A broad group of cycling personalities gathered at the Hilton Hotel in London’s Edgware road to reveal its four-page ‘Charter of the Willing,’ as well as present a way ahead for cycling and propose changes to anti-doping controls – as well as demanding the removal of UCI president Pat McQuaid and honorary president Hein Verbruggen.
Following two days of discussions in London, the group (Skins founder and chairman Jaimie Fuller, Dr Michael Ashenden, journalist Paul Kimmage, former Tour winner Greg LeMond, former Festina coach Antoine Vayer, former AIGCP president and former pro Eric Boyer, Garmin team owner Jonathan Vaughters, Dr John Hoberman of the University of Texas prime among them) announced its intention to, in the words of Kimmage, ‘become a noisy pressure group’. Although to be fair this would appear to be the least of the group’s ambitions.
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At the moment – as of Monday evening – the month-old group is little more than a high profile pressure group in need of publicity, support and momentum. Its make-up is decidedly Anglo-French in outlook, lacks a supportive spokesman from the current crop of active riders and needs a ‘buy-in’ from as many areas and supporters as possible. The first speakers from the podium – LeMond, Fuller, Ashenden, Kimmage – spoke only briefly before the meeting was open to questions which lasted over a hour.
The thrust of the questions were about the funding and aims of the group, as well as several journalists asking how this pressure group – asking for major changes at the top of the sport – would be any different from anyone else asking for similar changes. The feeling was that if enough stakeholders (riders, organisers, sponsors, teams and fans) got behind the aims of the group, the pressure on the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) would force changes.
One of the most eloquent speakers on the podium – blood doping authority Ashenden – insisted that cycling badly needed to regain credibility in the eyes of the public and that the one important way to do that was by implementing a new anti-doping regime and test proceedures.
“We discussed this and explained it to Gianni Bugno, the president of the riders’ group and he needs to explain it to the riders’ representatives. I wasn’t even sure if it was right to mention it in the press conference, because I think it’s important that the riders themselves support it. But the key is that this will be an anti-doping system that works with the riders and helps them rather than an organisation imposing it from outside and us telling the riders what we are going to do to them,” said Ashenden later.
The man bankrolling the movement – and paying the expenses of some of the personalities present – Jaimie Fuller of Skins – insisted that the recently announced Independent Commission of Inquiry into the UCI’s activities during the Lance Armstrong era was not enough to repair the damage done to the public perception of the sport.
“We believe that, during the the course of the inquiry that Honorary President Hein Verbruggen and President McQuaid should stand down from their posts until the commission has reported its findings,” said Fuller.
Fuller’s insistence that Verbruggen and McQuaid need to go was echoed by Kimmage. “I don’t think it’s right that we will have to wait seven months for the Inquiry to report its findings, we need to keep the pressure on, we need to make sure this issue will not go away,” insisted the animated Irish journalist.
And it’s clear that the fallout from the USADA-Armstrong affair won’t be going away, though how much impact this group can have in the months ahead might hinge, in the first instance on whether or not the rider’s group (CPA) is persuaded by Bugno’s explanation of Ashenden’s new anti-doping proposal.
In addition, if Vaughters, the outgoing president of the AIGCP, can sell the agenda to the team’s organisation, that would also be a major filip to the noisy fledgling outfit. Without ‘buy-in’ from riders, it’s hard to see how the group will gain support. More info at www.changecyclingnow.org
One final point though: for an organisation calling for more transparency and openness within the governing body of the sport, when one of the attendee profiles is a Twitter avatar – an anonymous, genderless, Twitter avatar – that’s probably not sending out the best message.