Pat McQuaid, President of the UCI and the head of world cycle sport is a man of strong opinions and an often controversial figure, whether you agree with him or not he always has something to say, and what he has to say usually shapes UCI policy. We caught up with him in London this week for an in-depth interview about the Olympics, the state of professional cycle sport and much more.
During his tenure at the UCI, the organisation a succession of doping scandals have forced the governing body to confront the culture of organised doping that had arisen in professional cycling with its Biological Passport programme for athletes and the enforcement of a more rigourous disciplinary process. All of this and many other issues that the UCI have been involved with including its setting up of the ProTour and its attempts to carve out a position for itself as a race promoter have been highly controversial, but McQuaid has never shied away from raising hackles.
In this first installment talk the topic of the moment - the Olympics. McQuaid explains how and why the original road race route was changed, and the UCI's view on ticketing at Box Hill, he also gives his views on the Sky/British Cycling set-up - which might surprise some, and tells us what cycling events he's most looking forward to. (Unsurprisingly, given that he's the man who helped bring BMX to the Olympics and who was involved when mountain biking entered the Olympic fold too, he doesn't share Phil Liggett's view on their suitability as Olympic sports.)
Q: We have 18 medal events in London... which one are you personally most looking forward to and why?
A: That’s a difficult question, not an easy one. Which one am I looking forward to the most? It’s hard to say. It’s very difficult because the road, the track, the mountain bike and the BMX, I enjoy them all equally and I have to enjoy them all equally. I think the one I’ll look forward to with most interest is Saturday’s event on the road because of all that has happened in the past couple of weeks and to see how that has impacted. I’m making a prediction that there will be a million people on the roadside next Saturday. I’m interested to see, am I right or wrong?
Q: The ITT and road race routes are both different to those in the Bid document, and there has been a lot of controversy here over the decision to charge for access to the main climb of Box Hill? You have issues with it being National Trust land, and rare wildlife. Do you think it was a mistake to send the races up there and does it set a dangerous precedent for races elsewhere?
A: No, I don’t think with hindsight you would do things any differently. I was involved from the very outset in looking at that Regent’s Park circuit, it was shown to us and it didn’t match a lot of the requirements which we needed. I actually went to university in Strawberry Hill so I knew the countryside we are using and I suggested we look down in that direction, and I knew Box Hill well from years and years ago and so we started examining maps and everything what could be done in South West London. And I knew also we wanted something that showcased London, that showcased areas like Richmond Park and Hampton Court Palace.
We couldn’t do what we did in Beijing, which was start in the city centre and go out of to a hard circuit and finish on a hard circuit. We were always going to go out and come back, so it was a question of finding the circuit in the middle. The Box Hill circuit presented itself and we decided to go for it. That was from a sporting point of view. It worked well for the UCI and for cycling. Then came the problem of the environment and the environmental issues that happened with the circuit. And it was a question of us really just trying to manage them as best we could.
We had the test event and we had to see how it was on the test event and the UCI wasn’t happy that there were very strong restrictions on the public and we sat down and we said we wanted more public allowed access to it and so forth. Likewise, the people who were causing the difficulty – I’m not saying they were difficult, the people who were protecting their different issues – there were several good stakeholders involved, they saw that there was actually less of an impact than they were initially being told and that it would be agreeable to allow more access.
So between the two of them it became a question of allowing more access onto the hill but we had to accept it, we couldn’t allow hundreds of thousands of people on there, and if you’d allowed free rein you would have got hundreds of thousands of people there. So we had to restrict them some way and the restriction was a question of putting tickets and charging. I don’t think it was done as a financial exercise, it was done just to limit the number that should be there. So I think from that point of view, even in hindsight, it’s been a good decision.
Q: Some countries might say that on the road plus on the track if you think about Geraint Thomas's programme which he wouldn’t be allowed to do at a Belgian team perhaps, or the way Mark Cavendish rode the Tour, GB has an advantage because of the overlap between BC and Sky, is that a concern to the UCI?
A: It’s not a concern, no – as a matter of fact it’s something we would encourage, because what Team GB and Team Sky have done is to maximise the benefit of track racing to the road team. They have set benchmarks for others to follow in actual fact.
They’ve put Geraint Thomas and Peter Kennaugh in the Giro d’Italia, a three week Grand Tour, and told them, you must finish this race, you’re going all the way, you’re not getting out when you get tired at the last set of mountains, you’re going all the way, because you need three hard weeks of racing now to get that extra half a second we need out of you in the team pursuit in London.
That’s a completely new departure, you would never have seen that years and years ago in the continental teams, the Italians, the French, would never put guys into a Grand Tour to prepare for an Olympic Games team pursuit. The British have a broadened approach which is using the benefits of track and road and allowing guys… like Geraint once this is over I think he will devote himself completely to the road and his track racing will be finished. So there’s always going to be a period of time between an 18 year old and a 24 year old that he can mix both, he gets the benefit from the track and bring it to the road then beyond that concentrate on the road. Now the British have done an excellent job and that’s an example for other federations – and sponsors – to follow, that they can link closer between the federation and the road.
Plucked from the obscurity of his London commute back in the mid-Nineties to live in Bath and edit bike mags our man made the jump to the interweb back in 2006 as launch editor of a large cycling website somewhat confusingly named after a piece of navigational equipment. He came up with the idea for road.cc mainly to avoid being told what to do… Oh dear, issues there then. Tony tries to ride his bike every day and if he doesn't he gets grumpy, he likes carbon, but owns steel, and wants titanium. When not on his bike or eating cake Tony spends his time looking for new ways to annoy the road.cc team. He's remarkably good at it.