New UCI president David Lappartient insists he will not be a lapdog for powerful Tour de France owner ASO.
That was a quiet worry throughout the UCI presidential campaign last fall when more than a few whispered that the Frenchman would be in the back pocket of Tour owner Amaury Sports Organisation.
Lappartient firmly denied those anxieties and insisted that the UCI will protect its interests while working to engage with ASO.
“I heard that many times during the campaign,” Lappartient said. “I think it is good for the UCI to have a good relationship between the institution and ASO. However, I am not paid by ASO. I am not working for ASO. But I consider there is no reason to fight with ASO.”
There has long been a tug-of-war between ASO, which runs more than half of the WorldTour events as part of its expansive portfolio, and the international cycling federation.
ASO is keen to protect its financial interests and often pushes back against the ambitions of the UCI. The international cycling federation, meanwhile, insists it is looking out for the larger interests of the sport. Those two visions have often come into conflict.
Lappartient, who served as the president of the French cycling federation before upending Brian Cookson in the September UCI election, said he wants to avoid war with the powerful French company. He insisted his long-running relationship with ASO should help sooth tensions between the two parties.
“There has always been a fight between ASO and the UCI, and you can see that the UCI was not necessarily the winner,” he said. “I have a good relationship with ASO … ASO trusts the UCI. When you trust each other, you can work together.”
Many will be closely watching Lappartient’s moves as he tries to find a tenable balance between the interests of the UCI and ASO.
Some concluded that the UCI gave in to demands from ASO for new rules in 2018 that shrank the size of the peloton. Grand tours will be raced with eight starters per team instead of nine, while one-week stage races and the classics will be raced with seven starters instead of eight. Not everyone in the peloton is thrilled about that move — especially the riders, who see fewer spots on WorldTour rosters.
Lappartient broadly agrees with the idea of decreasing the size of the teams and insists he will be firm with ASO when he needs to be. He pointed out that when he was president of the French cycling federation, he won in a standoff with ASO over insurance.
“The idea is to say OK, what can we share?” he said. “We are lucky to have a race like the Tour de France in our sport. Many sports are trying to have a worldwide event, and we have a worldwide event for our sport. The passion for our sport worldwide is due in part to the Tour de France. On the other hand, we don’t want them to take all the decisions for our sport.”
Lappartient traveled recently to Australia to attend the Santos Tour Down Under, where he spoke at length with journalists.
He also met with officials from the Oceania cycling federation, which represents Australia, New Zealand, Fiji, and Guam. That’s part of an ongoing effort across the globe to reach out to and meet with key stakeholders as Lappartient takes over the reins at the sprawling UCI.
“I want to build some win-win relationships, but not only with [ASO], but with the other organizers; RCS, Flanders Classics, AIGCP, with CPA, with riders,” he said.
“We have some points where we disagree,” Lappartient said of ASO. “I have a French passport and ASO is a French company, and that will never change. I am able to defend what I have to defend.”
So far, Lappartient has not been afraid to speak his mind about such issues as the “Froome Affaire” and Lance Armstrong’s invitation to attend the Tour of Flanders. Everyone will be watching closely how he deals with ASO when push comes to shove.