Commentary: A letter to the UCI president
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the February 2015 issue of Velo magazine.
Brian Cookson, President
Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)
Ch. de la Mêlée 12 | 1860 Aigle | Switzerland
It’s hard to be the boss. Believe me, I know. And to be in charge on a worldwide stage?
To be subject to the armchair quarterbacking of any idiot with an iPhone and an opinion? I can’t even imagine.
But I’m writing today because I need you. We need you.
You see, I love pro cycling. Everything about it captivates me: the drama, the personalities, the technology. But more than anything else, what draws me to cycling, as both a rider and a fan, is that every day is a chance to redefine what’s possible.
I’m not a great rider — or even a very good one. But whether you’re a suburban hack or a GC contender, it all boils down to the same set of challenges. How hard can you go? Can you push yourself just a little further than the day before? Cycling has given me a chance to reimagine what I’m capable of, both mentally and physically. I love that for myself, and I love to watch that unfold at the highest level.
This fundamental truth that defines our sport is why we need you to be the man who puts an end to doping in our sport.
I realize that’s a hugely unfair burden to place on your shoulders. Professional cycling has been cursed by performance enhancement for as long as it’s been around. Likely, it will never disappear completely. But right here and right now, we need you to say, “Not on my watch.” And then we need you to fight like hell to make it so.
Maybe we were all lulled into a false sense of security in the aftermath of USADA’s Reasoned Decision. The scoundrel Lance Armstrong had been exposed and vanquished, ushering in a sparkly clean new era. Except that maybe it isn’t. Doping existed well before Armstrong, and continues well after he’s been banned for life. No wonder he’s bitter.
In the months following Vincenzo Nibali’s victory at the 2014 Tour de France, five riders connected to his Astana team structure — including one who escorted Nibali into Paris — tested positive for banned substances. Five.
Yes, I know that two were brothers. I know that three were on the Continental team, which is, technically, a separate entity. And that Alexander Vinokourov says it’s wrong to connect the dots. But you and I both know that’s bullshit, Brian.
The truth is that we have a problem. And more than anyone else, you are the man who can fix it.
In December, the UCI’s independent License Commission accepted Astana back into the WorldTour, amidst published reports that Italian investigators had photographed the sport’s most infamous figure, Dr. Michele Ferrari, at a 2013 team camp [These photos have not been confirmed or made public -Ed.]. I know the Commission is independent and that it is bound by the rules in place. I know that rejecting their application under the circumstances could have meant a costly fight and an almost certain appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. I know that Astana is now, as you said, “very much on probation.”
But I wanted you to fight. And I still do. I want you to make professional cycling the sporting world’s most inhospitable place for cheaters. And I don’t think I’m alone.
It’s simple, really. Either cycling is about redefining our limits, or it isn’t. If it’s just professional wrestling on wheels — a sleight of hand masquerading as something more — then I just don’t know how much longer it can hold my interest. It breaks my heart to say so. And, again, I don’t think I’m alone.
But you can make the difference. Root them out, Brian. And if we need to change the rules, let’s do it.
In the meantime, you need to put your foot on Vinokourov’s neck. Be the leader we need and take a stand. Tell him, and anyone else you might need to, that the time for cheaters has passed. Make sure that team owners know you mean business.
There isn’t anything more important to your efforts to improve cycling. Not the calendar. Not the business model. Nothing.
As you go forward, I want you to know we have your back. There’s no one who loves this sport who won’t rise up with you. I think you’ll be surprised at just how welcome a change this will be.
So let’s get this done and bring cycling the credibility it needs to grow and thrive. Don’t let this become just the next verse of the same old song.
Now is your moment, Brian. Save our sport.