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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — It’s fair to say that Friday’s UCI Congress was a stressful day for American Mike Plant.
Plant, who sits on the UCI’s Management Committee, has been at the center of the storm that has swirled around Pat McQuaid since April.
It was then that Plant privately confronted McQuaid with allegations of corruption as part of a 56-page dossier assembled by a pair of detectives hired by Russian billionaire Igor Makarov, a member of the UCI Management Committee and the head of the Russian Global Cycling Project, which manages the Katusha ProTeam.
When McQuaid rebutted all of the allegations, Plant took his case one step further. In June, he delivered the dossier to the UCI’s Management Committee, the executive board of the UCI, at a meeting in Norway, brazenly calling for McQuaid’s resignation and refusing to hand over the dossier to the UCI’s Ethics Commission, which Plant felt was far from objective when it came to the federation’s leader.
Instead, Makarov had the dossier sent to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency.
In the heated contest for the UCI presidency between McQuaid and British Cycling chief Brian Cookson, battle lines were drawn, with Makarov and Plant firmly in Cookson’s corner. It was whispered that Plant would be offered a UCI vice presidency if Cookson were elected; if McQuaid were to be retained, well, the writing was on the wall.
“Today might be my last day with the UCI,” Plant wrote in an email to VeloNews on Friday morning, in the moments before the UCI Congress began. “I hope for the sport of cycling there is a change in leadership, so the sport can move forward. My conscience is clear. Soon enough that will become clear to others.”
Once the UCI Congress began, Pieter Zevenbergen, head of the Ethics Commission, railed against Plant and Makarov for leveling allegations against McQuaid without delivering the documentation to the commission.
Plant, a former member of the board of directors at the U.S. Olympic Committee and an executive with the Atlanta Braves since 2003, was a member of the UCI Management Committee between 1997 and 2005, and was re-elected in 2009. This year, his four-year term was up; in the moments following Cookson’s election, he and Makarov were both re-elected to the 15-member Management Committee.
On Saturday morning, Cookson named three new vice presidents to his cabinet — David Lappartient from France, president of the European Cycling Union; Mohamed Azzam, from Egypt, president of the African confederation; and Tracey Gaudry president of the Oceania confederation.
Plant, who flew back to the U.S. immediately after the UCI Congress, was not named.
Several media outlets, including VeloNews, spoke with Plant on Friday afternoon, immediately following the election. The transcript follows.
Question: How important was the outcome of this election for you and your role with the UCI?
Mike Plant: I said from day one, 7,000 people took a [UCI stakeholders] survey, and what they said was that we needed to restore the credibility of the sport, and we needed to do it through the leadership. Any organization that goes through what we’ve been through, any company, any sports organization, you get to the point — you go through that many crises, you fight with that many people, and have that many people that are disenfranchised — eventually you have to change the leadership at the top. You can’t move forward with the same people.
Look, Pat was my friend. He and I went on the Management Committee at the same time [in 1997]. I’ve got a moral compass. I’ve got ethics, and I’ve got integrity. I’m sure people can question those. My friend Pieter Zevenbergen today was laughable. To sit there and be the chairman of an ethics committee, and then the last thing he said was about the 25,000 [euro] extortion claim from the Greeks, but then, “Oh, by the way, we don’t have any information about that, so we really can’t tell you anything.” No ethics committee in the world would do something like that, on the morning of an election, knowing how challenging this was going to be. That, to me, spoke volumes as to why I wasn’t going to provide any information to what I felt was not an independent body. That was my choice, and obviously this got very politicized. I feel a little vindicated.
If McQuaid had been elected, I was probably going to hit that microphone, and say, “To my fellow colleagues here, I would like you to withdraw my name from the Management Committee election.” I cannot, in good conscience, serve in an organization that does not have the same level of morals that I do. I would be hypocritical doing that.
Fortunately it worked out, where Brian and I share a lot of the same values, the same vision, and I’m happy that I was re-elected. But I was ready to go home. This doesn’t define who I am. I don’t have a UCI business card, like a lot of my colleagues do. My life has been defined by my athletics career, my sports career, what I do for the Atlanta Braves, and my family. I am here because I hope people think that when they elect people to this board, you bring a level of expertise, and experience, and competency, to propel the organization forward, and the day I stop doing that, believe me, I’m walking out that door. I don’t need that for my identity. That’s not what this is about.
Question: What about people who have suggested that you are part of the sport’s past? You were president of USA Cycling’s board of directors from 1995 to 2002, during Lance Armstrong’s Tour de France reign.
Mike Plant: Well, I was off the Management Committee for four years [2005-2009]. And when I was before, [when Hein Verbruggen was president] I think the thing was running differently then. I am like everyone else. I had no idea what was going on. I wouldn’t have sat there if I did. I told people, “Hey, the guy got tested 500 times.” That’s all I know that works, in sports — you do tests. There will be some stuff that comes out, now, and I was told about it, and that’s what turned the switch for me. I thought, “Holy cow, I have been duped.”
Question: What about your past involvement with [U.S. Postal Service team backer] Thom Weisel, and with Lance Armstrong?
Mike Plant: I have known Lance for a long time. He has never worked for me. I have never worked for him. I have known Thom Weisel for a long time. If you are referring to the fact that Jim Ochowicz was working for Baird [Wealth Management] in Milwaukee, and I invested $100,000 in there, and lost about $40,000 of it, and then, during that time, he went and became a stockbroker for Thom, if people want to go and make issues about that, they can make issues about that all day. Eventually I closed my account and I lost my money. It didn’t have anything to do with Och and I trading doping secrets, I can tell you that.
That is the problem: People want to make issues out of things like that. Look, I can sit here with you, comfortably, today … that’s why I have a wife, who I have a very trusting relationship with, and I’ve always been able to look in her in the eye … I have no ghosts in my closet.
Question: Now that Brian Cookson is running the UCI, will you give the dossier to the UCI Ethics Commission?
Mike Plant: I had a conversation with Pat in private in April. I disclosed some things to him, and I asked him to resign. I said, “Pat, you are my friend, though you’ll probably never send me a Christmas card again, but this is what we need to do for this organization, and this is what you need to do, because we can’t move forward with this hanging out there.” And basically, nothing happened. And that’s why, in private, executive session, I went to the next level, and wanted all the colleagues that have the same fiduciary responsibility as I do to know what I knew. And I knew more in June than I did in April.
I don’t own the dossier, Igor [Makarov] does, so it’s his final decision, what he’s going to do with it, but it’s been sent to USADA, and there are people who are connected with this that are going to have to do some depositions soon, and some of that information is going to come out, and some of the information that we are still working on has just now come to fruition, tying some of the pieces together.
And why would I hand that to the Ethics Commission, when we just saw my good friend Pieter Zevenbergen today do a nice job trying to manipulate this election by putting on the table some extortion claim and then saying, “Oh, we haven’t had a chance to investigate this yet?” No ethics committee in the world would do something like that.
Question: Should Pat McQuaid be worried about what might be revealed in the dossier?
Mike Plant: Look, I can’t speak for Pat.
Question: When you look at some of the UCI management who were closely aligned with McQuaid, such as legal counsel Philippe Verbiest, or Ethics Commission head Pieter Zevenbergen, what do you see happening with them, moving forward? Do you think Cookson will be cleaning house?
Mike Plant: Brian is going to have to take a good look at who is really going to contribute to move this thing forward versus who is going to bring baggage from the past. I think some of the staff is going to have some tough questions that they are going to have to answer. That’s normal in any transition in an organization.
There have been 90 days of some pretty unbelievable shenanigans going on. Including here, today. That was probably great comedy for you in the media. How does anyone think that reflects highly on this organization? If I am one of those constituents, I am like, “Are you kidding me?” For me personally, I don’t want any part of that.
Question: Earlier [in a vote to delay an amendment to article 51.1 of the UCI Constitution for one year], the vote was tied between the delegates, 21-21. Do you think those shenanigans caused some delegates to change? [The vote between Cookson and McQuaid was 24-18.]
Mike Plant: No, I don’t. [Article 51.1] needed to be a two-thirds vote to pass, so it was going to fail. There was so much lobbying going on in the past few months. And that’s why I appreciate Brian, because in all of the conversations he and I have had, I have never asked him for anything. There have been people making deals — who is going to be a vice president. … I’ve never had that conversation with him. I’ve never asked him to be on a commission.
That’s the problem with all of these organizations. In the 30 years I have been leading Olympic sports, in the U.S, and being part of UCI, it’s about people’s identity, and what they can suck out of the organization, rather than what they can contribute.
The riders, the teams, the events, they expect professionalism out of us. I think I can bring professionalism to the table. I work in this business every day, and I think I have the respect of people. But if I would’ve been on the losing side of that election, I would walk home with my head held high. I think I did the right thing. I didn’t do anything to destroy my integrity or my ethics. I go home. I have a baseball game tomorrow night. [The Atlanta Braves] are in the playoffs.
Question: What do you say to the rumors that if Cookson were elected, you would be made a vice president?
Mike Plant: There are about eight or nine people who are being chattered about for being vice presidents. It’s about personal aspirations, and also about who can deliver a level of competence and experience and expertise to serve for an organization like this. That is the criteria. And that’s probably the interest of the individuals who are being considered.
I won’t deny that someone asked me if I would be interested in being vice president, and if someone thinks I can serve in that capacity, I would consider it, but if I was really interested in being vice president, don’t you think I’d be at the 9 a.m. meeting [Saturday] morning? I am leaving tonight. I’d be there if I was really interested. It’s impossible for me to be one of the vice presidents if I’m not there. And that’s okay, but if I were really interested, I’d be talking to people.
That’s up to Brian. Those are Brian’s decisions. It’s highly unlikely, since I am not there, and I won’t have a vote myself, I don’t know if anyone would vote for me. At the end of the day, I am going home. That should be a good indication.