Johan Bruyneel has hit back at UCI president Pat McQuaid, insisting the teams have to have a say in how professional cycling is run.
In a long interview with Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, the RadioShack team manager refuted McQuaid’s claims that he is actively working to create a breakaway league, but threatened it could happen.
"The whole discussion we’re hearing now has begun with Daniel Bilalian of France Télévision. He complained to organizer ASO about the disappointing ratings in the Tour. ASO then went to the UCI. The first consequence of this discussion was the well-known two days in the Tour of 2009 when we raced without ear pieces. I was fully against it then and I still am,” Bruyneel said.
"The spectator value of cycling really is unaffected by the use of the ear pieces. Cycling is a very difficult sport for television. In the first ten stages of the Tour de France or all those stages of the Tour of Spain through the desert, there is just nothing to see. This is how it is. With or without ear pieces the result will be the same. If Cavendish is in shape, you know in advance that he will win as the interests of cycling teams are so large, the budgets so huge and the teams so well organized.”
Bruyneel refuted McQuaid’s claim that the riders and teams had been consulted about the decision to ban race radio, suggesting there is a lack of democracy within the UCI.
"That's not true. There are so many committees within the UCI. McQuaid can always hide himself somewhere and give the responsibility to an obscure committee,” he said. “He speaks of the Conseil du Cyclisme Professionnel, but that committee has no vote. And the Management Committee is not elected democratically at all. "
"The point is that for the umpteenth time a decision with a direct impact on the job of the riders and the functioning of the teams has been made in which we have no voice. I attended a UCI meeting in Geneva. It lasted six hours and brought us nothing.”
“In the last week of February, Bjarne Riis, Patrick Lefevere and Harold Knebel travelled again to Geneva. After five minutes they understood that their opinion was not desired in the debate. They returned home angry. It was the straw that broke the camel’s back. Opinions of teams and riders are disregarded. Pat McQuaid always says: “You are not the main players in cycling.” I disagree. We feel we are treated like little kids. That is the core of the conflict. When the key stakeholders continue to protest, you have to question yourself. But if you persist in misrepresentation as Pat McQuaid does, then you are not a good president.”
McQuaid suggested that Bruyneel was plotting to create a breakaway league, citing a sentence from the blog on Bruyneel’s personal website. Perhaps wary of possible sanctions by the UCI, Bruyneel refused to confirm if he is one of 11 teams that Cyclingnews understands are considering a breakaway project.
"McQuaid quotes from a blog of mine. I checked what I wrote,” Bruyneel said.
“If he makes an association with something on which he is stressed, that's his problem. RadioShack’s contract ends this year and maybe I have spoken with companies about a new sponsorship contract. Maybe I want to leave cycling. Or maybe I am talking about something from my private life. McQuaid makes his own conclusions in an open letter to riders and dares to send similar letters with similar content to organizers…"
"Of course there are rumors. Teams come together to exchange opinions. We must unite and stand up for each other. That is also a consequence of the way the UCI has treated us. In his open letter McQuaid attempts to disrupt the unity. His approach is to divide and conquer and that is very short sighted. He tries to create discord between riders and team leaders. It is a desperate letter.”
However Bruyneel talked aggressively about the risk of a split, reaffirming that the teams have to have a voice and be involved in the decision making process of the professional part of the sport.
"Whatever comes - a private league, a system like in Formula 1, or anything else, cycling will not exist without the UCI, I presume. The UCI remains the authoritative body of cycling and the professional cycling teams,” Bruyneel conceded.
“But if a number of teams come together it already seems to be a problem for the UCI. Then there are calls and threats. You know, we don’t care anymore about the threats of McQuaid. If he goes on the way he has been going, maybe we will stop with everything or maybe something else will happen.
"In the end we want to see something happen; we want the problem to have a positive outcome. Twenty-four teams from the World Tour and the Pro-Continental circuit unanimously have decided to boycott the Tour of Beijing. You could protest in Majorca or the Circuit Het Nieuwsblad, but at those races you don’t hit the UCI. In Beijing the UCI is the driving force. We are aware of the globalization of cycling and China is a big market. But the decision to organize a stage race over there in October has been taken again over our heads. It is yet another example of how the UCI deals with us. We are not little puppets; we want respect. "
In a parting shot, Bruyneel indicated that he is willing to be kicked out of the sport.
"Again about those radios: the UCI may ban the radios, but it will not prevent me from communicating with my riders. If no radios, then I will give my instructions in a different way. As long as I’m in a race, I will give instructions to my riders. The only way to prevent me from doing that is to kick me out."