Pat McQuaid Interview Part I: Rival leagues, Grand Tours and the Olympic Games
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Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Pat McQuaid Interview Part I: Rival leagues, Grand Tours and the Olympic Games

by Shane Stokes at 9:32 AM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Interviews
UCI President talks about threatened split within the sport

Pat McQuaidIt started off being about race radios, but as time progressed, it has become clear that there is more to the current tension between some teams and the UCI than just communication within the peloton. The teams’ association AGICP has said that there are bigger issues at stake, and that the teams wanted a wider input into the decision making process of the sport.

UCI President Pat McQuaid then issued an open letter last week in which he said that there were plans to set up a rival system to the governing body. “UCI is aware of steps being taken to set up a private league, World Cycling Tour, outside UCI, by certain team managers,” he wrote then. “I wonder will the financial benefits they are chasing benefit you, the riders. Somehow I think not! I quote Johan Bruyneel "I've been laying the framework for something great... But you'll just have to wait and see...".

Bruyneel was suspended during February and March in relation to Team RadioShack’s wearing of non-approved jerseys during last year’s Tour de France, and the team manager’s dismissive comment about the UCI on Twitter afterwards.

As the Belgian has himself said on Twitter, he has used this time away from the peloton to make what he says are big plans. According to McQuaid, he is a key figure in this proposed breakaway league, along with others.

VeloNation spoke to McQuaid twice in recent days, getting his thoughts on this rival league, it’s implication for the Olympic Games, world championships, biological passport and the Grand Tours.

Part two of the interview deals with the race radio situation, French Television’s criticism of their use, UCI voting rights and the tense relationship with the AIGCP.

The AIGCP will be invited to give its own thoughts on the issues raised.


VeloNation: First off, Pat, you issued an open letter last week where you talked about plans certain people had to set up a rival league to the UCI. What is your understanding of the situation as it stands?

Pat McQuaid: Well, I have heard about these rumous for several weeks now. This discussion has been going on, it has been led by a couple of team directors. I know [Johan] Bruyneel was involved. [Bjarne] Riis may have been involved too.

Meetings have taken place in London and also in parts of Europe with business people in relation to teams investing a certain amount of money and those business people investing a certain amount of money. They would create something out of that.

They think they can set up a private league. I don’t see how it can be done, I don’t see how they can do it. It is very much driven by the American philosophy, one of private leagues in America. Unfortunately that is not the way sport runs around the rest of the world. Sport is organised globally under the Olympic banner, which is very much based on the hierarchy of the pyramid.

You have got the base at the bottom, which are the clubs, then it goes into federations, semi-professional and professional. That is the structure of sport in Europe and throughout the rest of the world.

These guys think that the teams are indispensable and so forth, and they should have a say in how the rules and regulations on how the sport is governed. That is not the case [here], and indeed in any sport. When FIFA changed the rules for offside several years ago because they thought it would improve the game of football, they didn’t consult the teams or the players. The reason was because they felt that the game would improve.

The authority of the UCI is to look after the sport of cycling in an overall objective way, and to make the decision which are best for cycling. Yet they want a veto on any decision which deals with them.

You have to look at this…this [a rival setup] would take them and any riders who go with it outside the Olympic scenario, and likewise one would have to wonder about the anti-doping. But then maybe some of the individuals running this feel that the UCI has gone too hard on anti-doping, and might prefer to be in a situation where they have more control themselves over what is going on…

Pat McQuaid Johan BruyneelVN: You have mentioned Johan Bruyneel and Bjarne Riis as being involved in these plans. Can you say who the others involved are?

PMQ: I don’t know…I haven’t at this moment in time got the list of teams which have signed this agreement. But my understanding is that this agreement was signed by eleven teams at the beginning of the year, at an AIGCP meeting or something like that. It was around about the same time as the fight against the radios started. This proves that this fight against the radios was just a cover for something bigger all along.

VN: Do you know if these are all ProTeams?

PMQ: I would think they are, but I honestly don’t know. You could certainly list off six or seven yourself, easy enough, but I would be only speculating.

VN: Johan Bruyneel has tweeted several times on this…

PMQ: Yes, he has. I quoted him in a letter I sent to the riders last week, where he stated something along the lines of ‘I am working on something very big for 2012.’ He has also quoted things like, ‘it is time for a revolution.’

VN: He was serving a two month suspension [relating to the RadioShack jersey incident at last year’s Tour de France – ed.]. Is there a chance that some sort of revenge against the UCI is part of his motivation, as has been hinted in those tweets?

PMQ: Well, he is currently under suspension. It might be. He obviously have difficulty abiding by the rules, and feels that he can set up something himself outside our rules.

Grand Tours and their relationship with a rival body:

VN: There have been media suggestions that the Giro organisers have had talks with those behind this proposed rival league. Presumably that would make things difficult for the sport if that race went outside the UCI?

PMQ: Well, I don’t envisage that will happen. A fact that the teams haven’t taken into account is the organisers. The organisers also have rights and opinions. There would be no sport of cycling without the organisers. But the organisers are quite happy to work within the rules of the UCI, so it is the teams who are isolating themselves, in actual fact.

VN: The Tour de France is obviously the biggest race, and is part of those organised by ASO. Have you spoken to Madame Amaury [owner of Amaury Sports, which in turn owns ASO]? Are relations there good?

I haven’t spoken to her about this subject, but I have had contact with her in recent months. I spoke to her recently on another issue, and the relationship between the UCI and ASO is good.

The issue of this league is a question you would have to ask ASO. But my understanding is…during the four years that we were at war with ASO, the one thing that they always pushed was that cycling was a European sport. [They said] the European system is what works in cycling, not the American system.

Pat McQuaidOne thing they have stood by in all of the four or five years of the fight with the UCI was that they felt that the ProTour was too much of the American system - that is the reason that they went against it. So I can’t see them supporting what is very much an American-style breakaway league.

VN: My reason for asking is that if the Tour de France organisers remain with the UCI, it would seem that these teams could effectively shut themselves out of the Tour…

PMQ: Yes.. But even the decision that they have taken in relation to threatening to boycott the Tour of Beijing is likewise counterproductive. They are biting the hand that feeds them. They are damaging the potential development [of the sport] and also their own sponsors.

All of the bike sponsors want to be in the Chinese market and here are these guys making decisions otherwise.

As well as that, despite their claims of solidarity, there are a couple – and I’ll just say a couple, as I’ve just spoken to a couple thus far – there are a couple of teams who had signatures on that list who have told me that they will in fact be at the Tour of Beijing.

VN: Going back to this talk of a rival league: if it does happen that these teams do try to break away from the UCI, that would presumably put them outside the Olympics…

PMQ: It would, yes.

VN: I presume it would also do the same for the world championships, given that it is a UCI race?

PMQ: Absolutely, yes. Plus any UCI event.

VN: And would it also remove them from the biological passport as well?

PMQ: It would put them outside the UCI. By taking a decision like that, they would be going completely outside the UCI and therefore they would have to look after themselves, fend for themselves.

VN: If it becomes more apparent that there is indeed a rival league planned, is the UCI in a position to suspend licences?

PMQ: Well we would have to see what developments are at. But the UCI is the government of cycling worldwide and we will protect that to the ultimate. I have fought bigger battles than this over the past couple of years, so the thoughts of having to deal with that wouldn’t frighten me in the least. We will protect our position all right, depending on what information we find, and when we find it…

- Part II can be read here -


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