2 weeks to showtime

August 13, 2014

In two weeks, Eurobike starts, which means the whole bike industry is in a mad dash to get everything ready. In most bike companies, a lot of pre-season sales are done at the trade shows, so a failure to get a new model ready in time can be very costly. It always made the month of August the least enjoyable for me.

Aside from the pressure to get ready, there was also the fear that somebody else would show something at Eurobike that was a complete game-changer, something that instantly made everything else obsolete and therefore would threaten our existence. If you’ve ever made somebody else’s product obsolete, the expectance of the favor being returned at some point is only natural. In 15 years, this never happened, but the fear is still there.

Of course, at OPEN we don’t have the pressures of getting product ready for the show. To us, it doesn’t matter if we introduce a new bike in August, January or June. When it’s ready, it’s ready.

Nonetheless, it’s fun to show something new at the trade shows, the only thing different for OPEN is that whatever we show doesn’t necessarily have to be the finished product.

For this year, we set ourselves the target of showing not only the full production version of the ONE, but also the first steps towards our first full-suspension frame and a prototype of our pathfinder/adventure/gravel bike. These are both bikes we’ve been wanting to make for a while, but only if we could figure out how to do it the right way for us. For both, the designs have been finalized, so now it’s down to manufacturing.

Of course both frames will be produced in Europe, but that is where the similarity ends. While the pathfinder/adventure/gravel frame is made at AX, we have started a project with HED to produce the full-suspension parts using Resin Transfer Molding technology. RTM is a way to manufacture carbon that has great potential, but it is very rarely used in bike production.

Traditionally, RTM distinguishes itself by having a super surface finish but less than optimal mechanical properties, but it doesn’t have to be that way. In fact, by using the technology properly, we think we can turn the disadvantage (the weight of the foam inside the frame) into an advantage. Tuning the layup with the foam in mind, it will allow us to build a very tough frame while still being lightweight.

Of course, that’s the theory, we have to see how practice goes. The CAD drawings are finished, the molds have been machined (also the first time molds of this kind were machined at HED, so a good learning curve), and the first parts have been made (below the very first part, which of course was far from perfect but a promising start). Still, from there to a complete and fully functional frame will be quite the journey.

If trying to meet a Eurobike deadline with a new way to make molds and a new process to make the frame is tough, the pathfinder/adventure/gravel frame had its own hurdles. The challenge here was more in the design, in making a contradictory set of components fit without giving up the geometry and fit I want. Once that was all sorted out, we could start moving into production very quickly. But that process started only last week, giving us a total of three weeks to cut the molds and make the first frames. We’ll see!

On top of that, Andy thought it was a good idea to have a new catalog. Not technically difficult, but time-consuming for sure!

Stay tuned to see how it all goes.


Joining Team MTN-Qhubeka

July 22, 2014

Hi all, I thought this announcement may be of interest to some of you. I’m very excited to become involved in a cycling team with a higher purpose, and that Cervelo is as well. Can’t wait for 2015 to roll around.

Cervélo Partners With MTN-Qhubeka For 2015

Johannesburg, South Africa and Toronto, Canada– July 18th, 2014 –Thanks to a new partnership with Cervélo bicycles and Rotor components, Team MTN-Qhubeka continues its ambitious upgrade for 2015 and beyond.

The new Team MTN-Qhubeka partnership is built around a fresh team concept designed to take fan experience and interaction to a whole new level, with Cervélo co-founder Gerard Vroomen heading up the effort. Building on ideas developed with the highly successful Cervélo Test Team of 2009-10, the concept is designed to bring fans closer to the team and its riders than ever before.
Racing ambitions for the team are high. The new partnership allows Team MTN-Qhubeka to support a contingent of talented young African riders, and to match them with seasoned professionals from Europe and North America. The goal is clear: showcase the team and the Qhubeka Foundation within the top echelons of the sport. The rider roster is currently being set and will be announced soon.
“Cervélo has always been synonymous with the highest levels of racing performance, “said team Principal Douglas Ryder. “The new team will be competitive on the world stage, and Cervélo has already won everything from the world championships to cobbled classics like Paris-Roubaix and Grand Tours including the Tour de France. Who better to give Team MTN-Qhubeka’s riders the best opportunity to succeed?”
As Africa’s first Pro Continental team, Team MTN-Qhubeka—and now Cervélo, together with its equipment partner Rotor—races with extra purpose, raising money for the Qhubeka Foundation to bring bicycle mobility to isolated areas of Africa.

“Cervélo is excited at the opportunity to support both the team and the Qhubeka Foundation,” said Cervélo managing director Robert Reijers. “Not just in terms of high-performance racing, but also because we truly believe that by providing cycling mobility, we can directly benefit people’s lives by increasing the distance they can travel, what they can carry, where they can go, and how fast they can get there.”

To support those efforts, Cervélo will initiate programs to actively support the Qhubeka Foundation. The company will introduce team-replica bike models in 2015, with Cervélo donating a Qhubeka Foundation bicycle for every team-replica Cervélo sold.
“We’re delighted that Cervélo has proposed matching its team bike sales with the donation of a Qhubeka bike. It brings the ability to support Qhubeka directly to hundreds of Cervélo retailers and thousands of individual riders worldwide,” said Vroomen. “Like no other bike company, Cervélo understands that cycling needs new and better ways to connect with its fans. It’s a great feeling to align Cervélo’s DNA with the MTN-Qhubeka project.”
About Team MTN-Qhubeka

Team MTN-Qhubeka was founded in 2007, steadily working its way up from a regional team to now being a Continental Pro team with bases in South Africa and Italy. It will participate in its first Grand Tour this fall at the Vuelta a España. MTN-Qhubeka’s goal is to give talented African riders a path into the pro peloton while raising funds for the Qhubeka charity.

Qhubeka is an Nguni (Zulu, Xhosa) word that means “to carry on”, “to progress”, “to move forward”. Qhubeka (qhubeka.org) helps people move forward and progress by giving bicycles in return for work done to improve communities, the environment or academic results. Having a bicycle changes people’s lives by increasing the distance they can travel, what they can carry, where they can go and how fast they can get there.

MTN (mtn.com) is a longtime supporter of Qhubeka and the team. Launched in 1994, the MTN Group is a leading emerging market operator, connecting 210 million subscribers in 22 countries in Africa, Asia and the Middle East.

Learn more about the team at teammtnqhubeka.com

About Cervélo

Cervélo riders have won Olympic medals, world championships in both road and triathlon disciplines, and a large spectrum of professional major road races from the Paris-Roubaix classic to the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France. It remains a company with more engineers than bike models.

Cervélo was founded in in 1995 when two engineering students, Phil White and Gerard Vroomen, decided to market their work developing faster time trial bikes for an Italian professional team. Since that time the company’s unwavering mission has been to create the world’s highest-performing road and triathlon bikes.

Complete information about Cervélo is available at cervelo.com.

About Rotor

ROTOR Bike is a world-class Spanish bicycle component company. Every product they make is designed by cyclists for cyclists. All ROTOR products are engineered to lend maximum speed, efficiency and comfort to your cycling experience. ROTOR achieves this goal by combining leading-edge design principles with precision manufacturing techniques for each its products.

Learn more at rotorbike.com


The Armstrong Lie – a review

November 24, 2013

The International Documentary Film Festival Amsterdam is currently running, and one of the docs screened is The Armstrong Lie. To be honest, I didn’t really want to see it but also couldn’t not see it. And I figured that in the interest of those following this blog, I should.

As you probably know, director Alex Gibney was asked to make a documentary about Armstrong’s return to cycling in 2009. After shooting what was likely going to be a feel-good story in 2009 and 2010, the doping rumors got stronger and stronger and Gibney halted production. After the USADA report and Oprah confession completely changed the narrative, Gibney took the old footage, added new interviews with Armstrong, the Andreus, Bill Strickland and others and turned the Armstrong Love-in into the Armstrong Lie.

I was expecting that seeing intimate interviews with Armstrong pre-confession and comparing them with post-confession statements could be interesting. Other than that I wasn’t sure what to expect. Unfortunately I have to say, I was very disappointed.

The movie basically tells the whole Armstrong story, from triathlete at age 16 through his early career, cancer, comeback and fall from grace.  It jumps back and forth but in the end, everything is covered. This means that unless you’ve lived on the moon the past ten years, you are unlikely to learn much. If you’ve spent that decade not only on earth, but also with some level of interest in cycling, the contents becomes even less exciting.

There’s even space to explain the most rudimentary basics of cycling, such as the common platitudes of “doping is as old as cycling” and “domestiques are helpers to shield the leader from the wind”. Ironically, if you can refrain from plunging your head into the popcorn at these moments, they actually provide some of the most interesting footage.

During the doping-through-the-ages bit, footage of riders raiding a bar and making off with the beer and wine is shown. This footage has of course been available forever, but many will never have seen it (unlike, say, a poster of a smoking peloton).

The footage about domestiques shows footage from a bike-mounted camera while a domestique makes it to the front of the peloton during the Tour de France. It is quite hair-raising.

Other than that, the contents simply disappoints. If you’ve watched 60 minutes or similar programs on Lance before, you don’t need to see the deposition of the Andreus and Armstrong in the 2005 court case again. You don’t need to see Lance deny doping on the View, Larry King, or anywhere else.

What should have been the actual core of the documentary – the unprecedented access – fails to deliver. There are very few interviews with Armstrong, both pre- and post-confession. In short, it’s a different combination of stuff we already know. Even worse, whenever a veil is almost lifted, for example when Strickland basically reveals he discussed with Lance how he could best confess, there is no follow-up.

In the end, the only part that piqued my interest was when Lance talked about his cortisone positive from 1999. After he says that the UCI asked for a prescription, Gibney asked what Verbruggen exactly told him. Lance then answered that he didn’t talk to Verbruggen, that Johan Bruyneel did. This seems to be contradicting Lance’s most recent statements.

Take that for what it’s worth, what it unfortunately wasn’t worth was two hours of my time. So, is there no merit in this movie? I would say that for people who have very little knowledge of the story, this is a good overview. But for those who have followed the events unfold with some interest, it will be old hat.

It might be more fun to watch than the average Hollywood blockbuster simply because the topic interests you, but if you find it playing at a documentary festival and have other options, go see “Return to Homs”, “Ai Weiwei The Fake Case”, “Whatever, forever”  or frankly anything else instead. You’ll be more likely to learn something.

P.S. The other original footage I saw was Lance with one of the Olsen twins (don’t ask me which). I had never seen that before (though I had heard about it) but I can’t honestly say my life has become richer after.


Selling Cycling

October 30, 2013

This is a slightly-modified version of an article that first appeared in issue 8 of 2r magazine. Subscribe to 2r for free HERE.

In my twenty years in cycling, I have experience as a team sponsor working with teams, as a team owner working with bike-industry and outside sponsors, and as an advisor to companies considering a cycling sponsorship. Since not many people have seen the sponsor-bike team relationship from so many different angles, I thought it was time to write about it.

When it comes to sponsors entering cycling, there are some faint indications the worst is over. It’s hard to make definitive statements since the sample size is so small and so many factors are in play, but Blanco turning in to Belkin, Argos turning into ???, the rumored deal between Slipstream and Qatar, Alonso entering cycling and several other pending arrangements seem to point in that direction.

As a former team owner who lived through the post-Lehman drought, these are heartening developments. Yet they are also surprising for a few reasons.

Before I delve into those though, let me start by saying handling sponsorships is hard even at the best of times. When the economy is bad and the sport is in the news for all the wrong reasons, it’s near-impossible. It’s easy to judge it from the sidelines, and in fact that distance can help to see some perspective. In that sense, this article is as much my “Lessons Learned” as it is a view of how teams handle sponsorships today.

Firstly, sponsor acquisition strategies for most teams haven’t really changed that much, and are still relics from the Maurice Garin age.

Some teams work with agencies to find sponsors, but many still do it on their own. This can work – especially when you’re lucky and let me tell you, some teams are extremely lucky – but in general this is a tough route. As a cycling team, you need sponsors so infrequently (assuming they stick around for a while) that it is hard to keep sponsor acquisition skills and contacts current.

As a team, you also don’t have the chance to cross-sell. While an agency may be called in to a company to pitch a golf property, only to find out during the meeting that the company may be better served by cycling, a cycling team would never have gotten into that meeting to begin with.

The second weak spot is how cycling sponsorships are pitched by most teams (though thankfully there are exceptions).

I was invited last year to speak to a large multinational looking to enter the sport. I quickly found out that the teams that had pitched completely failed to address the needs of this company. Their main concern was doping (no surprise), but most teams were either underprepared to address the topic or simply lied about it. One team even presented their internal test program even though it had been cancelled the year before!

Another area of disappointment was the inward focus of the teams. I presented the company with a concept of how to drive the company’s Key Performance Indicators through the sponsorship, but their discussions with teams on this topic went nowhere.

None of the teams (all WorldTour teams) had bothered to address the company’s needs or in fact any form of accountability at all; their strategy consisted mostly of presenting a list of wins and inflated media exposure figures. In the end the sponsor did not enter the sport, although disappointment with the proposal quality was not the only factor.

In case it isn’t obvious, here’s why this approach is a dying breed. A list of wins is like past stock market performances – in no way a guarantee of what the future will bring. Banking on winning instead of providing value independent of racing success is a risky strategy.

The way media exposure figures are used is possibly even worse. You definitely need some figures to show how much the brand will show up, but the pompous conclusions teams often present are off-putting to most sponsor staff with any form of common sense.

Let’s take a step back: media exposure figures are basically calculated by measuring how often the logo is visible and calculating the costs of buying an ad for the same duration or in the same media. Then a discount factor is applied, since having a logo visible is not quite the same as having your fully-controlled message appear.

Instead of this approach, some agencies calculate how many thousands of people are reached across all media and then attach a cost-per-thousand (cpm) to it. Both methods can work, it all depends on how conscientiously you follow through.

At Cervélo TestTeam, we once contacted one of the companies specializing in calculating media exposure. When they started the process, one of the first questions they asked was if we wanted them to calculate with a cpm of $10 or $1. I assumed it was their expertise to figure out what was the right number. Of course, if you ask me as a team, use $10 so my exposure may appear $200 million instead of $20 million.

A similar situation occurs with the other method where a discount is applied to regular ad costs. How big should the discount be, how do you calculate the effectiveness of a logo on a sweaty rider versus your full brand message in a commercial shot with a well-coifed George Clooney?

Note that some factors can make the sweaty rider MORE appealing than Clooney. Although you definitely won’t get the same product message across, the excitement that cycling brings can’t really be replicated in a commercial. As well, a cycling sponsorship may be able to reach people you can’t reach through commercials, because people are trained to tune those out.

You see time and again that name recognition sky-rockets when sponsors enter cycling; within a few years everybody knew CSC, Fassa Bortolo, ONCE, Astana, Katusha, Europcar and soon Belkin. Yet what these companies exactly do is tougher to get across on a shirt, and requires supporting actions. A team can really help with that (and this was the concept I proposed to the large multinational last year). Unfortunately, most teams don’t see that as their concern, they’d rather focus on winning a bike race.

Back to the exposure numbers, it should be clear they can be anything you want them to be, and while it is logical they end up on the high side if a team commissions them, not even a sponsor can get an accurate number if they wanted to.

But it gets worse. Let’s take the Repucom report about the state of global cycling. The main number looks great: WorldTour teams create an average of $88.4 million in exposure. As we saw before, there is a discount factor already applied, and although Repucom won’t share the full methodology freely, they will when you are a client and from what I have seen, it’s a reasonable approach.

That said, there is no point in paying the full $88.4 million for that exposure, companies would want a very significant discount on that amount.

But let’s dig a bit deeper. The Repucom report also states that Team Sky generated $556 million in exposure. Not a surprise given their dominant 2012 season. But if the average of all 18 teams is $88.4 million and Team Sky generated $556 million, then the other 17 teams only averaged $60.9 million. That’s 30% less than the average quoted with Team Sky included.

$60.9 million is a much more realistic number to work with. While sponsors would no doubt like to experience a “Sky year” during their sponsorship, they certainly won’t count on it and won’t be willing to pay for it in advance.

Next up is geography. Given the importance of the Tour de France in the total annual exposure, you won’t be shocked to learn that almost 30% of TV exposure is in France. That’s great if France is an important market for you, but if it is not, that means those 30% of your exposure are a write-off.

This obviously applies to other countries as well, meaning the overall exposure is not that relevant to sponsors. Only exposure in countries they are active in or plan to be matters.

Given that most title sponsors are global brands, this effect may be small, but even if you are active in France, you may not have “use” for $20 million in advertising there.

Finally there are the demographics. If all cycling spectators are 40 years or younger and you sell hearing aids, maybe none of that $60 million in exposure is useful to you. Likewise, when Lotto had a co-sponsor that sold pregnancy tests, not every TV viewer was a potential customer. Just like with any other advertising, demographics matter.

As in the case of the geography, the desired demographics depend on the sponsor, not the team. Therefore the “team exposure” numbers are not very relevant; it’s about the cross-section between the team’s exposure and the sponsor’s potential customer base. The bottom line is that to successfully attract and keep sponsors, teams should focus on what sponsors need rather than on what their standard offerings are.

Sponsorship 101 – for teams

  • Teams should consider working with an agency or multiple agencies if you don’t want to be beholden to luck. Yes, they charge a fee, but 90% of a large sum is better than 100% of nothing.
  • Teams should find out what sponsors need. A pitch is as much about asking that as it is about presenting yourself.
  • Presenting “best case” media exposure figures may work with unsophisticated sponsors, but for most it will be a turn-off. Be realistic.
  • “Winning” may work for the egos of some CEOs or for sugar-daddy sponsors. But for most sponsors it will be a means to an end. And betting on winning to deliver value is a dangerous proposition; there may be lower-risk methods.
  • Brand exposure is a given, and cycling is a great tool to generate name recognition. Don’t dwell on it; instead focus on what else you can do for the sponsor.
  • Beware the “law of the shitty click-throughs”. This says that a new approach attracts a lot of attention and therefore is very effective at the start, but the numbers worsen over time. So you have to keep re-inventing what a team offers sponsors.
  • Don’t overcharge. Of course it’s great to get a more money for a sponsorship than it’s worth, but eventually the sponsor will figure it out (either because they hear from other teams or because their metrics will show poor value) and then you’ll lose them. Give them fair value for a fair price and they may stick around.
  • Be honest. The amount of empty promises and anti-doping nonsense teams spout in sponsor presentations is nuts. Remember that some of these sponsors may have advisors who are quite well positioned in the sport and who can shoot holes in your statements. You lose your credibility, you lose your sponsor.
  • Treat your sponsors – all of them – properly. Most teams don’t have a professional department for this, but they should. Somebody with a small budget to keep everybody happy. Although it is nice to hear, it also makes me cringe when ex-sponsors from the Cervélo TestTeam tell me that was still their favorite team. In my opinion, the way we treated sponsors should have been the standard, not the exception.

Sponsorship 101 – for sponsors

  • If you’re spending millions of dollars on a sponsorship, get proper advice. I see too many sponsors with a lack of understanding of the sport negotiating with the wrong team or severely overpaying for what they get. You don’t need to pay 5 million Euro or anywhere near it for a second title sponsorship, no matter how much logo exposure you get. Get advice, you will save that money tenfold when you sign the final deal.
  • I also see companies relying on one advisor who they happened to know but who knows little about pro cycling. It is really astounding to me how big companies often rely on questionable advice. This sport loses a lot of sponsors to middle-man hacks. Check some references.
  • It’s all in the details. Again at the Cervélo TestTeam, the jersey was clean yet it provided exposure to the sponsors way beyond the average. It was also the best-selling jersey in the peloton, providing additional exposure every time somebody put it on. Even now that Cervélo has stopped the team and is merely a product sponsor, this focus continues to pay dividends. It’s not a coincidence that according to the Repucom report, Cervélo received more exposure from sponsoring Team Garmin-Sharp than either of those two title sponsors.

Finally, some advice to teams and sponsors alike: Find an innovative concept. If you sponsor a team the same way as everybody else, you’ll get the same exposure. To super-charge that exposure, try something new. When we started the Cervélo TestTeam, we were the first bike company-run team in a long time. We also focused on Fan access and product development instead of on winning. Even in the four months before the team started riding, the exposure the team received was way beyond even the biggest-budget teams. And this makes total sense; people are attracted to new stories, not to the same old stuff. Now more and more bike companies follow this route, but as the law of shitty click-throughs predicts, the returns will lessen.

Of course it’s not that easy to create a new concept, but it isn’t rocket science either. Over the years I’ve developed several concepts, some focused on B2C companies and others for B2B (an area for which cycling sponsorship is often neglected but potentially very lucrative). Most of them have never been released but that’s the way teams should work too: create a library of  concepts, waiting for the right sponsor to appear.


Important notice for email subscribers

October 30, 2013

Until now, you could receive my blog automatically by email two ways:

  1. Via Feedblitz email service
  2. Via WordPress’ built-in email service

I am stopping with Feedblitz at the end of November, so if you get it that way and want to continue to get it automatically, just enter your email at the top left box on my blog page and you’ll get it through the Worldpress service.

If you are not sure how you are receiving my blog, simply put your email in that top left box and it is smart enough to make sure you won’t get it double.

Thanks for reading,

Gerard.


Wow

September 27, 2013

Cookson is president of the UCI. Wow. Just wow.

Now the real work begins. Can he do it? He may not be the flashiest guy on the planet, but that’s not what the sport needs right now either. It needs painstakingly thorough work, cleaning up the UCI organization, cleaning up the constitution, figuring out how to promote all aspects of cycling, not just men’s road racing.

Most of all, it requires listening to all those people who haven’t been heard in a long time. It means speaking with the great people who used to work at the UCI but left because they couldn’t stand the atmosphere. Because that’s the truly poisonous part of incompetent leadership, the organization below filters out the good people and retains the garbage.

This is not to say that there haven’t been brave people who have hung on for dear life at the UCI – there have been – but let’s hope that the hopelessly incompetent bunch around McQuaid, including Verbruggen, Verbiest, Strebel and many others, will finally leave this sport alone.

Good Luck Brian.


Kiss-of-death UCI presidential race predictions

September 26, 2013

Tomorrow we have the UCI presidential election. And nothing has changed, we still have a candidate who knows no shame and therefore cannot be slowed down by any type of logic.

Merely a week after the 2005 Verbruggen letter leaked which showed the Verbruggen/McQuaid camp clearly didn’t want a fair election but rather a coronation, we have the federation president of cycling powerhouse St. Lucia accusing Cookson of wanting a coronation and not an election.

This is the same clown who claims that McQuaid almost singlehandedly eradicated doping in cycling while conveniently forgetting the obstruction of USADA, the whistleblower-killing lawsuits against Kimmage and Landis and the bending of the rules in favor of Armstrong (for example for his early return in 2009).

Vaughters very clearly indicated why Cookson is the better choice in his op-ed piece this week. Whether this endorsement helps or hurts Cookson, I don’t know. Do the people who are voting tomorrow care what Vaughters thinks, do they not see him as an enemy of the state and therefore would rather do the opposite of what he suggests? We’ll soon know.

One of the more interesting bits in his piece may be the influence Verbruggen still wields – this is often whispered but rarely discussed with the outside world. But I can confirm it’s absolutely true.

At the start of 2010, we changed our banking arrangements and as a result, we wanted to exchange our old bank guarantee for the Cervelo TestTeam for a new one. So we sent the new guarantee, and the UCI sent back the old one. So far, so good (well, it wasn’t quite as straightforward as I describe here, things never are with the UCI).

But then the old bank wanted a letter to confirm that indeed the UCI relinquished their claim on the old bank guarantee. They did, after all they now had a new one, but for weeks and weeks we called and were told the letter would be sent, but it never was. Weeks turned into months, and still no letter. You have to understand, this was quite a pile of money tied up. As a Continental Pro team, you have to provide yearly bank guarantees for 15 months. So in the Spring of 2010 our old 2009 guarantee was still active (from Jan 1, 2009 until March 31, 2010, our new 2009 replacement guarantee was still active (also until March 31, 2010) and our new 2010 guarantee was already in place (Jan 1, 2010 until March 31, 2011).

After the umpteenth call to the UCI legal department and the umpteenth promise we didn’t believe, somebody had a stroke of genius and called Verbruggen. He said “I’ll take care of it” and the next day we had the letter from the UCI legal department.

We got a lot of love from Verbruggen that Spring, as our success while holding a Pro Continental status was ridiculing the value of  a WorldTour license. So while the official UCI was trying to punish us with last-minute rule changes to increase the fees we had to pay for our license and anti-doping, Verbruggen was trying to charm us into turning WorldTour. While we weren’t nearly as important as Vaughters, his stories have a familiar ring to them. This combination of sucking and blowing didn’t lead to anything (doesn’t the saying explain you can’t suck and blow at the same time) as we didn’t want to be WorldTour and couldn’t afford it. By June the nastier stage of the process commenced. But that’s for another day.

For today, I will give my kiss-of-death UCI presidential race predictions.

  • Cookson has obtained the 14 votes of the European delegates, but some of those delegates will not play by the rules and vote for McQuaid anyway.
  • Asia-Pacific goes mostly to McQuaid, these are countries and people who have benefited from several UCI programs and they like how things are going for them. Why rock the boat?
  • Africa is the same story, a significant portion if not all of it will go to McQuaid. Based on absolutely nothing other than status quo is good for these delegates.
  • The Americas will be a mixed bag

With all 14 European votes going to Cookson, he would have a real shot at beating McQuaid. With several of those delegates going against the UEC vote and supporting McQuaid, it’s hard to see how Cookson can win.

P.S. Hopefully my kiss-of-death predictions will have the usual effect on those in the race. Boonen, Sagan and Cancellara can all testify to how difficult it is to overcome favorite status in my predictions. The curse of the rainbow jersey is nothing compared to the curse of the kiss-of-death predictions. I figured I may as well use it as a force for good!


Running wild

August 22, 2013

Sports Illustrated ran an article about anti-doping testing in Jamaica. Five conclusions:

  1. It highlights the problem of how poorer countries should allocate resources to anti-doping. One cannot possibly claim that funding that is more important than funding basic needs.
  2. At the same time, this is of no concern to the athletes competing against the Jamaicans. And the fact is that JADCO is responsible for out-of-competition testing of its athletes even when they are abroad.
  3. If they wanted to, Jamaica could fund the world’s best anti-doping program with just 10% of the proceeds of their millionaire sprinters. So install a testing tax on the athletes, and the problem is solved. Note that if this is a fixed tax that applies to all their athletes indiscriminately, it is not comparable with the Armstrong donation to the UCI. Simply the costs of being a pro athlete.
  4. One would think that for the athletes, this would be a great opportunity to lend credibility to the claim that they’re clean. As it stands, with 1 OOC test in the two most important months of 2012 (when it comes to doping to prepare for the Olympics), suspicion is cast upon all Jamaican athletes. They simply were not tested in a way that any credible statement about them being clean could be made.
  5. Fans of Jamaican sprinters react the same way as Lance Armstrong fans did in the BO-era (Before Oprah)

Race to the bottom

August 21, 2013

[Published August 9, 2013 in issue 9 of 2r. For all issues of 2r, download the app for iPad and iPhone here]

McQuaid attacks, Cookson responds. Cookson lobs in a grenade, McQuaid seeks shelter – briefly – and retaliates with a salvo.

Say what you will of the UCI presidential race, but it has all the action and plot twists of the most successful reality TV shows. Sadly, it also matches them in its lack of class, decency, substance and belief in the good of humanity.

Unfortunately for cycling, there is no sign this theatre will be over soon, not even after the election. With the process tainted by multiple nominations, court challenges, attempts to amend the rules mid-way and a complete inability from the incumbent to concede defeat, comparing cycling to a banana republic is offensive to most such republics, and all bananas.

Worse, it’s not even clear it really makes a difference who wins the race.

The first issue to be resolved is the nomination by the Swiss cycling federation:

  • The UCI rules clearly state “THE federation of the candidate” must nominate the candidate. It was the Irish federation who nominated McQuaid in 2005 and 2009, and he represents Ireland in all UCI documentation (IRL behind his name). Furthermore, by first asking Ireland to nominate him, McQuaid himself MADE Ireland THE federation of himself.
  • Despite claims of having “long-standing ties” to many federations, it has emerged that McQuaid only joined Swiss Cycling on May 1, 2013, a whole 24 hours before seeking their nomination for the UCI presidential race. In all fairness, sticking to anything – a conviction, an idea, and presumably a federation – for 24 hours seems like a very long time for McQuaid.
  • It is clear from their meeting minutes that the Swiss Cycling board did not agree to nominate McQuaid in their meeting, but rather to wait a little and look into it further. The federation president, Richard Chassot, then announced the nomination.
  • It should be noted that Chassot is a long-standing (more than 24 hours) friend of McQuaid. He was on the witness list on McQuaid’s behalf in the lawsuit against Paul Kimmage. He is also on the board of the World Cycling Centre chaired by McQuaid.
  • Furthermore, and maybe most damning, Chassot owns the company that organizes the Tour de Romandie. Unlike the Tour de Suisse, of which the rights are owned by the Swiss federation, those for the Tour de Romandie is held by Mr. Chassot’s private company.
  • This makes Mr. Chassot financially dependent on the UCI, since it is the World Tour status awarded by the UCI that allows the Tour de Romandie to make money. In fact, Mr. Chassot stated during the Swiss board meeting that supporting McQuaid “would contribute to ensure the position of the Tour de Romandie and the Tour de Suisse”. If you ever wondered how such a small race could obtain World Tour status, follow the Swiss lawsuit.
  • The rules of Swiss Cycling clearly states that “if a member of the board has a personal interest in the matter, he or she can not participate in the decision”. But not only was Mr. Chassot present, he was the one pushing the case for McQuaid.

Therefore, it is virtually beyond doubt that the Swiss nomination of McQuaid for UCI president will fail, for any of these four reasons:

  • The Swiss Cycling board will withdraw the nomination out of fear it may be financially ruined if it loses the lawsuit over it.
  • Chassot may actually wish to withdraw the nomination so that no further light is shown on his Tour de Romandie and his relationship with McQuaid.
  • McQuaid may not want the judge in this lawsuit to come to a decision (see below)
  • The lawsuit goes ahead and Swiss Cycling loses.

The next hurdle would be the Malaysian amendment that would allow any two federations to nominate a candidate, rather than only THE federation of the candidate. In itself this is a proposal with merits, the problem is the part where they suggest it should retro-actively apply to this election. Quite simply, this proposal will be rejected, it doesn’t have the votes at the UCI congress to pass.

It is possible that the amendment will be amended, and that for future elections any two federations may nominate a candidate, but the qualified majority to allow retro-activity simply isn’t there.

Anyone who might conclude that therefore, McQuaid does not have a nomination, is not thinking using Pat’s brain. After all, he will now tell you that not only could he be nominated by Ireland or Switzerland, ANY federation of which he is a member could do so. And since he is a member, and has the nomination of both the Thai and the Moroccan federation, either of those will do.

This is the part where McQuaid would not want a Swiss judge to have rendered a decision in the Swiss Cycling nomination case. You see, if that case goes all the way to the end, a Swiss judge may reject the Swiss nomination on any number of grounds. If it is rejected based on something to do with Swiss Cycling’s rules such as Chassot’s failure to recuse himself, that’s OK for McQuaid. But if the judge rules that THE federation of McQuaid is Ireland and not Switzerland, then it follows that it is also not Thailand or Morocco.

McQuaid could – and probably would – argue that these are completely separate cases, but his position is somewhat weakened by the fact that Switzerland is not only the relevant jurisdiction for Swiss Cycling (which is why the current case appears there) but also for the UCI itself. It makes it a bit hard for the UCI president to ignore. However, it is probably a lot harder for McQuaid to step down from the UCI presidency, so expect him to further cement the image of cycling as a lawless entity.

In all likeliness, this would mean the election between Cookson and McQuaid would go ahead, and in such a case there is a real chance McQuaid wins. While he doesn’t have the qualified majority to get retro-active rule changes approved, he may have the simple majority to get re-elected.

Clearly, if that happens, his Thai/Moroccan nomination will be challenged. This may take time, any appeals may take more time still and in the end, assuming the case is decided by not only the competent court but also a competent court, the nomination will be invalidated.

Less clear is what would happen next. Would the number 2 of the election become president? One could argue for that, but one could equally argue that other candidates would have stepped forward had they known the incumbent would not be in the race.

There is no straightforward answer for this question, since no such situation is contemplated in the UCI rules. So we either get a quiet ascension, a quick second election or either of those two choices followed by legal action from those who disagree with that choice. In short, it could take a long time.

But maybe it’s all much simpler than that. Maybe McQuaid will decide that after yet another defeat, it’s been nice and he graciously bows out of the election process (the way he graciously tried to take all the credit for taking down Armstrong after resisting USADA every step of the way). In that most positive of cases, what will happen to cycling?

Well, we don’t know. We know very little of Cookson’s plans, since his manifesto lacked in specifics. On top of that, he seems to have changed position on several important topics in recent months. On truth and reconciliation and women’s racing for example. This is OK, changing your mind is a subtle way of showing you’ve gotten smarter, but we must hope that a clear direction emerges. Otherwise, the changes smack of opportunism.

Last but not least, spare a thought for all the forms of cycling that are part of the UCI but are not men’s pro road racing. Mountain biking, BMX, cyclocross, marathons, artistic cycling, cycle ball and other disciplines you have never heard of. It is the UCI’s mandate to promote and foster them too, but 99% of the discussion ignores them.

The only dissident group successful in disrupting the substance of the proceedings has been women’s road racing, thanks to the brilliant “Le Tour Entier” campaign. If you want to feel you’ve made a difference this UCI presidential election and don’t have the money to start a court case in Thailand or Morocco, consider signing their petition.


Next steps to oust McQuaid

August 5, 2013

As I explained last week, McQuaid has made it clear he cannot run for UCI president.

Basically, his interpretation of the UCI rules is that unlike what everybody thinks, you can be a member of multiple federations. Unfortunately for him, if you read the rules that way, then it also follows that once you become a member of multiple federations, you give up the possibility of being nominated for the UCI presidency since you no longer have any “THE federation of the candidate”.

Therefore the only logical conclusion is that he will not run anymore in the upcoming UCI elections. But it goes further.

After all, he has indicated he’s been a member of the Moroccan federation since 2009. Was that before or after that year’s presidential election. If it was before, then there is a good chance his nomination for that race (which wasn’t even a race since nobody else ran) was counter to the rules as he wouldn’t have had any “THE federation of the candidate” back then either.

Even if his Moroccan membership was post-election,  his Swiss membership likely pre-dates 2009. And he claims to have a total of 6-7 memberships, so surely one of them is pre-2009.

That means McQuaid was never nominated in 2009 and therefore should resign immediately. Anybody ready to take him to court on this one?


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