By John Wilcockson
Please see Part 1 of this interview.
“This is my favorite room in the building,” says Pat McQuaid as he takes a large key from his trouser pocket and unlocks an unmarked door in the basement level of the World Cycling Center. Unlike the rest of this sleek modern structure’s steel, glass, aluminum and concrete, the “secret” chamber is lined with rough-hewn timber and natural rock.
“It’s called a carnotzet,” explains McQuaid, the recently elected ninth president of the Union Cycliste Internationale. “It’s a bylaw in this part of Switzerland that every public building must have one.”
It’s a bylaw that pleases the genial Irishman, as a carnotzet is a sort of wine cellar where friends or workers get together at the end of a long day to share a glass of local wine and a round of cheese. McQuaid smiles as he shows VeloNews some pewter beer mugs on the wooden shelves, wine racks in the corner, and a solid wooden dining table for impromptu meals.
The carnotzet at the UCI’s world headquarters could be a metaphor for the difference between outgoing president Hein Verbruggen, a Dutch businessman who came into cycling as a marketing executive, and McQuaid, who has grown up with the sport since he was a young child. The eldest of 10 children, he learned how to race from his father Jim McQuaid — who represented Ireland at the 1948 Olympic Games in London, won hundreds of races in Ireland, and was one of the country’s leading sportsmen throughout the 1950s.
Pat McQuaid competed as both an amateur and professional racer, winning the Irish national championship, the Shay Elliot Memorial race and two Tours of Ireland. After a season racing in France and a pro career in Britain with the Viking team, the future UCI president worked as a schoolteacher before becoming the Irish national team director and coach.
He was the race director for a slew of international stage races, including the Nissan Classic in Ireland, Kellogg’s Tour of Britain, Marlboro Tour of the Philippines, and Malaysia’s Tour de Langkawi. After a term as president of the Irish Cycling Federation, he served eight years as the UCI’s road commission chairman before being elected UCI president on September 23, 2005.This is the second part of our interview with UCI president Pat McQuaid, which is part of a much larger story on the UCI featured in the January 2, 2006issue of VeloNews, now on sale at newsstands and bike shops nationwide.Please see Part 1 of this interview.
VeloNews: You’ve been a bike racer, you were a race organizer, and you’ve seen the UCI from that perspective. Now [as president] you are the UCI in most people’s eyes. Public-relations-wise, the UCI doesn’t have a great image in the sport: It’s there, it’s necessary, but people don’t think, “hey we’ve got the UCI, this is great!” How can you improve its image?
Pat McQuaid: That would be right in some instances, all right, but I’ve found in traveling around the world that the UCI has a very strong image outside of Europe, and outside of the main cycling countries. It’s true that we could do with a strong public relations department, but unfortunately the UCI is seen, because of all the problems that have come up in recent years, to react to problems and react to crises, and deal with crises, and then make regulations and impose regulations on federations and riders and teams, and everybody doesn’t always agree. But you’re never going to get anybody to agree anyway.
At the end of the day, the UCI has to be objective and try and think of the development of the sport in a global way. For instance, one thing which Verbruggen took a lot of stick for several years ago was when we looked at the bicycle and brought back under control what the bicycle was, for bringing in that rule insisting that the bike was this, that and the other. Now, everybody thinks it’s one of the best decisions the UCI ever made, because they can understand the reasoning behind it, and see that it’s [emphasized] the athlete being more [important] than the bicycle.
There continues to be pressure from the marketplace to change those rules, and the current pressure is to make the bikes lighter [than the current 6.8-kilogram/15-pound limit] because technology is there now that it’s [safe] to do so. If our technology commission feels it can be done without intrinsically interfering with the sport, then that’s the decision we’ll make.
VN: The other thing about the image of the UCI is that because the organization has changed so rapidly from 20 years ago when it just made rules, issued a calendar and oversaw the world championships, to today when you’re promoting … and developing the sport. Not everybody knows about it.
PM: It’s true. It’s like everything else. The newspapers never want to hear good-news stories, they want to hear scandalous or sensational stories. There’s no doubt going back to the days of Luis Puig, [Adriano] Rodoni and [Mikhel] Jekiel in the old UCI of the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s, it was a very staid organization that was dealing with a very traditional sport in a very traditional way. And then in the ’90s, because all sport came under a lot of pressure to undergo change and make itself more attractive to what is a changing commercial market, with changing media interests and television, et cetera, cycling had to modernize itself. And there’s no doubt that cycling owes a huge debt to Verbruggen … who developed a business model and grew the UCI into what it is now with a full-time staff of 65 to 70 people servicing the sport.
There is a huge amount of activity. For instance, we’ve had to develop a whole department around anti-doping, and the UCI was one of the first international federations to have its own in-house lawyer, and now we have a legal department with three or four lawyers.
All this is part of the demands that are being put on us by the growth of the sport, and also by us wanting to drive the sport forward because we’re in competition with football [soccer], tennis, Formula 1 — all these sports attract TV audiences and, indeed, kids into the sport.
VN: And a lot of people would say there’s competition within the sport. You’ve got the UCI ProTour, and you’ve got the three grand tours who are fighting it many ways because they don’t want the system to change. They want it like it was in the old days …
PM: … that’s right. They’re resistant to change, and afraid of change, and afraid that the ProTour’s a threat to them. I can understand to some extent the Tour de France because it’s so big and successful and wealthy that it could exist without the ProTour. But I think the Vuelta and the Giro were on their way down and they needed something like the ProTour to give them a new impetus, a new life and the possibility of continued commercial success.
But that’s where I see the UCI’s role should be as an arbitrator. Not a referee as such, but we have to look at the things objectively and deal with the riders, the teams and the organizers, and try to keep them happy. But we need to be the ones in control of all that. We cannot allow any one of those groups to take over the control, because then the whole [structure] of the sport would change.
Another area which has undergone huge change in the past 10 years under Verbruggen is the position vis-a-vis the professional riders, the whole structure of professional cycling and the teams. It’s not that long ago when most of the professional riders got a portion of their salary under contract and three-quarters of the salary was in a brown envelope under the table. That’s all changed now.
We brought in international accountancy companies to oversee all of that and come up with new rules and regulations. And professional cycling is now properly structured with salaries, pension funds and insurance for riders within each team. Riders have their own union, teams have their own group that they adhere to and work through, and that’s all happened without most people realizing.
VN: Another sticking point with the grand tours is that they don’t like the closed system of the ProTour, with 20 teams and four-year contracts. That’s not like other sports, soccer’s Champions League for example has different teams qualifying every year from different countries. Are you personally rigidly in favor of keeping the ProTour system as it is forever, or do you see it evolving, so that there is a way of promotion and relegation?
PM: I see it evolving, all right, and I think it’s the job of the ProTour Council to oversee that evolvement. I didn’t think it was ever a closed system, and I still don’t. I think the three tours, in defense of their position and their anti-ProTour stance, came up with this being a major point. I don’t think it is, because they have to see beyond four years, and I don’t think they were prepared to do that. But when you look beyond four years it should be a revolving situation.
This year, for instance, there’s one team gone [Fassa Bortolo] and another to replace them [AG2R]…. Next year, I think there are three licenses up for renewal [T-Mobile, Phonak and Caisse d’Epargne-Illes Balears], and the following year one [Lampre]. So when this situation has gone on every year, and you have a couple of licenses up for renewal, then it’s like a promotion-relegation system.
We can’t have the type of system that football [soccer] has, for instance, because a cycling team’s financial structure is much different than a football team’s structure, which is based on the people paying at the gate. A cycling team has several major sponsors to pay the salaries and everything else…. If you look at Rabobank, for instance, [team manager] Theo De Rooy is responsible for 75 people’s salaries. And a lot of them have mortgages, kids in school, et cetera, et cetera.
So if the ProTour were to have a [two up, two down], promotion-relegation system, and because of certain pressures a team happened to finish second from last in the league and was dumped down, then the sponsor’s not going to come in under those terms. A sponsor is going to need some guarantees that he can get a certain amount of exposure when he’s paying 10 million euros [almost $12 million] a year. And besides paying all those salaries, that 10 million euros guarantees that sponsor’s riding all the ProTour races for the next four years.
I have to admit there is a problem at the end of four years because there is something like 13 licenses up for renewal at the end of 2008. That’s something we’ll have to look at to see if we can adjust that situation, because it’s not the way we wanted it to be. We want it to be two or three [team changes] a year on a rolling basis. That’s the idea.
VN: The other part of the grand tour’s stance is that they can’t have as many wild-card teams in their races, as there are 20 ProTour teams, and so they have only two slots available. Why don’t they say have eight riders instead of nine riders per team, and get five wild cards instead of two?
PM: Interestingly, this was talked about at the recent riders’ meeting. They talked about having eight riders per team, but in order to reduce the field to 160 riders instead of 200 riders, because of security concerns. They think there’s too many races on small roads and 200 riders is too much. That’s their reason, not to get more wild cards.
But there are several reasons for the wild-card aspect. One is that … and I’ll take again Rabobank as an example. Rabobank commit to riding all 27 races in the ProTour, with 152 days of racing. And then you get a team like Selle Italia that comes along and focuses their whole season on the Giro , come in for that and then go away again. That is unfair to Rabobank and all the teams riding all of the races. The same applies to the Vuelta at the end of the season. So it’s the teams that would prefer to have as few wild cards as possible.
Now, again, the [grand] tours will try to make the argument they want more wild cards, but take for example the Giro this year that had two wild cards to give and they only gave one to an Italian team; the other was given to a Colombian team. The Tour de France had two wild cards to give and only gave one away. So I don’t think wild cards are really the factor; the tours haven’t committed to wild cards as much as they’re committing to the argument of wild cards.
VN: Going back a little onto the public relations issue. In terms of anti-doping controls, the UCI has been a pioneer and has more controls than any other sport. Tests are getting better, there’s more out-of-competition testing, and there is quarterly medical monitoring for each rider. All this is benefiting the riders, but because of that you’re getting more positives the anti-doping controls. So even though there’s a good side to it, there’s the downside to it …
PM: … and unfortunately the downside gets the most publicity. And yes we are in the front line, at the coalface so to speak, in all of this. There does seem to be, I have to say, an attitude in France which is unbelievable, particularly from [French sports daily] L’Equipe, and I don’t fully accept the way that they approach it or all of the things that they say.
They seem to have this complete sort of blinkered view towards doping. For instance, we had the whole Armstrong affair [in August], and then [in September] they did a big survey in four different European countries [that claimed cycling had the biggest doping problem in sport].
You know, prior to getting involved in cycling [administration] I was a teacher. Not just qualified as a PE [physical education] teacher, I’m indeed a mathematics teacher. And I know from statistics that a statistician can set out a set of questions to look for a certain answer, and get the answer you want. And there’s no doubt in my mind that the set of questions they laid out, they got the answers they wanted. That’s not objective reporting.
They also put in a piece about the American doctor [Prentice Steffen], who made an initial statement to them when they were doing their big piece, and of course it got half a page in the paper. And then a week later he retracted everything, and that still hasn’t appeared in the paper [L’Equipe]. So they’re not completely objective.
If they are fair I don’t mind media writing about doping and doping situations, if they’re also prepared to write the good-news stories. L’Equipe doesn’t seem to want to do that. It just seems to have its knife into the cyclists, and that’s unjustifiable because the figures that we have from the riders in the Tour de France indicate quite the opposite. The riders are so controlled, and so often, in the ProTour that we have all the information on them. And the information — and it’s open for people to come and see — is not what L’Equipe is pointing out.
So unfortunately cycling is in the front line, we’ve led with blood controls, led with research into corticosteroids, and all of this, and yet we’re branded as the bad sport. And, in recent years, I don’t think that’s the case at all. The Festina affair in ’98 was a wake-up call for all those involved in cycling, and it took a while to get to grips with it, but I certainly think we are at grips with it now.
And [things have further improved] with WADA [the World Anti-Doping Agency] — and not necessarily [its president] Dick Pound — coming on the scene with the WADA code, which we worked on closely. The UCI has excellent relations with WADA on a day-to-day basis, and any reports you see from WADA will always state that one of the best international federations to work with is the UCI. Unfortunately there’s a problem at the highest level, with some of the things that Pound is inclined to say about cycling that we don’t agree with.
VN: And part of that WADA thing is there’s this universal list of suspensions, and that’s why the UCI was late in signing the charter. But other sports seem to ignore it, like for years [until the next Olympics] baseball was an Olympic sport, but baseball has turned a blind eye to the charter …
PM: FIFA [the international soccer federation] is the same. FIFA played games with WADA up to the very minute when they had their centenary in Paris about two years ago when they brought [IOC president] Jacque Rogge up and went through a process that indicated they were signing it. They never actually signed it, and they [still] play games with suspensions for footballers.
But we do what do what we think is right, and the one thing that during my tenure will certainly be clear, is that I will not defend drug cheats, and I will not defend anybody that steps out of line. I will try to be as transparent as I can — bearing in mind there is a lot to be learnt in all this and you have to be a doctor to understand what’s going on — and as much as I can learn about it I will learn about it. And I will ensure that we’ll be on top of its as much as we can.
I think from the federations’ point of view…. This is not just a UCI fight, it’s also up to national federations and national anti-doping agencies — they’re all involved with this fight against doping. What I would like to see is that the national federations and national anti-doping agencies are much stronger in both their education processes and in their controls of the younger riders.
Because I’m aware of several younger, under-23 riders in Europe who got professional contracts, and I know that there were rumors about the clubs they were coming from, that these riders were on stuff and this that and the other. They then turned professional for a pro team and they can no longer get results, because suddenly they’re being controlled left, right and center.
As youngsters they were taking stuff to get a professional contract and they haven’t got there naturally, and since they have to look for the higher effort, their body is not able to do it. And I think this sort of message needs to get to the young riders: If you can’t get into the pro ranks naturally forget about getting there at all, because you’ll not make it in the pro ranks.
VN: You said you have no time for drug cheats. Obviously, there’s this test case with David Millar coming back to the sport, and who’s admitted taking EPO, and was suspended two years, and it looks as though he’s going to be able to ride for a ProTour team [Saunier Duval] in the next Tour de France.
PM: That’s true, but you have to stick within the rules as they are, and the rules were when David Millar was suspended, the ProTour [didn’t exist]. If that happened now, he wouldn’t get into a ProTour team for two years because that’s in the code of ethics of the ProTour.
Having said that, and I’ve known David Millar since he rode the Junior Tour of Ireland that I organized in the late ’90s, it’s very sad and unfortunate what he did. And he [will have] served a two-year suspension, and that will have a major effect on his career and he may never be the same David Millar in the future, but if he doesn’t deliver he won’t be around much longer.
He’s a talented athlete and an athlete who obviously felt he had to do something to get that extra out of himself. And it was stupid. It was completely unnecessary. To my mind, he had that ability to win any race. He didn’t have to resort to EPO, but he did it and has paid the price for it.
VN: And that brings up two points. Yeah, he cheated two or three times, and this could be the case with a lot of riders who test positive. They may not be doing it all the time. But then they get suspended and as you say pay the price. Shouldn’t that apply to everybody? If they’re suspended, that’s the penalty for doing that.
PM: It should be, yeah, yeah. Completely. And there’s different penalties for different levels of products, but they should all serve their time.
VN: What I’m saying is, once they’re back, shouldn’t they be able to race for any team, ProTour or Continental team?
PM: In some ways yes, but in some ways no. Like anyone in society, if you commit a crime you pay a penalty, and when you get out you’re a free man and society should accept you back. But sport is a little different than that, and because of the pressure and all the stress of the drug scandals over the years, that the ProTour probably had to go one step further with their rules in ensuring that they’re completely transparent and clean. They took that step to give confidence to the sporting public that they wanted a clean sport. Maybe in years to come when it all settles down a bit they can look at that again, and have a UCI rule that covers the whole sport.
VN: Do you see the ProTour’s perceived problems, doping or not, as your biggest challenge right now?
PM: Yeah, yeah, in the short term, because what has happened this year, the war between the three tours and rest of high-level cycling — the UCI, the teams and the other organizers — has done a lot of harm to the image of cycling. What the three grand tour organizers may realize now is that it’s also done harm to them, because if cycling suffers they suffer. And when I sit down with them and start discussions with them they may take a different approach … because we’re going into a new season, and now’s the time to reflect and hopefully come to some agreement. That therefore, in the short term, is the bigger problem to overcome.
And hopefully in the coming weeks we can come to a form of agreement which at least means we are all around the table working together, because what I want to see is that all of the stakeholders — that is, the three grand tours, the other organizers, the teams, the riders and the UCI, which is the ProTour Council — all sitting around the table and working to try and improve the little problems that there are within the ProTour, and change any little regulations that need to be changed and that we agree will improve the ProTour. And then to look at what’s below the ProTour.
A lot’s been said about the damage that’s been done to races below the ProTour, though our statistics don’t quite show that, but we do need action. For instance, the ProTour Council took a decision in Madrid to set up a working group next year with a view to forming a second tier of races between the ProTour and the Continental calendar, taking races like the CritÈrium International and Tour of Burgos and making them into a separate series. And if we feel we can do something with that we’ll introduce that. And the big tours have an input into that as well, but we need them all sitting around the table talking to do that.
Then, in the longer term, it’s the doping problem that’s the main challenge. That’s not a short-term thing. It’s working with the federations, education, national controls, research, working with WADA … and that’s going to take a little bit longer.