Dutchman Hein Verbruggen, former president of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), died last night due to leukaemia.
The 75-year-old presided over cycling’s governing body from 1991 to 2005, when he was succeeded by Pat McQuaid, and remained an honorary president. He also was a member of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), chairing the coordination commission for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
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Verbruggen, born June 21, 1941, in the Dutch town of Helmond, guided cycling through some of its best and worst of times.
He ensured professionals could race the Olympics and saw cycling through its biggest growth periods. However blood doping and EPO use, however, took hold and soared in same period.
American Lance Armstrong won the Tour de France seven times under his watch, titles of which he was later stripped for doping.
He remained president until 2005, when Irishman Pat McQuaid took over, and defended his and the UCI’s position through the tough times and beyond.
As late as January 2017, he showed his fighting spirit. He reached out to Cycling Weekly to underline that the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report published in 2015 “has not found any evidence of corruption” and recognised “the UCI has also been a pioneer in the field of anti-doping.”
He wrote, “With all we know about what has been going on in other federations, it is time to set the records straight as to the UCI and anti-doping. We have always been the leading anti-doping federation.”
He and McQuaid were both mentioned in the US Anti-Doping Agency Reasoned Decision that led to Armstrong’s lifetime ban.
Verbruggen could not win his battle with leukaemia. He had been struggling for the last year with the cancer and last night, one week short of his 76th birthday, succumbed.
He had made his way up the sport by signing sponsorship deals for the Flandria team, with Joop Zoetemelk and Roger De Vlaeminck. Zoetemelk, winner of the 1980 Tour de France, was the last Dutch grand tour winner until Tom Dumoulin (Sunweb) won the Giro d’Italia this May.
Via the Dutch federation and the now defunct Fédération Internationale de Cyclisme Professionnel or FICP, he reached the top of cycling.
Verbruggen leaves behind an ex-wife, two sons and grandchildren.
He followed cycling on television through his last days, watching Jakob Fuglsang (Astana) overthrow Richie Porte (BMC Racing) and Chris Froome (Sky) the Critérium du Dauphiné final stages last weekend.
“It’s sad,” McQuaid told Cycling Weekly. “We lost a great champion for the sport. People need to understand at what state the sport was in when as far as a professional sport in particular.
“He changed it completely, all of the systems, the constitution that the sport runs under, the stakeholder groups, AIGCP, CPA… All of those were created by Hein Verbuggen to try to bring the sport under professional management.
“He brought all the systems in place under which the sport runs now. Even the WorldTour [formerly the ProTour].
“It was him through his doggedness in fighting with ASO who didn’t want this in 2004 and 2005. They didn’t want it, but he wanted it for the sport. It changed budgets from two to four million a year to what is today, 15 to 20 million a year.
“He got a lot of criticism in recent years around doping, a lot of it was levelled at him unfairly. As we’ve seen even since.
“The CIRC report reported nothing untoward from him. Also, when you see what happened since with Russia and athletics. The way they’ve gone.
“Verbruggen shouldn’t be the one blamed for doping, but the whole system that was in place was very beatable. Athletes had been beating it for several years, the Russians had been making their way around it, and cyclists were doing the same.”
McQuaid invited Verbruggen, then president of the FICP, to the Nissan Classic he was running in 1986 and 1987. They spent one long day in the race car and Verbruggen asked about McQuaid’s family and Ireland.
“He went on from that little visit in Ireland to buying a holiday home in Ireland a couple of years later which his family still have,” McQuaid added.
“He was a good fun guy to be with. He enjoyed a glass of wine, particularly a glass of Irish whiskey, and we had many glasses together!”
Current UCI president Brian Cookson said that he was “sad to hear of the passing of Hein Verbruggen and offer my personal condolences to his family and friends.
In a separate statement, the governing body said “the UCI is sad to hear about the passing of former President and IOC Member Hein Verbruggen. Our thoughts are with his family and friends.”