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The lead story over the past week in the world of professional cycling is that the sport is tearing itself apart.
ASO, the organizer of the Tour de France, Paris-Nice and Paris-Roubaix is either angry with the slow implementation of reforms or angry because they’re against all reforms that reduce their power and force a sharing of revenue.
Brian Cookson, the president of the UCI, is apparently unable to convince his own Management Committee to put the reforms into action. Those proposals are now on hold for the foreseeable future and backroom politics are in force.
The Velon group, comprised of 11 cycling teams, are also pushing hard for financial reform — read, a slice of the financial pie — but have very little leverage over the UCI and ASO. Velon is not going to boycott the biggest races on the calendar unless they plan on losing all their sponsors.
Now, a rumor is spreading that a fourth group has wedged its way into the debate. The newly created VENOM group is headed by Igor Makarov, boss of Russian cycling and non-Velon team Katusha. It also has the support of the European Cycling Union headed by UCI Management Committee member David Lappartient of France. Renato di Rocco of the Italian federation has also thrown his considerable influence into the new VENOM group.
As of yet, no official statement of the VENOM group’s intent has been made and speculation runs rampant. “I see them as like SPECTRE, the villain organization in the James Bond films,” said Micheal Cillyness, a respected cycling journalist. “VENOM would very much be a clandestine and secretive organization that seeks to destroy the UCI from within and destabilize the efforts of Velon.”
With Brian Cookson now forced into a position of weakness within the UCI and ASO unwilling to outline a public agenda and Velon failing to gain traction, VENOM could very well seize power. It’s a prospect that sends chills up the spines of many within the world of professional cycling.
Former Tour de France champion Greg Lemond sees danger in VENOM. “Look at their name — that tells you all you need to know. They’re evil, they want to destroy things, they’re out to set up a cycling dictatorship,” said Lemond. “I think my house may be bugged.”
Jonathan Vaughters, the head of the Cannonade-Garmin (and a Velon member) is also worried about VENOM’s plans. “I grew up watching Man From Uncle. There is no question that VENOM is like THRUSH,” said Vaughters. “I talked to Wegelius and told him he will have to be our Napoleon Solo or we’re doomed.”
Nefarious or not, VENOM is a powerful organization within professional cycling. In a sport still rocked by doping allegations, financial reform disputes, federation power struggles, poor monetization and weak governance, the appearance of mysterious and powerful new organization is cause for great concern.
Mystery man Makarov, the head of VENOM, has said nothing of the group’s plans or strategy. He bears little physical similarity to Bond villains Dr No, Goldfinger and Raoul Silva — although there is a passing likeness with Le Chiffre.
It remains to be seen how the arrival of VENOM will alter the future of professional cycling. However, there is already an aura of fear and apprehension spreading throughout the peloton.
“This could be a nightmare, doomsday, Night of the Long Knives, evil virus type scenario or maybe nothing at all,” said Vaughters. “At the end of the day, I think we’re all a little bit concerned.”