The Wednesday Comment


Last week the sport’s governing body, the UCI, ran a management training course for team directors at its headquarters in Aigle.

Over four days, team managers attended a series of lectures and discussions and in the evenings there was time for an exchange of ideas and a bit of networking.

The idea is to raise the standard of management and administration among team directors, with talks on developing management and people skills and media relations. At the end of the week everyone got a certificate. By 2013 all team directors working for ProTour teams will need to obtain the qualification before starting work. It’s all very laudable, but it does run the risk of rendering the ranks of team management a closed shop. Team sponsors and organisations will come and go but there will be a nice cosy pool of ‘qualified’ team managers for the new teams and sponsors to choose from. Perhaps the UCI will disclose how much it costs to take a place on the course and make it open to people from outside the sport.

It’s easy to make fun of team directors, particularly as the perception is that they arrange hotel rooms, sort out day-to-day problems and drive the team car, with their actual tactical and managerial input almost an afterthought once the logistics are sorted out. But anything that broadens the knowledge of people working in cycling and raises the expected level of competence to another level has to be a good thing.

It was extremely heartening to hear that there was a talk from the UCI’s head of anti-doping services, Anne Gripper. Hopefully it was a message that ran through every session of the week.

If there is any message that qualified team managers should be able to stand by, it is a strong belief in anti-doping, whatever their past actions. This should be not only a willingness to say all the right things in public but to actually believe in them and reinforce them behind closed doors too.

To a certain extent, a manager’s previous conduct as a rider is relevant to their ability to deliver such a message, which is why the UCI should have introduced an amnesty in the wake of the Operacion Puerto affair, adopting a Year Zero approach. Of course there are managers who doped as riders – some of them have had the courage to admit it – and it is incumbent on those managers to demonstrate that they are able to run a clean team and take an anti-doping ethos to the heart of everything the team does. That means knowing and understanding the mentality of the riders in his team, not sticking their heads in the sand and taking a rider’s word for it.

Perhaps Ms Gripper should open all future courses, because the first requirement of any director sportif operating in professional cycling must be an ability to give riders that clear moral message. Cheating is wrong and doping is cheating.

Otherwise, all the management qualification will really mean is a cosy week in Switzerland, a chance to catch up with some friends for a beer, a nice certificate for the mantelpiece and a hearty self-congratulatory slap on the back. After all, excellent people skills, a dab hand at logistics and an ability to think outside the box are utterly meaningless if there is a hidden, illegal secret ingredient to success.

Angelo Zomegnan scored some easy publicity for his race when he suggested there was a possibility the Giro d’Italia could start in Washington DC some time in the future.

I can remember reading in Cycling Weekly 20 years ago the suggestion that the Tour de France might one day start in Quebec, Canada.

While it is no doubt an eye-catching headline, Zomegnan’s plan barely holds up to scrutiny.

The American excursion would have to be extended to a number of days to make it worth the journey. It takes more than eight hours to fly from New York to Milan and there is the time difference to factor in. And asking riders to go straight back into action after a transatlantic flight is unreasonable, so they would probably have to schedule a travel day followed by rest day.

But that hasn’t stopped plenty being written about the idea, and I include this item in that. He’s a canny fellow is Signor Zomegnan.

Mind you, with the Tour of California going head to head with the Giro d’Italia on the calendar next year maybe it’s Zomegnan’s way of saying: “If you step on our turf, we’ll step on yours.”


Everyone at Cycling Weekly was very sad to hear that legendary cartoonist Johnny Helms had died, aged 85.

Unless you have been reading the magazine for more than 63 years, you won’t recall an issue that didn’t feature a Helms cartoon.

His gentle humour captured the essence of what it is to be a cyclist in Britain and taught me about the eccentricities of club life well before I first joined a club.

As a grown up I’ve cringed when I’ve found myself in the occasional situation straight out of a Helms cartoon. Unfortunately it was earlier this year when I was riding on the turbo trainer indoors (before being banished to the garage, I should add). The whirr of the back wheel in the dining room was drowning out the TV in the front room. Exasperated, my partner got up and walked through the dining room on her way to the kitchen. Without thinking, and without stopping pedalling, I said: “Are you putting the bins out?”

I cursed Johnny as I spent the next hour in the dog house. I’m sure the comment was a direct result of one his cartoons – a case of life imitating art, perhaps. And in fact

I remember shortly after I’d started at Cycling Weekly in 1998, Johnny rang the office and I happened to answer. I introduced myself and told him how much I liked his work and that I’d been reading his cartoon since I first started getting the magazine in the mid-1980s. “Ah. I’d been doing it 40 years by then. I was starting to get reasonably good at it,” he said in self-effacing fashion.

After more than 63 years of unbroken service, Helms can surely lay claim to being the longest-serving contributor to a British publication. There will never be another like him and I’m looking forward to seeing the 12-page tribute to him in next week’s magazine.

This column has long praised the format of the Revolution meetings held at Manchester, heralding the idea as the future of exhibition racing on the track.

The Six-Day scene continues to suffer. One or two events are still thriving, particularly the Ghent Six held at the end of November, partly because of a marketing campaign to bring in hoardes of students on the Thursday and Friday nights, attracted by the idea of drinking all evening.

But crowds at other traditional Six Days have been in decline and the Milan Six became the latest to be cancelled.

Tony Doyle’s attempt to get the London Six-Day established on a temporary track situated in Newham is on hold, having missed the original October date.

Meanwhile, the people behind Revolution have hit on a successful format and continue to evolve. The racing is always fast and frenetic and there are always enough big names to generate plenty of excitement, while also offering younger riders a great learning experience.

The latest innovation is to introduce a competitive element for the 2009-2010 season. Over the four dates of this, the seventh series, the riders will represent eight teams, scoring points  towards an overall competition.

It’s a great idea even if one or two of the names are a bit dodgy (I’m not too sure about the Slicks or Tempo, for example). Crucially the format offers sponsorship opportunities, with Condor sponsoring the Rollers and uSwitch backing the Slicks.

What Revolution has done over the course of its six-year history is steadily evolve, creating a small popular event and making it bigger. Imagine if they had announced back in 2003 that they were going to launch the Manchester Six-Day. There’d have been an initial burst of excitement, then a frustration at the limitations of the format, then at least four days when the stands were less than half-full, and then the event would have been scrapped.

Instead, Revolution offers a chance to really capitalise on the booming interest in track racing, generated by the Olympics. In future there will surely be a London Revolution and a Glasgow Revolution, together with Manchester, enabling organisers to bring riders over for a full weekend, competing in one city on Friday night and another on Saturday.

And if events continue to sell out, perhaps there could even be a two-day Manchester Championship series final at the end of next season.

Just have a think about renaming the Slicks and Tempo.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is an independent panel that sits in Switzerland, has postponed the Alejandro Valverde cases, admitting they may not be heard this year.

There are two cases on the CAS file. The first case is Valverde versus the Italian Olympic Committee (CONI). Valverde is contesting CONI’s right to ban him from competing on Italian soil for two years. The other is being brought by the UCI against the Spanish Cycling Federation, with the UCI arguing that the Spanish authorities should have opened a case against Valverde.

The delay is because the UCI and World Anti-Doping Agency have asked to make written submissions to the Valverde v CONI case.

In the meantime, the rider and his team are in turmoil. There is no indication when the case will be heard, although it should be in January at the latest.

If it goes on too much longer the 29-year-old Valverde will reach retirement age in peace.

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