ASO and the UCI, the governing body of profession cycling, are locked in a long-running and acrimonious battle for who controls the sport.
If you summed up the two positions is a simple grade school way, it’s basically the UCI saying you need to share the load and give up some power and revenue for the good of the sport. ASO on the other hand, again using the 7 year old kid version, says hey, we like having most of the money and most of the power and we like things just the way they are.
Thus the 10-15 year — who can even keep track? — power struggle between the two forces.
That game gets played in lots of back-channel private negotiations we never hear about and then it’s also played out in the media for all of us to see and form our opinions of who is right and wrong.
That’s why Christian Prudhomme, ASO boss and head of the Tour de France, has been very active in the media this last week. He’s been saying some very clever things that put the UCI on the defensive and in a secondary role. He’s making you question if really, it’s ASO who have the sports’ best interests — and the riders best interests — in mind.
Like we said, it’s a very smart, tactical and clever game.
Right now issues like mechanical doping and rider safety are hotly debated. Journalists have claimed to have uncovered seven bikes they suspect of hidden motors and mechanical doping at Strade Bianche and Coppi e Bartali.
On the subject of rider safety, two riders have died in the last months, a rider or two has been supposedly cut by a disc brake rotor in crashes and race motos continue to knock riders over and cause injury.
This is where Prudhomme wins all the media points on the battle ground of public opinion. We’re pulling straight from the cyclingnews story:
“This is the reality we face,” ASO’s head of cycling said. “Two steps forward, three steps back. We’ve spent so many years fighting and now there is this new problem. It’s not a rumor, they exist. We will have to fight it together, rather than each other.
“We have to defend the vast majority of riders and we have to take the toughest measures possible, the most severe ones possible.” Prudhomme had already made a formal request for swift action to the race organizers.
Contrast that with the actions of the UCI (still waiting for something to happen on the Femke Van den Driessche case) and you have a governing body on the back foot while ASO steals the show. When Greg Lemond tells you a year ago to get a heat-sensing gun and you ignore it, people question your thinking. When investigative journalists do the work you’re supposed to do, people again question your thinking. ASO is taking advantage of that. Chapeau Prudhomme.
On the subject of rider safety, Prudhomme also played to the media and cycling audience at large. He spoke of pulling guest cars from the race route in Paris-Roubaix and in the Ardennes Classics. He also announced that regulators for motorbikes and key drivers in the race would reconnoitre stages on a regular basis.
Actual, real, substantive steps on behalf of rider safety. It may not be much and it may be cosmetic but it looks meaningful in a vacuum where the UCI has yet to do anything but talk, talk, talk.
Now granted, Prudhomme is in a luxury position versus the UCI. He’s not the governing body, he doesn’t need consensus, he doesn’t have to negotiate for the safety of the sport. He can make his pronouncements and tweak his races and that’s that.
But then Prudhomme went all-in on his PR offensive against the UCI. Who really cares about the sport? Who supports the little races that aren’t so famous and high profile? Hmmm, based on his quotes, its ASO and not the UCI that is bringing the love and tenderness and euros.
Again, we pull from the good people at cyclingnews for Prudhomme’s PR gem. He pointed out that ASO’s promotion of formerly unprofitable races like Le Dauphiné and Paris-Nice helped maintain a vital part of the sport “because we know there can’t be races worldwide if there is no broad base of events.”
That’s three solid shots to the face of the UCI from ASO. Who will take the lead in the fight against motorized doping? Who has rider safety as a top priority and it already taking proactive measures? Who loves all the little races that need a financial boost to keep them alive?
We’d call that a PR slam dunk by ASO. If you’re a PR expert, you’re probably thinking, master stroke.