The inaugural meeting of the UCI Athletes' Commission draws to a close on Wednesday after a three-day workshop in Aigle, Switzerland attended by 12 of its 15 members. Philippe Gilbert, Sven Nys and Marianne Vos were among the representatives of a cross-section of disciplines present at the first gathering of an entity which has been designed to allow riders address their concerns directly to cycling's governing body.
Former track star Florian Rousseau is president of the Athletes' Commission, and while he acknowledged that the 15-rider group has no executive power, he maintained that it can play a significant advisory role in the development of the sport.
"It doesn't have decision-making power but it will make itself heard and can make recommendations that will be taking into account by the other commissions of the UCI," Rousseau told reporters in Aigle on Wednesday.
The initiative is inspired by the IOC Athletes' Commission, whose chair now serves on the IOC Executive Board [currently former athlete Frankie Fredericks – ed]. UCI president Pat McQuaid envisages that a similar scenario will unfold in cycling once its own Athletes' Commission has found its feet.
"Ultimately there will be a seat on the management commission of the UCI for a representative of the Athletes' Commission," McQuaid said. "It's in everybody's interests that the voices of the athletes are heard loud and clear and we want to set up a mechanism so that can happen."
McQuaid stressed that the UCI would continue to enjoy a "good working relationship" with the CPA, the professional riders' association presided over by Gianni Bugno, but that it was necessary to establish a body to represent riders from all disciplines. "The CPA only cover road riders, but we need to take into account all of the other disciplines within the UCI and in particular the Olympic disciplines," he said.
World number one Philippe Gilbert noted that while his specific task on the commission is to represent the interests of road riders, he is aware of the importance of communication with riders from track, cyclo-cross, mountain bike and paracycling.
"It's an exchange of ideas, and it's good for cycling in general, not just for us," he said. "Certainly, the road is my first interest, but we're all part of the UCI and the UCI is for all disciplines."
With the UCI Athletes' Commission very much in its infancy, its members agreed that the first essential step is the establishment of solid lines of communication with the riders they represent.
Gilbert is one of three representatives of men's road cycling, along with Dario Cioni and Bernhard Eisel. He confessed that his sole reservation about accepting the invitation to join the inaugural commission was the fact that the riders had not elected their delegates themselves.
"The only concern I had was about the level of communication over the selection of the riders. But we're not here to express our own personal ideas but rather to try and gather the opinions of all of the road riders," Gilbert said.
Eisel believes that the onus is now on the peloton at large to make its concerns known to its representatives. "The UCI set up this working group in a really short time, but it's a really good group," he said. "We ask that the other riders come to us and tell us what they want to talk about."
Sven Nys already has experience of working on the cyclo-cross riders' commission, and he reiterated that communication among riders will be essential to the success of the UCI Athletes' Commission.
"I try to have Google groups on the internet to communicate with 10 to 15 other cyclo-cross riders from all the countries and to see what they want and see if we can do something," he said. "That's what I'm doing now with the cyclo-cross commission and I think it can work with this commission also."
His compatriot Gilbert warned that the commission must engage with riders from as many countries as possible in order to ensure its relevance. "Every country has a different culture and what's important for a Belgian rider mightn't be so for a Spanish rider, so it's up to us to gather the general opinions of the peloton, and bring those ideas before the UCI."
While the Athletes' Commission will be charged with discussing a wide range of topics, including health, working conditions and the development of cycling, much of the dialogue in the opening round of meetings has centred on equipment, and in particular on rules regarding the safety of lightweight materials.
Inevitably, the thorny issue of radio earpieces has also been to the fore over the past two days. While the current regulation banning their use outside of UCI WorldTour events will remains in place in 2012, the commission was in broad agreement that the matter needs to be discussed further and eventually a definitive set of rules must be laid down.
"It was never on the agenda that we'd come here and find a conclusion on if we race with radios or not," Eisel said. "I haven't changed my idea of what I think of radios, but we have had a lot of time to talk a lot about it and to understand the UCI's interests, our interests and a lot more about radios and new technologies in our sport."
"We don't all think the same, but that's good," Marianne Vos said, picking up on the theme. "The best recommendation we can make is that there has to be a decision and that's what the UCI is going to take."
As well as partaking in the opening meetings of the commission, the riders have also been afforded the opportunity to train on the track at the World Cycling Centre in Aigle. On Thursday, they will visit the IOC headquarters in nearby Lausanne – incidentally the scene of Alberto Contador's CAS hearing – ahead of the final session of the three-day meeting.
It remains to be seen precisely what role the commission will play as the months and years roll by, but for Gilbert, the low-key opening was in itself a significant step on the journey ahead. "It was important to get everybody around the table," he said.
Members of the UCI Athletes' Commission -
President: Florian Rousseau (France)
Road: Marianne Vos (Netherlands), Judith Arndt (Germany), Philippe Gilbert (Belgium), Dario Cioni (Italy), Bernhard Eisel (Austria).
Mountain Bike: Georgia Gould (USA), Greg Minnaar (South Africa)
Track: Anna Meares (Australia), Teun Mulder (Netherlands)
Cyclocross: Sven Nys (Belgium)
BMX: Vilma Rimsaite (Lithuania), Roger Rinderknecht (Switzerland)
Paracycling: Jiri Jezek (Czech Republic), Lukas Weber (Switzerland)
*Meares, Mulder and Rinderknecht were unable to attend.
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