Team managers walk out on UCI President McQuaid as race radio row escalates

Chaos in Brussels amid reports of extraordinary email from McQuaid to Jonathan Vaughters

by Simon_MacMichael   April 18, 2011  

Pat McQuaid Simon MacMichael.jpg

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.
 

13 user comments

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Then Pat McQuaid said "I'm going to take my ball and go home".

two wheels good; four wheels bad

posted by cat1commuter [1289 posts]
18th April 2011 - 23:18

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But not before I've spat my dummy out and thrown all my toys from the pram.

Exercising my rights by taking them cycling

posted by pedalingparamedic [82 posts]
19th April 2011 - 6:46

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Gah is pro cycling a mess.

I think some journo/cycling fan came up with a great compromise. Like having 1 or 2 radios per team. It would make it possible for DS's to warn riders of danger and also pass messages back and forth, albeit with a little more difficulty. What would be interesting though is if say, a Super Domestique like Jens Voigt who wouldn't get a radio, decides to break away and then it could be quite interesting. Making choosing who would have the radio/s on the day a strategic choice.

I don't really care though, I just wanna enjoy my riding and when I can catch some races on TV. Shouldn't that be the aim of the ProTeams/UCI?

posted by Shiny Flu [84 posts]
19th April 2011 - 7:58

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To prove the radio issue they should only allow sky team to have them. Then if wiggo wins the tour they will know that radios make you go much faster. If not then ban radios. Job done! Actually I don't think this issue has anything to do with radios, its about money and who controls it.

posted by cjp [4 posts]
19th April 2011 - 8:36

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I'm not a big Vaughters fan, and I'm actually in favour of the radio ban (or a version of it), but McQuaid is getting way above himself - he seems to think the sport is his personal empire to run as he sees fit, rather than having a responsibility to the stakeholders to do the best for everyone. He needs to be removed and replaced with someone who actually has the confidence of those they are responsible for.

Lance Armstrong for UCI president, anyone? Wink

posted by step-hent [626 posts]
19th April 2011 - 8:47

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I was starting to get behing Vaughters, and his fight to keep radios after reading his piece on Cycling News. The points about safety are understandable, but also the riders being able to contact the car wrt assistance for mechanicals and punctures I found very valid.

However, after hearing the in-car radios (especially Vaughters) in Flanders, and watching Vaughters and BMC doing nothing other than order riders to be negative in Roubaix, then I'm starting to back the UCI on this one. Let the riders work out what they want to do. HTFU and ride.

posted by Matt_S [175 posts]
19th April 2011 - 9:24

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I agree race radio is negative but as reported, TV stations think it is boring and their opinion is critical. This is strange given that Vaughters and Bruyneel seem to think that the UCI is all powerful. You only have to read Vaughters childish 10 point plan to realise how ridiciously underqualified he is for his role and compleetly out of his depth. (which you will note he alludes too in the cycling news article mentioned by Matt_S). Vaughters and Bruyneel surely know the cycling food chain is riders> teams> sponsors> organisers> media. The UCI has little financial muscle. Personally I think the teams are being manipulated by the main organisers who are protecting their interests from attempts by the UCI to counter balance i.e. Tour of Beijing. The UCI unfortunatly is also out of its depth and is suffering from a nasty smeer campaign that it probably wont survive in its present form, exacerbated by crazy Pat loosing the plot yesterday.

As an aside, but underlying all this, I would not be at all surprised if SKY try and get their dirty trotters on a large slice of cycling TV rights in the near future. I can't believe that Sky pro cycling team is going to make a return on investment - this must be an R&D cost. I've no doubt they are or will be playing a hand in this dirty tricks campaign. You might think that is a good thing if you think that football has benefited from the Sky treatment...? Goodbye Eurosport. Hello pay per stage Tour de France presented by Richard Keys and President of the UCI, Lance Armstrong with special guest Dr Ferrari.

posted by cjp [4 posts]
19th April 2011 - 12:32

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Surely if the radios are required for safety, then the radio traffic can be monitored to ensure that no other riding instructions are being given?

Or is that too simplistic?

Coronitaking

posted by CoronitaKing [1 posts]
19th April 2011 - 12:38

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I can't think of ways that radios could make a race safer.

posted by cjp [4 posts]
19th April 2011 - 15:12

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warning riders of changes in road conditions, nasty corners/road furniture ahead, oil on the road, crashes - they make the race safer by providing timely warning of hazards to a whole team at once. But that function could be fulfilled by having a 'safety' radio operated by the race organisers - riders could radio in hazards, and the organisers broadcast to all riders, but the team car is not involved.

posted by step-hent [626 posts]
19th April 2011 - 15:24

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Pro cyclists should not need to be told about nasty corners etc - they do this for a living. They have a lot of experience of bike handeling. I really can't imagine that a pro cyclist would want someone telling them its a bit gritty or there is sharp right hander coming up. What they want is their DS on hand so they can order bottles and food, to report mechanical issues or to get advice on strategy and time gaps. All of which makes it more predictable and less interesting to watch. It has nothing to to with safety. Look how many crashes there were in Paris Nice this year - must have been 10 to 20 every day - with radios. If anything radios probably make it less safe. It demands huge concentration to stay upright in a peloton and with someone barking instructions in your ear it can't help.

posted by cjp [4 posts]
19th April 2011 - 15:50

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cjp wrote:
Pro cyclists should not need to be told about nasty corners etc - they do this for a living. They have a lot of experience of bike handeling. I really can't imagine that a pro cyclist would want someone telling them its a bit gritty or there is sharp right hander coming up.

Doing it for a living makes no difference to whether you can avoid an oil spill or a gravelly corner which you don't know about. And no-one is saying there are no crashes with radios - usually the first the team hears about a hazard is that it is reported because of a crash. What is does mean is that they can report crashes to groups behind, or report crashes from a small group which isnt being followed by a team car or race car, so medical attention can be sought.

I'm not suggesting it is all about safety - it clearly isnt, the safety issue is a convenient argument in a power struggle. But it is possible for radios to make racing safer.

posted by step-hent [626 posts]
19th April 2011 - 17:16

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I would suggest that the organisers and accompaning motorcycles etc are more than capable of calling for an ambulance. Warning a group behind is not needed. They will see a crash or dare I say it take the same risk as the front bunch. Ordering up service or mechanics or drinks etc is not part of the spirit of the sport in my opinion.
Maybe a few radio controlled/equiped marshals instead. All saftey issues covered and now communication between the team car and riders possible. Its the latter which has to go.

posted by mattsccm [203 posts]
19th April 2011 - 21:37

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