"If this regulation [banning race radios] is not rescinded by the first of May, 2011, the teams have unanimously agreed on a drastic action. This action will not be made public at this time, but the UCI will be informed of its content. The UCI, and its President, Pat McQuaid, will receive a document, signed by all the teams, that outlines the full content of our thoughts."
AIGCP statement, March 2011
We all know and understand that the silly name-calling being dished out by both sides of the current dispute between the AIGCP and the UCI has got little or nothing to do with the issue of race radios. They are just the AIGCP's version of a sunken gunboat in the Gulf of Tonkin, something that enables the managers to wage a wider war against the UCI. A war which, for its own reasons, the UCI is only too happy to engage in.
As the conflict lurches ever closer to the managers' May 1st deadline, new issues have come into play in the dispute between two of cycling's key stakeholders. One of these is the bio-passport.
"If you're looking for a sure way to make enemies, change something."
Given that us cycling fans are fickle little creatures, easily distracted by unimportant little things, the managers had to find a way to remind us that they are still the downtrodden of the earth and haven't gone away. It has after all been a few weeks since we last heard from the AIGCP and during that time some fans have had their attention distracted by classic Classics and monumental Monuments. Hence the managers' rather ridiculous walkout from a UCI meeting earlier this week.
Unfortunately for the managers, not only is their vaunted unanimity breaking down - Astana and Katusha apparently broke ranks and stayed at the table with the representatives of the thirteen non-aligned Pro Conti squads when the sixteen other ProTeam representatives and their counterparts from the ten aligned Pro Conti outfits left the meeting - but those managers who did leave the meeting couldn't remember quite what it was they were supposed to be protesting against.
Some thought it was because they didn't want to hear from representatives of the International Cycling Writers' Association (AIJC) who were invited to speak at the meeting - the journalists, it would appear, haven't quite grasped that their sole role in this dispute is to give the managers a soapbox and reproduce the open letters, press releases and leaked emails supplied by the managers. Other managers thought they were protesting because their alleged intelligence had been insulted by being given a history of the bicycle. Still others thought it was in protest at things said about the use of race radios.
Officially, the AIGCP claimed that the protest was a load of symbolics:
"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 chose to symbolically withdraw before the close of today's UCI meeting."
One of the issues that did come to the fore as a consequence of Monday's meeting was the manner in which both sides are using the bio-passport in this dispute. The passport has already raised it's head several times since this dispute kicked off, with all sides using the issue of doping in their attempts to demonstrate that they are the one with this sport's long-term interests closest to their hearts.
Back in October, before the blue touch paper was lit and the argument over race radios took centre stage, the AIGCP's president, Jonathan Vaughters, was pointing out the difficulties of an unstable sport for teams seeking to raise long-term sponsorship and how this impacts on doping:
"Cycling is always in a state of flux, and that makes it difficult for the sport to ever get the stability it needs. With stability comes greater guarantees of anti-doping because there is less pressure - the contract monster isn't coming up behind you all the time. That's just one of the reasons to work toward a system that is more stable and more predictable for all the teams."
In December, the AIGCP's president elaborated on this point, explaining that the quid pro quo for the race organisers allowing the creation of a closed shop of teams with guaranteed long-term invites to their races would be that the teams would finally take the issue of doping at these races seriously:
"Both creating a limited and defined sponsorship market in cycling and creating value that allows different forms of fundraising outside of pure sponsorship would allow athletes and other employees of pro cycling teams to exist in a more stable and calm environment and keep them from making poor decisions in insecure and unstable moments (do I have a team next year??!). This in turn allows greater inroads to be made in anti-doping movements and culture changes, as people aren't fearful of their future quite so much."
While Vaughters undoubtedly knows more about doping than most and has, generally, been a force of good in the attempts to clean this sport up over the last few years, this is something he should perhaps discuss with David Millar. In one version of Millar's explanation for doping he admitted that he turned to EPO not to protect his job, but simply for the money enhanced performances brought him.
Despite being on a performance-related salary - following his drug-assisted performances in 2001, his 2002 income rose, but following poor performance on his part throughout 2002, his 2003 income fell - Millar felt that Cofidis was not paying him enough. He admitted to having used EPO and testosterone in 2003 because of this: "I felt it was wrong. My salary dropped by 300%. It was like, 'I'll make them pay me a shedload of money and run this team.'" Following his win at the 2003 World Time Trial Championship, for which he had prepared himself with EPO, his 2004 salary was reported to have been €800,000.
In February, the AIGCP was again playing the anti-doping card, telling us how much its members contribute to the cause:
"Teams represent the largest segment in terms of revenue and employees in professional cycling. We contribute over €5m to the UCI annually in licensing fees and anti-doping contributions. We feel that we should be represented accordingly."
Let's put some context on the AIGCP's figures. Revenue-wise, the AIGCP claims that the top twenty teams have combined income of $400m - approx €275m, or an average of €14m per team - and that they employ more than 2,500 personnel (an overage of 125 per team). That's twenty teams, and the AIGCP represents twenty-eight. So raise the revenue figure to what, €350m? €5m is less than 1.5% of that.
The €5m contributed by the teams is split between covering the costs of anti-doping and covering the UCI's operating costs. ProTeams pay a registration fee of €50k plus an annual licence fee of €15k, along with a contribution toward the the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation (CADF) - a separate organisation set up by the UCI to deal with the costs of anti-doping in this sport - of €120k per annum. Pro Conti teams from the larger nations pay a registration fee of €16k, with €2.25k of that going to the CADF, along with an annual contribution to the CADF of €80k.
That €5m then is split approximately 60% toward the cost of the sport's anti-doping programme (to which subject we'll return momentarily) and just 40% - circa €2m - to cover the UCI's operating costs, which are north of €20m annually.
In March, it was the turn of the UCI to play the doping card, in Pat McQuaid's open letter to the riders:
"I would have preferred to leave doping out of this discussion, but I realise that I can't resist pointing out a few facts on this subject, which is also used far too often as a scapegoat depending on the demands and the needs of the moment. [...] I have never heard your riders' association CPA nor teams association AIGCP showing similar indignation, mobilisation or militancy at the doping scandals which befall our sport. When it comes to raise the contribution to the fight against doping from the prize money, it is a flat refusal. This is where you should be addressing your open letters."
Eventually the CPA's president, Gianni Bugno - a man who knows a thing or three about doping - responded to McQuaid's barbed comment with this:
"As far as doping is concerned, you say: 'When it comes to raise the contribution to the fight against doping from the prize money, it is a flat refusal.' Pardon me, but in which other sport do the athletes pay over €250,000 every year out of their own pocket? Does it look like a little sum to you? If it is so, I suggest to you the following: I will be the bearer of the proposition of doubling this sum at the CPA steering committee."
Before looking at the small print in Bugno's offer, it's worth looking at some numbers and where that €250k fits in.
Race organisers are obliged by the UCI to deduct 2% of all prize money paid and remit it to the CADF. A further 7% is deducted from prize money and remitted to the CPA, to cover end-of-career allowances. Strictly speaking, these deductions are not coming just out of the riders' pockets but also out of the pockets of the team personnel among whom prize money is traditionally shared.
The riders' contribution to the CADF needs to be seen alongside the sums contributed by others. The CADF is a relatively recent addition to cycling's alphabet soup and is a separate body set up by the UCI to deal with the costs of this sport's anti-doping activities. It's funded by the UCI, teams, race organisers and riders.
For the financial year ended December 2009, the CADF raised approx €5.9m, with the ProTeams contributing €2.2m (€120k per team), Pro Conti teams €1.7m (€80k per team), organisers €0.8m (15% of minimum prize money), riders €0.2m (2% of prize money) and the UCI €0.6m (the UCI also picks up the tab for some expenses not covered by the CADF and underwrites the CADF's accumulated losses, which at the end of 2009 were €725k). The balance - €0.4m - was raised from other sources (including deductions from the registration fees paid by Continental and Women's teams).
The riders also contribute in the form of doping fines. For the last financial year for which figures are available, 2009, the UCI's accounts put this figure at €561k. In those same accounts, however, the UCI made a provision against this amount for fines not expected to be paid. This amounted to €561k. Rather than merely doubling the riders' contribution, the CPA could actually treble it, by simply making its members pay fines levied against them.
Bugno's offer to increase the riders' contributions towards the CADF came with a couple of conditions attached. These conditions call into question the apparent generosity of the riders and quite what the CPA's own agenda in this dispute is. They were that the CPA be allowed appoint a member of the passport star chamber which evaluates the passport results and that this member be provided with "the profiles of all the riders and not only of those considered irregular according to a preliminary evaluation performed by the UCI."
In other words, the CPA wants access to the UCI's passport watch-list, those riders who might need to be subjected to extra testing. Next Bugno will be demanding that the Italian judicial authorities inform the CPA whenever any of its members are subjected to surveillance as part of on-going investigations.
In March there was also leaked correspondence concerning an increase in the amount Pro Conti teams must pay towards the CADF. The AIGCP was indignant on behalf of its oppressed brothers in the lower league - not just the ten aligned Pro Conti squads who are members of the AIGCP, but also the thirteen non-aligned Pro Conti teams who have nothing to do with the managers' union. The AIGCP complained that it was unfair of the UCI to force the teams to change their budgets after they had been approved by the UCI. How, the AIGCP wondered, were its poor, beleaguered brothers in cycling's second division supposed to meet these increased costs?
That, then, is more or less where we stood as regards to all sides of this dispute using anti-doping as a propaganda tool. Then came this week's developments. As part of the warm-up act for Monday's meeting, the AIGCP and the UCI had a brief exchange of emails, part of which was leaked to the media. In that exchange, McQuaid threatened the AIGCP with this:
"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!!"
L'Équipe reported that, at Monday's meeting, McQuaid made good on his threat, informing the managers that, thanks to the bio-passport, he held precise information on each team's riders and then brandishing "the spectre of public revelations that would cause damage." This threat comes less than a week after Italian police demanded the bio-passport details of five Katusha riders.
Liquigas-Cannondale boss Roberto Amadio (the man whose first reaction to Tricky Beltrán's 2008 bust was 'surprise' and who has regularly seen his team fall under the finger of suspicion in doping inquiries, with one of his riders, Gianni Da Ros, receiving a twenty-year ban in 2009 for trafficking) suggested that there might be some slight mis-reporting in l'Équipe's story. In so doing though he showed that the AIGCP's agenda as regards to the passport is not that different from the CPA's - the managers too want access to the UCI's watch-list:
"It's not that McQuaid threatened to pull out the list of ‘targeted' riders. It was first Bjarne Riis and then I - given that we had our backs to the wall - who asked to be informed, to know who are the target riders, who are the riders at risk and who are the athletes who do not fill out their whereabouts forms punctually."
On one level you can understand where Amadio is coming from: the teams, between then, contribute 65% of the CADF's budget. On the no taxation without representation principle, the managers believe that they should have greater access to the passport's inner workings. However, that is not the principle in play here. When it comes to doping, it's a case of the polluter pays.
Ten-Stepping Our Way To A Brighter Future
My friend John has a plan, says he's never gonna go away again. Stays up every night, just to get the details right. He says when you make a plan, you gotta put your best shot in, do what ever it demands.
Those Nervous Animals
How serious is the AIGCP when it comes to the issue of doping? The AIGCP's recent Ten Point Plan - as revealed by Jonathan Vaughters to the BBC in March - called for "More focus on prevention of doping, in the first place, as opposed to catching doping after the fact."
The AIGCP though has been reluctant to elaborate upon any of the points in this plan, so we don't know whether this point is calling for a reduction in the current level of dope tests or whether the managers want to see additional funding being made available for preventive measures. For the financial year ended December 2009, the CADF spent €156k on education, mostly on the True Champion Or Cheat? programme.
While calling for greater emphasis on education is no bad thing, it must be borne in mind that this is the way the UCI traditionally tried to deal with the problem of doping, producing pamphlets, brochures and DVDs and effectively passing the buck back to the riders. And we all know how successful that tactic was.
As to where any additional funding might come from, the AIGCP has promised - in return for the creation of a closed shop locking new teams out of the major races - that "teams would be obliged to donate 20% of new money to combat doping." This was quantified as being worth €50m over five years.
That offer sounds generous, until you start to look at it. Do the math and 20% of new money turns out to be less than 3% of total revenue. In The Geox Paradox, the AIGCP's president bemoaned the potential loss of Geox's sponsorship and quantified that loss in terms of lost anti-doping funding:
"If the Geox situation were to turn out like that of Unibet a few years ago, cycling would potentially have lost somewhere near $50 million - from both teams combined - in total dollars due to opaque agreements and misunderstandings. [...] Have we all considered that just 5% of these dollars could have made a massive difference in anti-doping research efforts?"
20% ... 5% ... 3% ... the more you look at it the more the AIGCP's offer of increased funding shifts from seeming to be generous to looking pretty parsimonious.
But is the offer even of increased funding? Because of the managers' reluctance to clarify their Ten Point Plan, we don't know whether the AIGCP's offer of funding of €10m a year is on top of the €5m they already contribute in the form of licensing fees and anti-doping contributions or merely topping that figure up. If the latter, then the promised 3% then falls to just half that figure.
Nor are the mangers' willing to guarantee that this funding wouldn't simply be existing funding redirected. We have already seen - in 2009 - Bjarne Riis' Saxo Bank withdraw funding from its independent anti-doping programme because of budgetary constraints. In order to meet the additional funding commitments promised by the AIGCP other teams could likewise simply redirect existing expenditures and meet the cost of the new commitment by cutting back on what they are already spending on their own anti-doping programmes.
All told then, the AIGCP's offer of increased funding for the fight against doping seems to be just a pretty worthless little soundbite - even before the managers attempt to link such funding to being told which of their riders need to take more care because they are on the passport's watch-list.
When it comes to choreographing a dispute, the AIGCP needs to take some lessons from people who know a thing or three about these things. The point of promising undisclosed action in things don't change before a deadline is that those actions should remain undisclosed. But the thunder of the managers' Mayday threat has of course been stolen, with - oh the irony - a leak shortly after the threat was made revealing that the AIGCP teams had unanimously agreed to boycott October's UCI-promoted Tour of Beijing, "the crown jewel of the globalisation of cycling."
One of the oddities of this threat is that one issue both sides in this dispute agree on is that of globalising our sport. Point one of the AIGCP's Ten Point Plan was "More races of the highest level outside of Europe." Pat McQuaid has made globalisation the watchword of his presidency of the UCI. But words are cheap and both sides of this silly little affair have shown that they only have their own interests at heart and are willing to do whatever it takes to protect those interests, no matter the damage their argument does to this sport.
One of the reasons the UCI chose to promote the Tour of Beijing itself is the financial contribution it could make to the organisation. The UCI organises two other major race series each year, the World Championships and World Cup races. The World Cup races operate at a loss - nearly €1m annually - but the World Championships contribute €6m to €7m profits annually. In 2009, this was 75% of the UCI's reported Gross Profit.
The UCI - contrary to popular myth - is not a wealthy organisation. The last available accounts show that it operates at an annual loss in the region of €1m. A couple of accounting tricks allow this loss to be turned into a tiny net profit each year, allowing the UCI to claim that it breaks even. The balance sheet shows that, net of liabilities, the UCI's assets amounted to just €5m at the end of 2009. Far from being a financial force to be reckoned with, the UCI is a bit of a basket case. Kicking Pat McQuaid in the coffers by boycotting the Tour of Beijing will, undoubtedly, hurt.
But if the UCI hurts, others will feel its pain. Lost revenue will mean that cutbacks will have to be made somewhere in order for the UCI to balance its books. Where the axe will fall ... well right now we can only wonder. And hope it won't impact issues we care about.