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The world from Pat’s chair part III

  • By Mark Johnson
  • Published Feb. 8, 2012
  • Updated Oct. 19, 2012 at 11:33 AM EDT

Compared to other international sports, one of pro cycling’s weaknesses is that, in the eyes of the general public and advertisers, it only has one event, the Tour de France. It would be as if golf only had one big major competition, the green-jacketed Masters Tournament in Augusta, Georgia. McQuaid agrees with this assessment: “I wouldn’t disagree that there is an imbalance and that the Tour de France is way up there, much higher than all of the other events.” But, he points out that it is difficult to counterbalance because the sport is so traditional.

“It’s going to take time for new events outside Europe to grow and come in to a very high prestige and a very high stature.” But, “that will happen in the coming years and our calendar will be a more balanced calendar. The way it has been, our world calendar has more or less been a European calendar which is very much a pyramid with the Tour de France at the top and all of the other events in the pyramid below it. What will happen with the development of the WorldTour in the coming years is that the new events will gain prestige around the world and people will look to the other events rather than all looking to the Tour de France.”

Careful not to pick a quarrel with the ASO, he adds that he does not think this leveling “will take anything from the Tour de France,” but instead will just raise the stature of the other events. “And it’s going to take time, and it’s not helped by the fact that the sport is so traditional in its roots.”

Asked how to attract multinational corporations to cycling and its ever more attractive base of well educated, aspirational participants in the public, McQuaid responds, “Make no mistake about it, the image of our sport, the credibility of our sport, took a severe hammering over a period of 10 or 12 years, from 1998 right through to this year or last year. So you are talking about 10 years of doping affairs.”

He mentions the 1998 Festina drug bust, where a Festina team car was caught with more than 400 vials of doping products three days before the Tour de France was scheduled to start in Dublin, Ireland.

McQuaid, at the time an organizer of the Dublin race start, recalls the Festina bust as “a huge shock to the cycling family.” Then, he adds, “it got quiet for a little bit after that and just started to grow and grow again as riders got into new methods and so forth — new methods of trying to beat the system. When I was elected in 2005 I was faced immediately with Operation Puerto, and in 2006, Floyd Landis.”

In 2007, things didn’t get better he says, mentioning “Rasmussen, Vinokourov, Kasheckin,” three riders, who, along with Iban Mayo, Cristian Moreni and Patrik Sinkewitz were all implicated in doping scandals around that year’s Tour de France. He mentions Alberto Contador, too. “There were all these major scandals. Contador, we are still waiting on the results of it, but all of these had a major effect on the credibility of the sport of cycling world wide.” That credibility gap in turn scares sponsors away.

McQuaid feels teams are working to clean up the sport, but it is not a speedy process. “You are changing a culture, and changing a culture takes time. And also regaining the credibility takes time.” He is optimistic that the scandal-free nature of 2011 is positive, but admits that “it will take four or five years to bring about that change and to ensure that these CEOs who are out cycling bikes will use some of their companies’ money to invest in the sport.”

He points out that the upmarket demographic profile of the golfer that sponsors have long adored is shifting to cyclists not just in America, but also in traditional cycling strongholds in Europe. “The same guys who 10, 15 years ago would have gone and played golf, now they feel that golf isn’t physical enough for them and doesn’t push them enough and they want to go cycling.”

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Mark Johnson

Mark Johnson

Writer-photographer Mark Johnson's work has been published in titles including VeloNews in the United States, Cycling Weekly in the UK, Vélo in France, and Ride Cycling Review in Australia as well as general-interest publications including The Wall Street Journal and the San Diego Union-Tribune. His book on the Garmin pro team, Argyle Armada, was published by VeloPress in 2012. A Cat. 2 road cyclist, Mark has bicycled across the United States twice and completed an Ironman triathlon. He graduated from UC San Diego and has a Ph.D. in English literature from Boston University. His other passion is surfing, which he does frequently from his home in Del Mar, California. Follow him on Twitter @ironstringmark.

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