Is the UCI bad for cycling

This is in response to an excellent article by the Velocast that can be found here –

Firstly I should emphasis that I agree with the article and I agree that cycling should be drug free. However…

I ve been away in Siberia for most of the Vuelta and consequently have managed to see little of it save what I can pick up from CN and Twitter. The internet connection was so poor that I was not able to download the Velocast Vuelta specials so I’m not sure of their opinions on this particular race. What I’ve put here is an idea. It is not what I would like to happen, it is what I fear may be happening…
Despite the British success at this years Tour de France, it has been roundly criticized by near every commentator on cycling for being boring. Personally I do not agree with this, I think they re forgetting some of the best stages we ve seen for a long while! Let us not forget Peter Sagan’s celebrations, the epic battle of the Roulers on Tommy V’s first stage win, Mark Madiot thumping the car behind Pinot and Cav’s desperate sprint past Sammy Sanchez to name a few. However, for many people, the only show at the Tour is the GC and such a dominant display from Sky, in the face of little opposition it must be said, did not make for exciting viewing. However, many people in the know, for the first time that I can remember, opined that this was a Tour won by a clean rider on a clean team (as much as any one can ever have such an opinion about a sport that may well have never been properly clean at this level)


Contrast this to the recent Vuelta in which two riders who have both returned from Drugs bans this year came first and second. Even the most hardcore anti-doping twitterati fawned about both if them as they produced what was (so I ve heard) one of the most exciting GT’s for a number of years. From following the race on twitter and Bikeradar, it appears that a majority (but not all!) cycling fans are appeared to forgive cyclists with histories very easily as long as they provide some exciting racing.

What will this picture look like in a few years?

I am lucky enough (??) to live in the Netherlands where I have ridden with a few cycling clubs and I can also follow enough French to get their viewpoints on cycling. My anecdotal evidence based on talking to Dutch, Belgian, German, French and Italian fans would suggest that a large majority of cycling fans in Europe are under the impression that pro-cycling is as doped as it ever was, they just either ignore it or simply don’t care. When I ve talked about how good it is to see a team like Garmin or Sky, who have a strong anti-doping stance, winning, I tend to get a look of pity. Most commonly I get the line about “they ride 200km a day over 4 mountain passes for 3 weeks – of course they dope, they could nt do it with out dope!”

Do they care if their hero is doped?

Anyway, having stepped back from the sport recently (being sent to Siberia is good for this!) and reading these reports has led me to wonder how many cycling fans in the world really care about doped cycling. Undoubtedly the British and US fans have a much stronger feeling about it than most European fans seem to (as was suggested by Mr Wiggins in his Guardian article during the Tour) however, we make up a relatively small proportion of global cycling fans.

So to the UCI. Could it be that the UCI, realizing that what the majority people actually want to see is exciting cycling above all else are walking an, arguably very successful, line between giving fans what they want to watch, but allowing them to think that they are tough on drugs too? Cycling popularity has boomed in the “New World” through the presidencies of Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid. Some of this could be put down to more TV channels resulting in more options for showing cycling, but there are plenty of sports that deserve coverage, cycling must have done something right! By keeping the exciting, bug name racers on the road (Armstrong and Contador) as much as possible but by punishing some, easily replaceable, no-name domestique to the fullest extent of the law, are they giving us what we want to see, with the comforting blanket that they re still fighting the good fight?

Even in the more pro anti-doping countries, most of us cycling fans are still watching the sport having been repeatedly let down by our heroes time and time again. We are used to watching a race knowing that whoever crosses the line first may be irrelevant to actually will go in the history books as the winner of the race (last year’s Giro being the ultimate example of that). There must be something that keeps us coming back.

Is it that we can forget about it every Sunday afternoon for a few hours? Is it that we can separate the race and the doping in our heads? Is it that we actually love the soap opera behind it as much as the racing – cycling is our sport and doping is our “Eastenders”?  or is it that the majority of us just don’t care as long as we get a good race? Recently I ve started to think that the last one may be truer for more fans than less.

I hope I’m wrong, really i do, but if not then I don’t know how this sits with me. I ve not watched a race since the tour (save for JTL’s win in the Tour of Britain recently which I found on in a bar).  Could the 6 nations and the Red Bull TV coverage of the XC and DH Mountain biking fill the hole that not watching pro-cycling would leave?

An alternative Spring Classic?

At least I know this guy will still be in Rainbow stripes next year…

Even so, I have a feeling that I ll watch little of the rest of the season but after a winter of cyclocross (available to me on Sporza), I ll be back on the sofa after the club run with a Belgian Beer and a cone of frites raring for the season to start again! Does this make me a sucker?


About ddraver

A Cornish petroleum geologist living in the Netherlands. Expect some stories about travels, comments of the perils of being an ex-pat and some mindless ranting/musing on cycling.
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One Response to Is the UCI bad for cycling

  1. A while ago I made the intellectual choice to give every rider returning after a served sanction the benefit of the doubt on the show but personally, and this is my view not that of The Velocast, the last two decades has left me hard to surprise when doping is revealed. I suspect that the dopers are now working towards lower numbers than the old 6.7watts/kg when it comes to performance enhancement and are instead focussing on “creative” recovery protocols. I am, and again this is my very personal view, very close to thinking we should burn the sport to the ground from the UCI on down and start again with draconian punishments for users of PEDs overseen by a truly neutral governing body . The alternative would be to deregulate entirely and just enjoy the freak show a la professional bodybuilding. Both would be preferable to the current situation IMHO.
    Nice post BTW.

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