The UCI has a self-destruct gene in its DNA. Almost nothing it does can be considered beneficial to the sport or to the manufacturing industry that equips the sport. The UCI was very late into true anti-doping and it hasn’t twigged it needs bike companies more than bike companies need it.
The latest debacle should not have happened; the Union Cycliste Internationale was being advised by a wiser, more mature organisation. Last year the World Federation of Sporting Goods Industries stepped in to break up a fight between the UCI and a bike industry organisation formed to rebut the UCI’s anti-innovation proposals.
GOCEM was the first joint effort from the industry to put the UCI in its place. WFSGI stepped in as a mediator and persuaded pretty much all of the member companies of GOCEM – Cervelo, Cannonale and many others – to disband the organisation and become members of WFSGI.
In theory, once under the wing of the WFSGI, it would be easier for discussions between the UCI and bike manufacturers to be civil and non-partisan. And then came a bombshell: a ‘Approved by UCI’ stickering program that would cost bike companies big-time. Time trial frames would cost $14,500 per size to be measured by a UCI-appointed lab; companies would have to submit designs in advance; and there was talk that once frames got "approved", the UCI would then get its sticky mitts on components and even clothing.
The industry was looking at signing a big fat blank cheque for ever and a day. Clearly, once the UCI became the de facto go to org for okaying bikes and kit, there would be no end to the empire building, the cash grab.
At a meeting at the end of January, the UCI backed down, promising to listen to an incensed industry and reveal a revised program. The new, "improved" program reduces prices (why were they so expensive in the first place, then?) but still leaves many questions unanswered.
What the UCI failed to take into account was the extra costs that would be created with a stickering program. It would not be just fourteen grand spread over a few bikes, it would involve bike companies spending a great deal of time and effort producing drawings, prototypes and all to a timescale devised by the UCI not dictated by the market. New staff would be needed by bike companies. Would Chinese and Taiwanese factories which produce bikes for multiple players each have to go through a measuring and labelling process?
Why was the UCI trying to kill off re-spray companies and bespoke builders? That would have been the result of the dictat that only original manufacturers could apply the official stickers. Why was the UCI so up itself it felt it could impose $100,000 fines on companies that screwed up? Such a fine had no legal basis but is a perfect example of how the UCI believes it has an absolute right to be absolutist, to rule with an iron fist.
The UCI was attempting to pull off divide and rule: gunning for high-end TT frames first and hoping nobody would realise it would be standard frames, components and clothing next.
Bike companies need to stand together. An overarching governing body for world cycle sport is necessary but it doesn’t have to be the UCI, it doesn’t have to be in Switzerland and it doesn’t have to be run by the current crop of blazers. The organisation has made too many enemies over the years to have a guaranteed existence.