Another criticism pro riders lodge against the UCI is that it does not keep them informed. Asked how the UCI communicates with the pros, McQuaid says, “In the past the only route we had to communicate with the pro riders was the CPA [Cyclistes Professionnels Associés, a riders’ association].
“From the time I became president I doubted whether the CPA was the model we should be using to communicate with the pro cyclists. And so that’s why the UCI set about creating an athletes’ commission last year. It sat for the first time for two or three days here in November.”
While pro cyclists are nominally represented by the CPA, it has never been much of a force. McQuaid explains that “The CPA is made up largely of the unions of the three or four major cycling countries which are big enough to have a cyclists’ union. And their priority is in looking after those type of affairs like salaries for the cyclists that they represent.”
Those countries include cycling heartlands like Spain and Holland. “But today’s peloton is much broader than the four or five main European nations, so therefore a lot of riders were left out of any sort of representation.” The athletes’ commission representatives “are elected by the athletes and they are there as a conduit to go between the athletes and the disciplines of cycling in the UCI. We would hope that this would develop into something more worthwhile which gives a direct link with the athletes.”
In 2011, controversy over the UCI’s efforts to ban race radios roiled the peloton. When the riders threatened to voice their dissatisfaction with the ban by boycotting the UCI-organized Tour of Beijing in October, McQuaid responded with a strong hand, sending the teams a letter threatening to pull their licenses if they did not show up in China. In the end, both parties backed down, with the teams racing in China and the UCI agreeing to give the race radio issue further consideration in 2012.
Asked if being a lightning rod for criticism is proof that he is getting things done, McQuaid is reluctant to agree. “To some extent yes, but we are also a lightning rod for criticism because today’s media with social media gives anybody a voice. And anybody who has an opinion feels like he has ownership of the sport of cycling and he wants to give his opinion and that opinion can become a virus overnight. So we do suffer from that.”
Compared to soccer, McQuaid says cycling’s diverse disciplines make it easier for anyone with internet access to gain a loud pulpit. Soccer “is very much controlled by FIFA [pro soccer’s governing body],” he explains. And because soccer is just one game, with one set of rules — “one discipline all the way through” — FIFA “can control it and it’s therefore more difficult for guys with social media to have any real hearing or generate any controversy, whereas it’s much easier with cycling.”