cycling at this point in time, Eisenga again emphasises cooperation between the various stakeholders. “Building a platform to work together,” he said. “For that to be done in the first place you need to have some mutual trust.

“For mutual trust you only need three things; if you get an honest question, you give an honest answer. You say what you do, and do what you say. That is it. If you follow those three lines, then you get somewhere.”


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