The already fraught relationship between the UCI and the sport’s leading teams appears to have plummeted to new depths this afternoon after a number of team managers walked out of a meeting in Brussels with Pat McQuaid, president of the governing body, amid news of an extraordinary email sent by the latter to Garmin-Cervelo’s Jonathan Vaughters, president of the teams’ association.
It is understood that the AIGCP unsuccessfully attempted to have the issue of race radios moved up the agenda of today’s meeting, but their request was rebuffed by the UCI. That, plus the unforeseen presence at the meeting of three journalists apparently invited by the UCI and the email sent to Vaughters by McQuaid, led to today’s walkout.
The journalists belonged to the International Cycling Writers’ Association, and had apparently been invited after a poll of their members showed that six in ten were in favour of the ban on two-way communication, now implemented at all races bar those on the UCI World Tour.
The walkout itself was led by Vaughters and Team RadioShack’s Johan Bruyneel, thought to be the leading architects of the proposed breakaway competition. They were reportedly accompanied by representatives of most other leading teams
In a statement reported by Reuters this evening, the AIGCP said: “Having had our request refused, reviewed the tone of the e-mail exchanges prior to the meeting and the comments made at it, many teams choose to symbolically withdraw before the close of today's UCI meeting.
That email exchange included one, sent by McQuaid to Vaughters, a copy of which Reuters has seen, which appears to contain a veiled – and as yet, unspecified threat - against the teams, stating: "Jonathan, I have had enough of this High Moral Ground [sic] from you and I am refraining myself from writing exactly what I am thinking.”
It continues: "Enough to inform you that when I have finished with the teams today you will have plenty to 'reflect' on and communication will be the furthest thing from your mind."
It has become evident in recent weeks that what apparently began as a simple row over the use of radios – the UCI believes that banning them would improve the spontaneity and spectacle of cycling, while team and rider representatives insist that they are vital for safety – masks a wider power struggle that may well shape the sport’s future.
Last month, Vaughters outlined a ten-point plan designed to put cycling on a par, in terms of its global reach and appeal, with sporting events such as the FA Premier League. That followed reports in French sports daily L’Equipe that 11 leading teams, including Britain’s Team Sky, were considering breaking away from the UCI to form their own competition.
Earlier this month, McQuaid reacted to that news by telling Reuters: "It's not the first time that a subject like that has come up, and I know there have been some discussions among a small number of teams about that recently but it's not something that I fear very much, it's not something that I see as being realistic in cycling.
"We could live with it but I don't see how it could happen. I don't see what races they would ride because once they break out they are no longer allowed into UCI races and it's a very difficult thing to set up with enough races to satisfy."
The UCI President has previously said that the radio ban had in part been instigated at the behest of major broadcasters which had become fed up with the predictability of many races, such as escapees being reeled in and caught in the closing kilometres of a race ahead of a bunch sprint finish.
At the Tour of Flanders a fortnight ago, however, the Belgian host broadcaster showed in car camera footage as well as audio of radio transmissions from team management to riders in an expirement that was, by and large, well received by fans.
Today’s events would appear to demonstrate that the opposing camps are as far away as ever from reaching any form of compromise on the radio issue, and that the fractures within the sport may even be deepening.
In the meantime, there are now less than two weeks to go until the expiry on 1 May of a deadline set by the AIGCP for the UCI to back down on the radio ban; should that not happen – and it seems impossible to imagine it will – then the AIGCP’s member teams have threatened to pull out of August’s inaugural Tour of Beijing, which will be the only race on the calendar that the UCI both organises and promotes.
Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.