The UCI is headquartered in a futuristic building on the outskirts of Aigle, 130kms from Geneva. It has its own 200m track in an aluminium-faced velodrome.
It’s billed as the World Centre of Cycling. On the UCI website, the Union Cycliste Internationale is said to be the governing body for 170 national cycle federations but represents "billions of cyclists."
10 679 of those billion may seem like a drop in the ocean but the online petition against the deletion of the men’s kilometre time trial and the women’s 500m time trial has been a focus for track fans around the world who feel the UCI culled the wrong events. Many top names signed the petition, including Phil Liggett, the "voice of cycling", Nigel Griffiths MP, the Deputy Leader of the House of Commons in the UK, presidents of national cycle federations, and cycle magazine editors from around the world. UCI Commissaires also signed the petition, some threatening to resign over the UCI’s decision.
However, Pat McQuaid, the UCI’s president elect, today said don’t blame us, blame them, meaning the Lausanne-based International Olympic Committee, 50kms down the road.
Coming out of a pre-lunch meeting to talk with Carlton Reid, editor of BikeBiz.com and sales agent Julie Dominguez of Musselbrough Cycling Club, McQuaid was quick to say the petition would not change a thing. He was handed a print-out of the 10 679 names and asked whether the petition would have any impact.
"No," he said. "No."
Flicking through the names and the comments, some of them highly critical of the UCI, McQuaid said any anger should be directed at the IOC, not the UCI.
"The petition is a very powerful statement," said McQuaid. "I’ll make sure [Hein] Verbruggen sees it. He’ll make sure the IOC sees it."
Verbruggen is the current president of the UCI.
McQuaid, part of the family that dominates Irish cycle sport and the Irish bicycle industry, said the UCI "agonised" over which two Olympic events to drop.
"It’s up to the IOC to change this decision. It can’t be changed by the UCI."
Contrary to what BikeBiz.com has been told by national cycle federations, McQuaid said it was the IOC that specified it had to be track events pulled, not road events.
"They came to us 18 months ago asking for the inclusion of BMX. We agreed to that and knew we’d have to drop two medals to accommodate BMX.
"We didn’t make any decision at the time. We tried to brazen it out with the IOC, hoping they’d forget about events having to be excluded. It was the IOC who told us to exclude track events, nor road, because the women’s 500m, for instance, was only introduced [into the Olympics] at Sydney [in 2000].
"We got a letter in March, I think it was, reminding us about the exclusions."
[According to the minutes of the UCI’s management committee held at St. Wendel, Austria, on 28th January 2005, minutes available to read only in the UCI HQ library, it was said the "mgt committee will take a decision in June regarding the withdrawal of two specialities at the 2008 Olympic Games…" The decision to exclude track events not road must have been made at or prior to this January meeting because the exclusion decision is headlined as the domain of the UCI’s track commission. In a UCI exclusion survey sent to 24 national cycle federations in March, it’s believed road events were listed as possible options for excluding and many federations picked out the road time trial for deletion, not knowing that their votes would not be counted because the UCI would only be deleting track events].
McQuaid: "We surveyed the 24 national federations who had track cyclists at the Athens Olympics. If we surveyed all 175 federations we’d not get many replies. As it was we had to keep reminding the 24 to send us their replies. Only 19 replied.
"As well as the survey we did our own analysis of the TV figures and found that the kilo and the 500m were not as strong as other [cycle] events.
"You’ve got to realise that each federation votes in its own interests. Those countries that don’t have any specialists in the kilo voted against the kilo. If we ran the survey again we’d get the same differing answers.
"The kilo has a long history in the Olympics but it’s a speciality of just a few, big nations. You can tell which medals will go where before the event starts. Lots of countries don’t bother to put athletes in because they know they can’t win. The points race is more open, more countries have a chance of placing. You don’t know who’s going to win. A few years back there was a rider I think from Uruguay got a medal in the points race, the first cycle medal for Uruguay."
McQuaid said that the decision to cull the women’s 500m time trial was not well received in China. The event was China’s best hope for a cycle gold medal.
"Yes, it’s a catastrophe for Chinese cycling," admitted McQuaid.
"Two weeks ago I was at a meal in China and was with the president of the Chinese cycle federation on one side and a translator on the other. I had a 45 minute ear bending. He’d somehow got wind that it was likely the 500m would be chosen. He was very angry. The Beijing Olympic committee is mad, too. But in a country of one billion people, they’ve got to be able to field cyclists in other disciplines, they need strength in depth, not just one event."
McQuaid said the deletion of the two events should be seen against the background of some sports facing the prospect of total exclusion, a death warrant for sports like archery.
"At the Singapore vote in early July, the IOC is voting on which country gets the 2012 Olympics but a couple of days later there’s a vote on which sports stay in the Olympics and which have to come out. Modern pentathlon and some equestrian events could be voted out.
"We’re worried about the vote. Well, not worried so much, we know cycling will be voted in again but if cycling is the fourteenth or fifteenth most popular sport it weakens our position for the future. We’re lobbying IOC members hard to make sure cycling comes high up the list. We’re confident it will.
"That there’s a vote every four years to see which 28 sports are in the next Olympics and which have to come out has been in the Olympic charter for some time, the Mexico charter. A vote of 51 percent of IOC members is needed for a sport to stay.
"Samaranch [the previous IOC president] didn’t do much about the vote. Rogge [the current IOC president] is doing something about it.
"I’m having lunch with Jacques [Rogge] next month, along with [Hein] Verbruggen. We’ll discuss this petition with Jacques then.
"Our concern is that we don’t lose even more events in the future. Lots of wheeled sports want into the Olympics, like freestyle BMX and roller-blading.
"We’re happy to represent these sports, it will make the UCI stronger, but what we can’t have is the situation where we’re asked to introduce new sports but have to delete existing cycle events."
McQuaid said the the UCI will not review its cull decision but said there could be a glimmer of hope, if representations were made instead to the IOC:
"We can’t recommend to people or federations to lobby their national IOC members but that’s what it might take."