UCI President Pat McQuaid has confirmed what many suspected that last year's “clarification” of the UCI's Technical Regulations for Bicycles was an attempt to put a spoke in the wheels of Britain's then all conquering track cycling team. Speaking at the World Track Championships in Copenhagen yesterday Mr McQuaid told the Telegraph that:
"Teams have been flouting the Olympic charter."
"The bikes used should be freely available in the market place at a reasonable price. It should not be about the bike, it should be about the rider. We want a level playing field.
"It has become apparent to the UCI that it's become a little bit out of control. Some teams are riding prototypes costing between €50,000 and €100,000, €200,000. That is working against the Olympic charter, against UCI rules and it's against the spirit of fair play.
"I've written to all the federations in the last week or so, telling them that any bikes they use from now on must be within the rules as they are laid out. I'm particularly concerned with this going forward to London 2012."
When pressed he confirmed that the new interpretation of the rules was designed primarily to punish Great Britain, Australia, and Germany – currently the three most dominant nations in the sport, whose cycling federations also invest the most money in track cycling.
As reported here on road.cc last year's re-interpretation of their own rules by the UCI caused consternation amongst the major bike manufacturers with accusations that a multi-billion pound industry was being put in jeopardy for the sake of internal politics at the UCI with the R&D departments of the major cycling manufacturers supplying the pro peloton, caught in the cross fire.
Speaking to road.cc last summer, Tyler Pilger, Road Product Manager for Trek said: "I think the main issue revolves around who the UCI's true constituents are – the National Federations (definitely not the average license holder). National cycling federations get a majority of their funding from their nation's overall sports federation which is mainly focused on the Olympics.
"Some national federations have put significant resources into track cycling in recent years and updating the technologies their athletes have access to. Other National federations have cried foul and so the Aero topic has come to the UCI's attention.”
Setting aside the stifling of innovation, the problem for the pro teams and the big manufacturers is the rule outlawing the use of prototypes – many if not all teams ride bikes that are one or two seasons away from the shops. On this basis it is quite possible that the UCI could declare machines that were legal in last year's races illegal this time around. Most observers of the way the UCI works believe that the organisation will work out some accommodation with the manufacturers leaving them to carry on with business as usual.
The new interpretation of the rules came in to force at the start of the year and so far not much appears to have changed, although tellingly perhaps, after intervention by the UCI Specialized is not currently supplying its two ProTour teams: Team Saxo Bank, and Astana with their latest Shiv time trial bike even though last October the UCI allowed it to be piloted to victory by Fabian Cancellara at their Time Trial World Championships. Farcically, Specialized's replacement bike, the Transition was also at first declared illegal under the new 2010 interpretation of the rules before some hasty modifications rendered it UCI compliant.
One unintended consequences of the furore surrounding the UCI's re-interpretation of its rules was the foundation of GOCEM – the Global Organisation of Cycling Equipment Manufacturers initially representing manufacturers supplying all the ProTour and UCI Wild Card teams, so that bike and equipment companies could respond with one voice to any future rule changes and give their input before they happened a move “welcomed” by the UCI.
So where does this leave British Cycling? up to now both officially and unofficially BC have struck a diplomatic tone on the issue saying that they will of course be abiding by the rules and would find ways of working within the new interpretation. However with 2012 in the offing there would appear to be a hardening of tone. Speaking in Copenhagen, British Cycling Peformance Director, Dave Brailsford pointed out that other nations were free to invest in their track cycling squads too, he also questioned the UCI's definition of “freely available” and “reasonable price” both of which the UCI has resolutely declined to give specific definitions of.
All the way around the UCI would seem to be playing “tech reg poker”, in theory they could summarily ban Team GB's track bike and various pro team machines as well. Of course it is not as simple as that. The bike manufacturers, and very possibly their lawyers, would have something to say were the latter to happen. And while Pat McQuaid's UCI constituency may be national cycling federations who get their funding from their national Olympic committees he has just been elected to the board of the International Olympic Committee which has its own agenda.
History, including the recent Winter Olympics, demonstrates that with a Games in the offing one of the IOC's overriding concerns is that the host nation does well in the medals table, and what sport offers Britain its best chance of concerted medal success in 2012? Oh yes, that would be cycling.
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.