Jonathan Vaughters, manager of Garmin-Cervelo and President of the Association of Pro Tour and Pro Continental teams (AIGCP) has outlined a ten-point plan that he believes can boost road cycling’s profile and elevate it to a similar profile at global level as FA Premier League football enjoys.
"If you look at cycling's demographic it should be infinitely more successful than it is," the American told BBC Sport. “It should be on the level of Premier Football. The Tour de France is maybe the world's greatest sporting event."
The 37-year-old, who formerly rode for US Postal Service and Credit Agricole among others, and once held the record for the ascent of Mont Ventoux, described cycling as "human F1 car racing" and it’s probably no coincidence that several of the improvements he recommends have parallels in that sport. He added that it was the "exploration of the ultimate in human performance."
Vaughters acknowledges that the issue of doping is an "Achilles’ heel" for the sport, but points out that the fact that some riders do fail drugs tests reflects the efforts being made to catch them.
"Cycling has introduced the most strict enforcement of anti-doping regulations of any sport, so you will always see more people caught," he insists.
"Cycling is absolutely transparent. What do you prefer - struggling with scandals but with a fair competition, or do you want to bury the scandal and the competition is unfair?"
One way of helping boost the fight against doping, says Vaughters, would be for teams to make a significant financial contribution to the fight in return for guaranteed places in the Tour de France for five, ten or even fifteen years. That in turn would give teams a more stable framework to operate within.
"Guaranteed participation could help teams generate more sponsorship," he maintains. "In return teams would be obliged to donate 20% of new money to combat doping," which he says could amount to up to €50 million in the course of five years.
It’s an idea he has put to the UCI since his election as head of the AIGCP in 2009, but he has never heard back from the governing body on the issue.
"The UCI's willingness to hear and give credence to ideas put forward is fairly limited," claims Vaughters, with the AIGCP and UCI currently locking horns over the issue of the latter’s proposed ban on two-way radios, itself a reflection of the perception by the teams that they have little say in the big decisions affecting the sport’s future.
"My ability to vote on any regulation is essentially nil,” explains Vaughters. “The AIGCP is cycling's biggest stakeholder, but has no power to veto new regulations. That is ineffective governance."
Should the UCI not back down on its stance over radio communication between team staff and their riders by 1 May, the AIGCP has said that teams will pull out of October’s inaugural Tour of Beijing, a race not only run under UCI regulations, but one to which the governing body unusually also owns the rights.
"This a team sport that is conducted at 80/kmh," Vaughters reflects. "If we are going to have a modern sport there has to be communication and just as importantly that rule was introduced without speaking to anyone in the field.
"The regulations are limiting creativity, intelligence and engineering. There is so much more that could be done to improve cycling, but we're being held back by decision making."
His ten-point plan for cycling’s future, together with our own comments on each of them, is shown below. We’d be really interested to know your thoughts the very fans that Vaughters presumably hopes his suggestions will appeal to, so please make your own comments below.
1. A larger number of top-level races outside Europe.
Apparently in line with the UCI’s efforts to globalise the sport, although the question is open as to whether this means new races in new markets – think the Tours of Qatar and Oman – or races in places with an established cycling culture. The new one-day events in Montreal and Quebec last year were a big success; a one-day race in New York or San Francisco, anyone?
2. Race formats that are consistent and readily understood by the fans.
We’re not 100% sure what lies behind this – possibly it’s the tendency of organisers of races such as the Tour de France to keep tweaking the format each year, so in some editions you may have a team time trial, in others you don’t. The Prologue had pretty much become established as the curtain raiser to the race, but that will be missing this year as the race opens with a road stage and team time trial the following day.
3. Pro teams to be guaranteed places in the Tour de France on a long-term basis.
Teams with UCI ProTeam status are now guaranteed entry to – and obliged to compete in – World Calendar events. But lose that status as a result of a poor season or some other factor, and you’re relying on wild card entries. That’s bad from a sponsorship point of view, and not conducive to long-term planning either. As mentioned above, the quid pro quo is teams contributing financially to the fight against doping.
4. Anti-doping programmes to have greater emphasis on preventative measures rather than trying aiming to catch those who are doping after the fact.
For every rider who dopes, someone, somewhere first encouraged him to do so and supplied him with the means. It’s apparent from ongoing investigations in Italy, for example, that young up and coming riders may be encouraged to take performance enhancing drugs at an early age. Address the issue at that stage, and you may prevent a big name rider testing positive several years later.
5. A greater number of team time trials.
Contentious. Cycling is a team sport, but it’s one in which the ultimate victor of the general classification in a stage race is an individual. A poor performance in a team time trial can give a rider hopeful of the overall victory a deficit on his rivals that proves impossible to overcome; conversely, a strong team performance can see the top of the GC dominated by riders from the same squad.
6. Use of technology such as cameras mounted on bikes, helmets or inside team cars with the aim of making the "craziness and danger of the peloton more real to the viewer".
We’re big fans of this one. The movie Chasing Legends gave a particularly good illustration of how this might work in practice, and some of the action shots were stunning. We’d love to see the race organisers and broadcasters try it out.
7. Innovation in equipment permitted with the aim of finding out whether the cleverest team can win and not just the one with the strongest riders.
Unlikely to be welcomed at the UCI HQ in Switzerland, given its history of banning some of the more radical designs of frames or components in the past. As with some of the other proposed innovations, the comparison here is with Formula 1 and Moto GP, where the outcome of an entire season can be pre-determined by some technological breakthrough. In cycling, at least it’s the rider who provides the engine, but should they be allowed an edge through their equipment?
8. Radio communication to be opened up to fans so they can hear what their favourite teams are up to mid-race.
Apart from the fact that radios are at the moment rather a controversial topic, we can see a slight flaw with this one – a few choice expletives broadcast around the world at a crucial moment in the race might have the TV producers up in arms. Mind you, think of some of those turning points in big races down the years – wouldn’t you love to be listening in?
9. Allow riders to be tracked by GPS to add to the viewing experience.
As Saturday’s Milan-San Remo showed, even experts can be confused by what the current state of play is on the road – it took some time before news filtered through on TV that riders such as Mark Cavendish were in the second group on the road after the peloton split. Problem solved.
10. Devising a way of ranking the world’s best rider and best team that is readily understood and consistently applied. As an example, riders not taking part in a race such as Paris-Roubaix might be docked points.
To the general public, of course, the world’s best cyclist is the one who wins the Tour de France and weighting of the UCI points ranking system to some extent reflects that. But short of another Eddy Merckx bursting onto the scene, the size of team rosters and diversity of type of rider around makes it difficult to see how a definitive ranking could be devised.
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.