Managers from many of the leading teams in the peloton walked out of a UCI meeting in Brussels on Monday afternoon in protest at the UCI's refusal to discuss the use of radio earpieces.
39 representatives from the 42 ProTeam and Professional Continental teams attended the day-long meeting in the Sheraton hotel close to Brussels Airport. They patiently listened to presentations on anti-doping, the ProTeam registration and ranking process for 2012, bike design and finance.
But when the debate turned to the ban of race radio and several French-speaking journalists were invited to express their point of view, representatives from many of the major teams who are in favour of race radio left the meeting while UCI President Pat McQuaid was still speaking.
Some insisted they had flights to catch but the atmosphere was tense and their anger was apparent. One team manager who did not want to be identified told Cyclingnews: "They don't want to listen to us. They want to decide and tried to give us a talk about the history of cycling and the bicycle. It was a joke."
Many of the team representatives gathered in the hotel bar to talk briefly. It was suggested that some kind of statement would be issued, but Johan Bruyneel would not confirm that and refused to comment as he collected his luggage and left.
McQuaid stayed in the meeting room and after the discussions were over, commented to the press, "It doesn’t surprise me (that they walked out). They have a completely closed mind to anyone else's opinion. If is not their opinion, they don't accept it," he told Cyclingnews.
"The decision has been made. We've said many times that we're will willing to work on any aspect of communications that helps safety and is utilized for safety. But the UCI will not accept direct communication from team directors to riders."
Jonathan Vaughters, the head of the AIGCP (Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels) was not at the meeting but had a bitter email exchange with McQuaid during the day.
In an email seen by Cyclingnews, McQuaid wrote to Vaughters:
"I have had enough of this High Moral Ground from you and I am refraining myself from writing exactly what I am thinking.
"Enough to inform you that when I have finished with the teams today you will have plenty to "reflect" on and communication will be the furthest thing from your mind!!”
Following the meeting, the AIGCP released a statement outlining its disappointment at the way in which the meeting was conducted and explaining why its members had opted to leave:
“At today’s meeting with the UCI in Brussels we hoped to agree the setting up of an independent expert review of all aspects of race radio usage including the best way to broadcast race safety warnings and the legal liabilities of a change to the existing system, alongside its use for tactics and team building. Sadly our approach was rejected by the UCI leadership.”
According to the AIGCP, the UCI had rejected appeals to alter the agenda of the meeting in order to devote adequate time and importance to the issue of race radio usage.
“They used excuses of ‘media invitations’ and a lack of notice of the request to avoid the debate,” read the AIGCP statement. “Their ‘bureaucracy before safety’ does not inspire confidence or create goodwill.”
The tone of Pat McQuaid’s email appears to have stoked the discontent of the AIGCP still further.
“Having had our request refused, reviewed the tone of the e-mail exchanges prior to the meeting and the comments made at it, many teams choose to symbolically withdraw before the close of today’s UCI meeting,” the statement continued.
McQuaid later explained his reasons for refusing to alter the meeting's plan.
"The agenda for this meeting was sent out on the first of April and then yesterday afternoon, he (Vaughters) comes out with a demand for a change of the agenda. You can't operate like that. Not only does he not come to the meeting, he doesn't know how to operate. He thinks the UCI is just being belligerent towards him but he needs to understand that to organise a meeting like this takes a lot of time and a lot of effort."
McQuaid conceded that the radio debate is about governance and power within the sport.
"It maybe to do with power but if it is, it's their problem," he said of the teams.
"They don't realise what their place is. In this sport and in most other international sports, you have an international authority and international federation that is the government and governance of the sport and regulates the sport. Organisers in our sport organise events, teams have riders who ride races."
"I think what's going on here is the teams want to take other roles. They want to be in roles of governance as well. They can't do that. It doesn't happen anywhere. When FIFA changed the offside rule six or seven yeas ago, they didn’t ask the teams. They did it because they felt it was good for football."
Despite the walk out, McQuaid insisted the meeting had not been a bad day for the future of the sport.
"It hasn't been a bad day. We had a very good meeting today, it was very constructive. A lot of good things were said all day and a lot of information was passed over to the teams," he said.
"We had a real good meeting and other than those guys walking out at the end, which I think was quite ignorant on their part, even if it wasn't a surprise to me. Other than that it was a good day's work."
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