As cycling braces itself for the busiest three weeks of the year, Cyclingnews sat down with UCI President Brian Cookson in Utrecht on the eve of the Grand Départ of the Tour de France to discuss some of the biggest challenges faced by the sport's governing body in recent months.
First on the agenda was the power struggle currently taking place between the sport's stakeholders after Cyclingnews revealed last week that the UCI, teams, and the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) - which runs the Tour de France - are at loggerheads over reforms to the structure of cycling.
The UCI also came under fire in June when it dropped its appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) over the Biological Passport case of Roman Kreuziger, whose original ban had been overturned by the Czech cycling federation. No reason has been given for the last-minute decision and fresh scrutiny has been piled on the role of the Passport as the leading tool in the fight against doping.
Finally, a major test of Cookson's stewardship has been the Astana case, in which five members of the Kazakh team's WorldTour team and Continental feeder set-up returned positive doping controls in the space of a year.
Cyclingnews: Can you start by updating us on where the UCI are with their latest reforms?
BC: What we’re trying to do is have a stronger global narrative to the sport. We want to enhance the development and the pathways so that the teams can offer more sustainable returns to their sponsors and investors. Those things are hard to quantify. ASO are in a great position and they have a great series of events and many of those events that they’re developing would love to be part of the WorldTour as well but they should have an interest in making the WorldTour reforms work as well as anyone else.
BC: Nobody is threatening the existing revenues of the current stakeholders, whether it’s the teams or anyone else. What we’re trying to do with the reform is find new revenue streams and new possibilities of helping everyone in the sport get themselves on a stronger financial basis. All of the commentaries, blogs and discussion papers that I’ve seen tabled on the internet in recent months identify [...] as the key problem, the financial base of the sport is very weak and one element in that, ASO, is very strong and comfortable.
That’s good for them and they’ve done a great job and no one is criticising them or saying that the Tour isn’t the biggest and best bike race in the world. They’ve done fantastically well but cycling exists outside of the Tour de France and we’re trying to work with all the stakeholders in way that builds a consensus that makes the sport stronger around ASO. I don’t think ASO should see that as damaging or challenging. The fact that all of the stakeholders are pretty much agreed to the reforms that have most recently been proposed is a good thing. We can work on the details and I’m sure that we can find a solution.
BC: First of all the Management Committee is concerned not to have a repeat of the damages and wars we’ve had in the past. We want to achieve solutions by consensus and that means we need to keep talking. Individuals’ positions within that, I don’t want to comment on.
BC: Well I’m not going to go into individual personalities or individuals’ positions. This is about trying to achieve something that’s good for the sport as a whole. That’s what I was elected to do. To stop all the warring and the battles that were raging for many years and to try and bring integrity to the sport in a transparent way. In doing that, to try and make sure that the fans of the sport had a sport that they could really accept was transparent and not full of doping and other forms of cheating and restore the reputation of the sport. That’s still a challenge but we’re working on it and I’ve got a great Management Committee that are supportive of me. There are different views from time to time on different elements but we don’t want a repeat of the things that damaged out sport.
BC: That really is a question you’d have to ask him.
BC: Everyone who works so hard to develop our sport has ambition, I’m sure. Some have ambition to be president of the UCI, others have ambition to lead a national federation. That’s natural and understandable but my view is that it’s not a good idea to put personal ambition above the good of the sport. I’m not pointing that at one individual, I’m just making a general point.
BC: I don’t want to comment further.
BC: I can’t comment any further.
BC: I think that’s a matter for Mr Tinkov. I don’t believe that I or the UCI has acted inappropriately in this matter but I’m not about to have a public row if he or anyone is threatening legal action.
BC: As President I act on legal advice brought to me and have to operate within the framework of the WADA code and WADA’s legal advice.
CN: But that integrity has been undermined. If we’re to believe that Kreuziger is clean, you have undermined his position and his team over the last twelve months.
CN: But you did push for the withdrawal of the licence?
BC: I’m very happy with the Licence Commission’s decision because Astana are taking their responsibilities more seriously and are making great efforts to run a clean team and are complying fully with the recommendations of the Licence Commission. We’ve changed the UCI regulations over the winter and we have greater sanctions for offences and for teams, and the possibility of banning teams that we didn’t have last year. The sanctions go much, much further than they did last year.