Following a two-month UCI suspension that ends Friday, Johan Bruyneel has been itching to get back to his job as team manger of Team RadioShack. He is also expected to reveal details of a startling plan to make professional cycling more attractive to television, major corporations and the public — perhaps outside the confines of the Union Cycliste Internationale.
And to those who have said any potential breakaway structure for the sport is not a practical proposition, the 46-year-old Belgian seemed to be addressing his critics this past Wednesday when he quoted an unknown author on his Twitter account: “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”
This quote also seemed to confirm comments he made in a chat session with The Fat Cyclist last week, when Bruyneel said: “I’ve been … having some meetings about some interesting news.” That “interesting news” has been interpreted — as it was in a line in UCI president Pat McQuaid’s recent open letter to professional riders — as the formation of a private pro racing league to be established with at least 10 other ProTeams outside of the UCI.
It’s believed that the plans Bruyneel has been making during the past two months arise from his frustration over the teams not getting a vote in UCI decisions — notably the one concerning the UCI’s extending its ban on two-way radio communication between riders and team directors. Because of McQuaid’s intransigence over the radio issue, many in the sport (especially members of the pro teams’ group, the AIGCP, where Bruyneel is a driving force) see the UCI as a dictatorship, not a democratically structured governing body.
All this ties in with a Victor Hugo quote that Bruyneel Tweeted on March 17: “When dictatorship is a fact, revolution becomes a right.”
Speculation of what that “revolution” might be was sparked by remarks Bruyneel made in his late-February blog: “Beyond this year, I’m already working on plans for 2012. It’s never too early and I’ve been laying the framework for something great … But you’ll just have to wait and see …”
Bruyneel has since been extremely busy in putting together this “something great.” In the past month alone, besides meetings in his current hometown of London, England, he has traveled to Paris, France, Brussels, Belgium and Milan, Italy, for other get-togethers with stakeholders in pro cycling. And he is now back in Belgium to take up his team duties for Sunday’s Tour of Flanders.
Perhaps it was in his multiple meetings that the idea was spawned for creating an independent racing league on the lines of the ATP in tennis, the NBA in basketball, or motor racing’s Formula 1.
Commenting on this possibility during his TFC chat session last week, Bruyneel said: “There are a lot of leagues out there that are more advanced and further along than cycling is at this point. I think all the stakeholders need to be heard, including the fans, sponsors, teams, organizers and riders …. Which is now not the case in a democratic way!”
In an interview last week with the Belgian newspaper Het Laatste Nieuws, Bruyneel seemed to be hedging his bets when he said: “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.”
But then, in reference to perceived threats by the UCI president, Bruyneel added: “If he goes on the way he has been going, maybe we will stop with everything or maybe something else will happen.”
VeloNews understands that the “something else” involves much more than the teams forming a private league — which would only succeed if it also involved the organizers of the major races, multinational sponsors and television networks, and support from the cycling authorities in the various countries where the racing takes place.
Apparently, all will be revealed in an upcoming, innovative news conference that will be conducted with two-way radios, so that questioners can make instant communication with Bruyneel and the panel of team directors, race organizers, TV producers and officials of proposed national cycling associations.
It is understood that these federations are being modeled on America’s PRO (Professional Racing Organization) — which for many years operated independently of the U.S. Cycling Federation (and the UCI) and issued its own racing licenses and race permits before it was brought within the auspices of USA Cycling. In fact, the recent move to reinstate race radios in NRC races came from the USPRO committee; that tactic failed because of pressure from the UCI, but when every major cycling nation has its own PRO backed by solid financing from sponsors, they will be able to act independently of the UCI.
For this whole new structure to operate it doesn’t take a genius to deduce that besides the top pro teams, Bruyneel will need the support of Tour de France organizer ASO (also part-owner of the Vuelta a España) in France (Bruyneel was in Paris last month), Giro d’Italia promoter RCS in Italy (he was in Milan) and Flanders Classics NV in Belgium (he was in Brussels), with access to their various TV contracts with the European Broadcasting Union, Eurosport, France 2, Italy’s RAI, Spain’s TVE and Belgium’s VRT and RTBF.
Negotiating with all these organizations was a natural for Bruyneel, who is fluent in Dutch, French, English, Italian, Spanish and German, and through his friendship and business relationships with Lance Armstrong, he has strong contacts with multinational corporations, non-governmental organizations and world leaders.
If everything Bruyneel is planning falls into place then the Belgian could become a figure like FI supremo and billionaire Bernie Ecclestone in motor sports; Ecclestone’s Formula One Constructors Association (similar to cycling’s AIGCP) controls television rights to all the FI Grands Prix (giving a percentage of the fees to the teams and the sport’s international governing body, FIA, which is the equivalent of cycling’s UCI).
As Bruyneel Tweeted this week, “People who say it cannot be done should not interrupt those who are doing it.”