I stopped regularly making fun of the UCI when president Pat McQuaid was voted out of power.
The Irishman, who presided over much of the dark, doping times in pro cycling, was viewed by many as both a cause and symptom of the sport’s ensuring malaise.
Critics called McQuaid a hack, a buffoon, vindictive, corrupt, a man with his foot permanently embedded in his mouth. When Brian Cookson swept into office there was a collective sigh of relief. Perhaps this time, there was hope for positive change and a more transparent approach to governance.
Alas, Cookson proved to be honest and genuine but largely ineffectual. He didn’t have the energy or power to make any progress on the daunting issues that have held the sport back — the on-going issue of doping, a tenuous financial model built on sponsorship and a power struggle between ASO, the UCI and the teams over control and revenue sharing. Tally up Cookson’s accomplishments and you arrive at the number zero. Cookson finished his term looking like an exhausted and sad hound dog.
Into that leadership vacuum appeared the youth, dynamic personality of David Lappartient. He promised renewed energy, active collaboration, vision and most of all, action. The Frenchman insisted he would be everything that Cookson wasn’t.
Except that he wasn’t.
Lappartient has been vocal and bold in the press but failed to back his positions up with concrete accomplishments. Just this week, his modest proposals for reform are already being walked back. To quote the lead paragraph of the Cyclingnews story: “The UCI is set to backtrack on reforms to the structure of the men’s WorldTour for 2020, delaying any development in the business model of professional cycling and so leaving teams dependent on sponsorship for survival.”
Teams are increasing unhappy and increasing aligned in their opposition to the UCI. It’s a far cry from the kind of constructive “come-together” discussions that Lappartient campaigned on. When he was running for the office, critics pointed out that the Frenchman had very close connections with A.S.O, which runs the Tour de France, among many high profile races. A.S.O. has made it clear for years that they have no interest in sharing their revenue with teams or doing anything to compromise their dominant position in the sport.
Besides the fail on reforms, Lappartient has consistently bungled the handing of the Froome-salbutamol case that dragged on through the Giro d’Italia and then suddenly, shockingly, resolved in Froome’s favor just days before the Tour de France.
Lappartient and the UCI demonstrated their complete lack of power by essentially running a public PR campaign begging Froome to withdraw from racing until his doping case was decided. The organizers of the Giro and the Tour pleaded with Lappartient to resolve the case before their grand tours. Months and months went by until, fed up and frustrated by a lack of action and support from the UCI, Tour boss Christian Prudhoome decided to lawyer up and try to prevent Froome from riding.
That legal challenge forced the UCI to react but even then it was a pass-the-buck, avoid-responsibility move that put all the decision-making on WADA. Lappartient, the president of the UCI, the governing body of the sport, basically abdicated responsibility for the Froome case.
You have to fundamentally question of the role of the UCI. For example, the riders are now in open revolt with their antiquated and unrepresentative union. Former pro David Millar has started a grass roots campaign to overturn the unions and make it more responsive to riders. I’ve heard nothing from Lappartient on a subject that you would think would be extremely important to the future of the sport.
So how far has the UCI really come since the days of Pat McQuaid and Cookson? Lappartient is younger, better looking and higher energy but isn’t he really just Cookson is a more expensive suit?
New face, same farce.