The satirical cycling website Cyclismas is in the spotlight following reports that some of the nearly $100,000 it helped raise from cycling fans – including road.cc staff and users – for journalist Paul Kimmage to help him meet legal bills after he was sued for libel by the UCI, Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen, is unaccounted for.
At the centre of the mystery over some of that money raised for the Paul Kimmage Defense Fund, according to reports yesterday on a variety of sites including Cycling News and VeloNews is Aaron Brown – perhaps better known to Twitter users as UCI_Overlord, who regularly signs off his tweets with a mischevious “*chuckle*,” or to viewers of the CCNN-TV video podcast hosted by Cyclismas as Ripp Finklemann.
The fund, to which more than 3,000 people contributed, was intended to pay for Kimmage’s lawyers’ bills in respect of that lawsuit, currently suspended, from the UCI and its past and former presidents, and some of the money – around 21,000 Swiss Francs – has indeed been used for that purpose, according to reports.
That leaves close to $70,000 apparently unaccounted for.
What underpins the controversy is the fact that originally, the money went into a PayPal account Cyclismas used for general business, linked to editor Lesli Cohen’s social security number, and which thereby triggered a tax form being sent to her.
Brown, who ran the PayPal account, assumed responsibility for the fund, and apparently transferred the money to his own Canadian bank account, for reasons that remain unclear. Cohen has said she is still liable for the tax and Brown, who earlier this year relocated from Canada to Girona, Spain, has been unable to provide her with a satisfactory explanation of where the money is.
Cohen, widely perceived as an innocent party, has filed to dissolve her Cyclismas business partnership with Brown, and while the intention appears to be that the site will continue, the current row could prove a mortal blow to it.
Kimmage, who lost his job with the Sunday Times last year and is currently working as a freelance, demanded at the weekend that Brown furnish him with full accounts, but so far without success.
Brown, meanwhile is insisting that he has done nothing wrong, that he is acting in good faith, and that everything will be explained – although exactly when the donors, his former colleagues at Cyclismas, and the most important person involved, Kimmage himself, will receive that explanation is unclear.
While the fact the Paul Kimmage Defense Fund quickly reached a near six-figure sum is testament to the power of social media to unite people in a common cause, it also highlights potential pitfalls for the unwary or naïve.
Those include: why wasn’t the money put into a trust, beyond the control of a single individual? Why were tax and other implications not addressed from the outset? And why has it proved so difficult for Kimmage to obtain information?
After all, the fund is in his name and for his benefit.
Reactions on Twitter yesterday, where the various players involved in the episode each have followers numbering in several thousands, included disbelief at the news and concern over the implications for Kimmage, as well as anger from many who had donated to the fund.
Some pointed out that the episode seemed an absurd parody of the kind of satirical story on which Cyclismas built its reputation. Last month, the site partnered with Trek UK to launch the Trek-Cyclismas Professional Commuter Team, although the 1 April launch date left many scratching their heads over whether it was a spoof or for real.
Others said that Brown had outdone UCI President Pat McQuaid, the man that UCI-Overlord account was set up to parody, while for some it was fair to say there was a certain amount of satisfaction as the news broke.
Among those was Team Sky’s head of business operations Fran Millar, who has previously crossed swords with Brown on Twitter over accusations from him and others that the team lacks transparency, among other things.
“Schadenfreude *chuckle*” she posted – the second word being one Brown regularly uses in tweets from his UCI_Overlord account.
Later, she added: “I really hope the money is found + that @PaulKimmage is put back in charge of it. My sympathy lies with the people who donated. Not Aaron.”
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.