Greg Lemond has been assertively alleging that there is widespread corruption within the International Cycling Union (UCI) for over half a decade. In 2006, he gave an interview to L'Equipe in which he questioned the validity of the UCI's report on Lance Armstrong's 1999 Tour de France urine samples that allegedly showed evidence of EPO use. He has not stopped since.
Multiple attempts by UCI president Pat McQuaid to silence Lemond with personal emails and threats of lawsuits have been unsuccessful. Just two months ago, Lemond called for McQuaid and Hein Verbruggen - former head of the UCI and now honorary member of the International Olympic Committee - to resign. In a note posted on his Facebook page, Lemond wrote "You know dam[n] well what has been going on in cycling, and if you want to deny it, then even more reasons why those who love cycling need to demand that you resign. ... The problem for sport is not drugs, but corruption. You are the epitome of the word corruption."
Now, the Change Cycling Now (CCN) campaign, a group of prominent figures including journalists David Walsh and Paul Kimmage, former professional cyclists and team managers Jonathan Vaughters and Eric Boyer, and others, has called for Lemond to challenge Pat McQuaid for leadership of the UCI. When asked by the French newspaper Le Monde if he was preparing to run, Lemond said he was, that "It's now or never... If we want to regain the confidence of the public and sponsors, we've got to act fast and be tough. If we don't, cycling will die."
Such a change in guard would be ground-shaking for the sport, but is it likely to happen? And is it what is best?
Does Lemond Have a Chance?
The UCI is constituted of 172 national federations, each a member of the five continental confederations that have 42 votes between them. The president and other leadership positions are set to be elected in September, 2013, when McQuaid's term ends. Lemond is an anti-doping figurehead, but his chances of securing a winning coalition in such little time must be scarce.
Both Verbruggen and McQuaid were no strangers to the UCI when they ascended to the role of president. Both had served as presidents of their national cycling federations and McQuaid had served eight years as chairman of the UCI's Road Commission. Insiders know the system and, more importantly, have more relationships with the national federations that elect the executive committee.
CCN called for McQuaid to resign in a statement released yesterday, which is when they threw support behind Lemond as an interim president while an independent panel investigates allegations of corruption within the UCI. The independent commission will report on its findings in June. The chances of Lemond rising to the role of president in this fashion are higher, should it happen. But if prior behavior is any indication, McQuaid is unlikely to step down until removed from office via voting. Anti-doping advocates and critics of the UCI would surely welcome Lemond's appointment, but what it could accomplish is up in the air.
Figurehead or Real Leadership?
The UCI is a collection of national federations and serves as far more than the front against doping in the sport. It oversees race licensing, runs races of its own (as of the past few years), and regulates the technical side of the sport. Its purview includes road, cyclo-cross, mountain bike, track, and indoor cycling. Running the organization takes part technocrat, part politician. Is this really the ideal spot for Lemond, an eccentric personality who may come across as brash to some?
This depends on what the UCI - and more importantly the sport at large - need right now. Is it time to forgo efficiency and polished bureaucratic technique for a figurehead who can bring credibility to the office? Will current and potential sponsors respond more positively to an avowed enemy of doping and corruption despite a personality that may not mesh well with the job at hand? Or, are the short term benefits of such a leader outweighed by longer term concerns over ensuring stability within the organization by electing someone from the organization, a national cycling federation, or the World Anti Doping Agency? When the choice is painted as one between firebrand and reformist, it is less clear which we need.
Lemond may not pose such a stark choice, but it is a question that nonetheless deserves substantial thought. CCN has made up their mind, endorsing Lemond over members like Eric Boyer who know the inner workings of the sport as they currently stand more than the Tour de France champion who left the sport in 1994. Perhaps CCN has it right - rather than installing Lemond for four years, it may be better to have a prominent figurehead oversee the transition into the post-McQuaid era, presuming it comes to an end either now, in April, or after the report of the UCI's independent commission in June. If he does ascend to the office, Lemond would be in the company of fighters in the trenches like who ascended to lead their cause into a new era. Both Nelson Mandela and Ulysses S. Grant resemble Lemond in this respect, but one hopes that Lemond's legacy would more resemble the former's.