Attempts are being made to set up a rival professional cycling tour outside of UCI control, reveals UCI President Pat McQuaid at the end of a long open letter to the riders in the continuing row over the UCI's planned phased ban of radio earpieces in professional races.
While many fans of cycling would cheer at such a prospect they are likely to be conflicted by the news that the man McQuaid alleges is behind the new enterprise is none other than Team RadioShack manager, Johann Bruyneel.
Confliction for cycling fans seems to be at the heart of this entire affair with most finding themselves in the strange position of agreeing with the UCI on the need to ban radios to reinvigorate the sport as a spectacle with the potential to surprise.
Aside from power, the heart of the argument would seem to be about whether cycle sport should model itself on motorsport and notably F1, or on athletic sports such as football or baseball, where once the players are on the pitch the coach can no longer have a direct influence on play.
In his letter, McQuaid insists that the impression that the radio ban is opposed by the vast majority of pro cyclists is a mistaken one, saying that he believes that the peloton is pretty much equally split on the issue.
He also suggests that the cyclists may be little more than pawns in the entire affair, and queries how much of the money that might flow into the sport if a rival professional tour were set up might go to them, rather than the commercial interests operating it.
Road cycling, it should be remembered, is a sport that was essentially created by the media, with the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia owing their origins to newspaper circulation battles. Yes, there are one-day races with an older heritage, but it was the printed press and later on radio and TV that brought the action to the masses.
Although, of course, it pre-dates it, cycling is a sport that could have been made for TV. There is no other sport where the TV camera puts you, the viewer, right in the heart of the action as the pictures do from a Tour de France moto. Show a non-cyclist helicopter images of the race as it sweeps through a small French town, and you may have won a new fan to the sport.
While in other sports, it has been the teams who have courted TV with governing bodies forced to follow suit – the UEFA Champions League, for instance, was born from the threat of Europe’s leading football clubs to form their own league – McQuaid asserts that the broadcasters are on cycling’s side.
Indeed, he claims that part of the reason for the UCI’s decision to phase out radios is due to a threat by broadcasters, including France Television, which provides more coverage than any other, to scale back their coverage if radios continued to be used in the current manner, in other words to help determine race tactics. He adds that other TV channels have expressed a similar view.
With the team managers’ association, the AIGCP, threatening that teams will not take part in the Tour of Beijing if the race radio ban is not rescinded by 1 May, and the cyclists’ union, the CPA, due to take strike action at three races next weekend, we could be entering a pivotal few weeks for cycling’s future.
We don’t know whether McQuaid’s letter is intended to drive a wedge between teams and riders by encouraging the latter to start questioning their managers’ judgment and whether they have cyclists’ best interest at heart.
What is clear, however, is that during the course of the past few days, the argument has evolved from what was apparently just a dispute about radios and is now one that will determine the future direction of the sport.
There appears to be little prospect of any sort of compromise at the moment. As fans, all we can do is sit back and hope for a speedy resolution to avoid too much damage being done to a sport that already has more than its fair share of problems through issues such as doping, and which can ill-afford a long drawn out struggle for power.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.