The news today that long time team sponsor Rabobank has decided to pull out of pro cycling is a shocker and not.
The USADA “reasoned decision” on Lance Armstrong and cohorts went off like an atomic bomb and the aftershocks are hitting big time.
The mystery question is when this accelerating and powerful wave of energy is going to knock down the UCI. Or more specifically, current and former UCI presidents Patrick McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen.
Everyone from Garmin-Sharp’s David Millar to former HTC-Highroad owner Bob Stapleton has asked for McQuaid to step aside and insisted on new leadership and structure.
The UCI is currently presiding over a meltdown as the dark doping years of cycling are finally revealed in horrific detail. In this climate, Rabobank has decided “enough is enough” — essentially stating that the corruption goes all the way to the top.
“The report shows that the international cycling world is flawed,” said Rabo’s financial director Bert Bruggink. “Doping is everywhere at professional races and moreover it is supported even within the highest institutions of the cycling world. Our conclusion is thus that there is no way out of it. Which is why we have decided to stop supporting the professional teams.”
As a side note, they can also thank their rider Luis Leon Sanchez for two Tour de France stage wins but aren’t thrilled to learn that back in 2007 Sanchez was working with the evil Dr. Ferrari. Another Spanish casualty of the USADA report.
Remember, this is a team supported by the cycling-mad Dutch. Bruggink finished with this zinger: “We are not confident that cycling will improve in the medium term.”
The term that we should be focused on is McQuaid’s, as in terminate. Both Verbruggen and Mad Pat must go, a conclusion reached by everything from Bicycling Magazine’s Joe Lindsey to Cycle Sports’ Lionel Birnie, From Garmin’s Jonathan Vaughters to Bob Stapleton. Maybe the UCI delegates in Africa and Asia still think McQuaid is doing an okay job but nobody else.
What corporate sponsor would be willing to spend millions while pro cycling remains in its current state? Though the sport has actually never been cleaner, public perception is a sport so riddled with drugs and lies and deceit that even the hardcore fans are dismayed.
Besides the doping problem, the existing financial model gives teams and sponsors almost no say in the direction of the sport. Just last week, Canadian team SpiderTech pulled the plug on ambitious plans that included World Tour status and a Tour ride in 2014.
They left US Road Race champion Timmy Duggan and top climber Lucas Euser without a ride for next year. SpiderTech claimed it wasn’t because of the Armstrong mess but it was the same week as the USADA explosion. That’s pretty easy math — under these conditions, they’d never find an additional financial partner and decided to exit. Right now Twisted Spoke thinks badminton is a better sport to put money in.
Any half intelligent businessman will read through the USADA report and ask some basic questions. Like why is McQuaid in business? Why is twice convicted doper Alexander Vinokourov in team management at Astana? Should Bjarne Riis, after the Hamilton testimony, be allowed to continue running Saxo Bank? Why is Viatcheslav Ekimov taking over the reins at Katusha, when you’d have to be suspicious of a rider with Armstrong’s Postal squad from 2000 to 2006. Armstrong always said Eki was his model for a true professional cyclist. We’re afraid to ask what that means, post-USADA.
As “outed” riders and former riders continue to be fired, as team managers like Orica-GreenEdge’s Matt White and RadioShack’s Nissan-Trek’s Johan Bruyneel are sacked, as sponsors like Rabobank, SpiderTech — and let’s not forget HTC-Highroad a few years back — exit the sport, we have to ask, when is UCI president Patrick McQuaid resigning? Does the man have no shame, no sense of responsibility?
Let’s not forget the high profile exodus of sponsors like Nike and Anheuser-Busch and Nissan. While they no longer support Armstrong, how enthusiastic do you think they are about pro cycling as a business proposition? Let’s remind ourselves of the inherent instability when rich private businessmen — Sky’s Rupert Murdoch and BMC’s Andy Rhys — are some of the only people willing to put big money behind a team.
Stapleton is encouraged by the painful cleanse but still sees major issues to be resolved. “Then you have to figure out how to grow the sport so it’s good for everybody, but the foundation is restoring the basic credibility of the enterprise,” Stapleton told Cycling Weekly today. “And that’s around a new set of rules that are rigorously enforced, very likely by a third party [so that they] are inescapable.”
USADA CEO Travis Tygart had said that once the evidence was made public, the damage to Armstrong’s’ reputation would be “30 times greater” than anything he’d faced. The same could be said of the damage to the leadership of the UCI.
“Frankly, the UCI needs to cede authority and be in a position to help drive change, protect the integrity of the sport,” said Stapleton.
Now Bob is too media-savvy to name names but everybody knows who he’s talking about — UCI President McQuaid. We’re hoping that a shock wave — perhaps one named Paul Kimmage — will knock him over soon.