UPDATE: It appears that cycle sport fans are telling the UCI exactly how they feel about the organisation's latest PR folly. 500+ cyclists have voted with their wallets by contributing to the Paul Kimmage Defense Fund and the pot has risen to nearly $20,000.
Irish writer Paul Kimmage, author of a ground-breaking book on professional cycling's doping culture, is being sued for defamation in the Swiss courts by Pat McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen, the current and former presidents of the Union Cycliste Internationale. McQuaid and Verbruggen are targeting Kimmage because of an article he wrote in 2011, featuring a seven hour interview with Floyd Landis. Landis made accusations of doping by Lance Armstrong and also accused the UCI being complicit in hiding positive doping tests by the seven time winner of the Tour de France. This interview was carried in full on NYvelocity.com and an abridged version appeared in the Sunday Times. The UCI bosses are now suing Kimmage directly, rather than suing the publications he wrote for.
US journalist Charles Pelkey believes this is no accident: "[McQuaid and Verbruggen] are engaged in a practice often referred to as a SLAPP. The Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation is essentially a suit filed with the intention of keeping critics silent, by targeting a select few of them in a public battle."
Kimmage, a former pro rider who took performance enhancing drugs, is the author of 'Rough Ride', an award-winning expose on cycling's doping culture first published in 1990. He and fellow Irishman Pat McQuaid have been at loggerheads ever since. Kimmage has long been an outspoken critic of the UCI, believing it to be an intrinsic part of the "problem." By revealing the dark side of the sport Kimmage was deemed to have broken the law of omerta in the pro peloton. Omertà is a term describing the pact of silence in the mafia. Fellow riders and sports officials accused Kimmage of "spitting in the soup". Many of his long-time critics now agree he was right to point the finger at individual riders, directors sportif, teams and officials at the UCI.
Kimmage has won the Sports Journalists Association Interviewer of the Year prize five times. He lost his job at the Sunday Times last year following an editorial cull. That the UCI should sue an out of work journalist has raised the hackles of many cycle sport fans. Blogs NYvelocity.com and Cyclismas.com, popular with pro riders and cycle sports fans, created the Paul Kimmage defence fund late last week and this has already raised over $10,000 from 320 individuals.
The defence fund has also been highlighted by influential anonymous Twitter user UCI_Overlord (a spoof account purporting to be Pat McQuaid but, at times, highly critical of both the UCI and McQuaid).
UCI_Overlord told BikeBiz.com: "Paul [Kimmage] was at first much against the fund, but with some powerful persuasion from Andy Shen of NYVelocity.com he was willing to let it go forward. Lesli Cohen, editor-in-chief of Cyclismas.com worked on the logistics of setting up the fund with twitter personality digger_forum after Lesli and I agreed to offer our support. I spoke to Paul via email on Saturday and he was overwhelmed, speechless and shocked by the support he has received.
"He could face some substantial costs if he loses."
Many of the 320 who have so far contributed to the defence fund are doing so to protest against the UCI as well as help Kimmage, believes UCI_Overlord:
"The UCI lacks complete transparency in their decision-making process, lacks any accountability in how they arrive at their decisions, and in my opinion has lost total touch with what the sport requires in this climate."
Blogger The Inner Ring agrees:
"I think many support Kimmage because of his writing and consistent stance against doping. But the case may be a kind of proxy war where fans frustrated by the conduct of the Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid can rally together to signal this via financial support. What started out as a petty lawsuit is becoming another PR headache for the embattled UCI."
One of the contributors to the defence fund is Mike Ashenden, one of the world's foremost experts on blood doping and the athlete's biological passport. Dr Ashenden has an independent reviewer of blood profiles in cycling since 2008 but withdrew his support of the UCI's biological passport program in April, a move blasted by the UCI.
On the webpage for the Kimmage defence fund, Ashenden wrote he was "shocked" to hear of the subpoena issued to Kimmage by McQuaid and Verbruggen. Kimmage had been "singled out" said Ashenden, who said he would be donating 260 Euros to the defence fund, money which would be, indirectly, provided by the UCI itself.
"Earlier this year one of the UCI’s Passport cases that I had worked on as a member of their expert panel had to be dropped after we had received the rider’s explanation. At the time, I chose not to invoice the UCI for the hours and hours which I had spent working on that case. However, [the] subpoena gave me pause to reflect, and I have decided to invoice the UCI a token amount of 260 Euro for my contributions on that case. I have simultaneously deposited that amount into [the] defence fund."
Ashenden told Kimmage: "Please keep up your good work. The Times They Are a-Changin’."
According to Sunday Times journalist David Walsh - another Irishman - the Kimmage defence fund will be boosted by an auction of racing memorabilia provided by Tyler Hamilton.