First off, a disclaimer. During a recent all-expenses paid trip to Switzerland – thanks to the largesse of the UCI – I was gifted a large beach towel and a 1 GB memory stick, both emblazoned with the UCI logo. I was also wined and dined by bigwigs of the UCI, and lodged in a Montreux hotel with a killer view over Lake Geneva.
Oh, and to really soften me up, I was allowed to ride the 200m track that forms the centrepiece of the modernist building in Aigle, Switzerland, that houses the Union Cycliste Internationale.
I’ve been a staunch critic of the UCI for many years so top marks to the UCI’s newly appointed external PR company for inviting me to Aigle. And top marks to the UCI, too. It’s good to talk. Jaw, jaw better than war, war, and so on.
But I haven’t changed my opinions. I still think the UCI is a bombastic, bureaucratic, bossy, Bolshy bunch of blazers. In part. The other part is something that rarely gets talked about. The UCI is largely funded with cash from the International Olympic Committee and it spends much of this money on outreach work, delivering programs in the developing world to foster and encourage cycle sport. The UCI’s HQ velodrome, and outdoor BMX track, are full to bursting with youngsters from nations that don’t benefit from global pay-TV company sponsorships.
This is excellent work, largely unsung. The UCI could be a respected organisation, instead it’s reviled and ridiculed.
I was in Switzerland – on the UCI’s dollar – to learn more about the ‘approved by UCI’ stickering program. In theory, homologation is a grand idea. It removes the worry of whether a particular bike or bike part will be rejected on a race start line by an over-zealous UCI commissaire.
But it was a rush job and the UCI has flimflammed on the costs. Both Pat McQuaid, the UCI president, and Julien Carron, the non-cycling engineer brought in to supervise the homologation programme, told me the initially sky-high costs were reduced because more than the expected number of companies expressed an interest in registering. In effect, the UCI had no idea of the size and scope of the global bicycle business.
Pat McQuaid thinks £5000 road race bikes have potentially unsafe composite frames made in China for as low as $30. The president of the world governing body of cycle sport should be better briefed than this.
And nothing the UCI told the select group of journalists at this trade media event filled me with confidence that the UCI can be trusted with policing the innovations that are so necessary to grow the high-end bike market (innovations will usually trickle down to the mainstream).
The UCI needs to be more open with the bike trade – something that is starting – but it also needs to lighten up, both figuratively and literally. The 6.8kg weight limit might have been fine 15 years ago, it’s plain stupid today. And there are many other rules and regs that need a thorough spring clean. Over to you, Pat.