Pat McQuaid has urged the top professional teams to consider the implications of racing in Paris-Nice. There could, he said, be damaging consequences for opting to race in an event run outside of the jurisdiction of the UCI.
I wonder whether, as he and his staff drafted the letter, Mr McQuaid thought back to the consequences of a decision he made more than 30 years ago.
When he was a promising Irish amateur rider, McQuaid broke the anti-apartheid legislation that prevented athletes from competing in South Africa. He was caught out and barred from racing at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal for Ireland.
Yes, it was a long time ago, but when the president is imploring the teams to think carefully about their decisions, it suddenly becomes relevant. McQuaid’s judgment in the mid-70s was not exactly flawless. He decided to race in South Africa at a time when doing so was forbidden. But he went ahead anyway.
It is worth pointing out that the apartheid-busting incident was in the face of serious and worldwide opposition to a repugnant regime, while riding an ASO event in contravention of the UCI’s rules and interests is not in the same league.
The incident is documented in David Walsh’s excellent book Kelly.
Walsh writes that the incident only came to light when a journalist from the Daily Mail took an interest in the Rapport Tour while he was there following Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor on their honeymoon in 1975.
He discovered there were some Irish riders competing for the Mum for Men team, Kelly and McQuaid among them, riding under false names.
They were sanctioned and banned from the Olympics for breaking the anti-apartheid barrier. Kelly took it as the impetus he needed to start thinking of a professional career.
McQuaid continued racing and then continued his involvement in cycling, as an organiser, commissaire and official, rising through the ranks to the post of UCI president.
Clearly his decision to race in South Africa, although denying him a place in the Olympic Games, has not had long-term consequences.
Obviously his judgment has improved over the years, but it is his staunch backing of the Astana team that continues to puzzle.
The problem here is that there is a groundswell of anti-Astana feeling in the peloton, not just for Alexandre Vinokourov’s actions last year, but also Johan Bruyneel’s return as a directeur sportif. He’s none too popular in many quarters either, largely because he signed Ivan Basso for Discovery Channel last year.
Paris-Nice is to be run under French Cycling Federation rules and, while there are some concerns over some of the clauses ASO wants the teams to agree to, it doesn’t make a great deal of difference to the race.
The letter from McQuaid to the teams, urging them to think carefully about the implications of their decision to compete in Paris-Nice, is the latest development in an escalating conflict that the UCI is in danger of losing.
While ASO holds the keys to the biggest and best races, the UCI is hamstrung, with very little to offer other than hot air. It’s a shame, because what we really need now, to make the biological passport system work correctly, is unity.
Instead we just have more bickering and the UCI’s position weakens by the day.
Photo: Offside/Presse Sport