In May 2009, UCI president Pat McQuaid said he wanted to "bring both the sport and the manufacturers back to reality. The sport needs to be a sport of athletic ability, not technical ability.”
This was a thinly veiled attack on Team GB which, via Chris Boardman’s ‘secret squirrel club’ spends millions of pounds on developing new – and exclusive – bicycle equipment for track riding. Team GB riders are equipped with bikes not available in the shops, bikes built around a proprietary frame, developed behind closed doors.
Before last year’s Tour de France, the UCI stated that all bikes used for UCI and IOC competitions – including specialist time trial bikes and track bikes – must be commercially available, but there was no definition of what this meant in practice.
At the Track Cycling World Championships in Copenhagen earlier today, Pat McQuaid said three national teams were flouting technical regulations. The three teams are Great Britain, Germany and Australia. But it’s Team GB most in his sights.
McQuaid is aiming to get nations to race on standard bikes, rather than gain an edge by using proprietary technology. According to the UCI’s Lugano Charter of 1996, technological advancements are potentially unsafe but, most of all, are too expensive for poorer nations.
"New prototypes can be developed because they do not have to take into account constraints such as safety, a comfortable riding position, accessibility of the controls, manoeuvrability of the machine," states the Lugano Charter. "The bicycle is losing its ‘user-friendliness’ and distancing itself from a reality which can be grasped and understood. Priority is increasingly given to form. The performance achieved depends more on the form of the man-machine ensemble than the physical qualities of the rider, and this goes against the very meaning of cycle sport."
In a press conference at the Copenhagen velodrome, McQuaid said track bike technological advancements have "become a little bit out of control."
He doesn’t like the money spent on in-house, secret R&D: "Some teams are riding prototypes costing between 50,000 and 200,000 euros."
According to McQuaid: "That is working against the Olympic charter, against UCI rules and it’s against the spirit of fair play."
He has contacted all cycle national governing federations restating last year’s Luddite stance: "I’ve written to all the federations in the last week or so, telling them that any bikes they use from now on must be within the rules as they are laid out. I’m particularly concerned with this going forward to London 2012.
"Between now and then the UCI will get to grips with this and I can guarantee you that in London 2012 there will be nobody using bikes or equipment, nor even clothing [which flouts the rules]. They need to ride on equipment which is freely available on the market."
However, the UCI has not definitively defined what this means and McQuaid also didn’t define his caveat that bikes must be available at a "reasonable price". Reasonable to whom? Somebody who buys a bike at Wal-Mart? All track bikes would henceforth have to cost under £70. Or perhaps reasonable to a millionaire Formula One driver? In that case, Team GB’s bikes would be "reasonably priced" at the £200,000 per bike put forward by Team GB performance director Dave Brailsford.
Interviewed on BBC2, Brailsford urged the UCI to clarify what McQuaid means by "commercially available".
"We want the sport to be fair. But if a nation is willing to invest in what is a minority sport – and Great Britain is, as is Australia – to try and take it up to another level then it’s a little short-sighted to put that back. It disincentivises. Track cycling is in a different place it was ten years ago and, personally, I think the technology involved and all those marginal gains is what makes the sport exciting. It moves the sport on.
"It will be interesting to see what [the UCI] mean by ‘commercially available’. Are they going to put a price on it? If we take our R&D budget and divide by the number of bikes produced it’s going to come out as a very expensive bike. We’d be quite happy to sell bikes for £200,000, if that’s going to be the case.
"The situation is vague. I can see the principle but how the rules will be applied needs to be sorted. The UCI needs to come out with some clear definitions. If you buy one of our bikes on Monday afternoon, or I sell one to Chris [Boardman] then we’re back in business. The rules are too vague."