With the dispute over race radios rumbling on, there’s talk of a boycott of the Tour of Beijng. a five-day stage race scheduled for October. If you haven’t heard of this race, don’t worry since it’s a new one but nevertheless it’s on the UCI’s World Tour calendar. A surprising addition given it’s never been held before.
The latest fuel on the fire comes from a sudden decision by UCI officials to block the team association the AIGCP and riders representatives from the CPA from an important meeting to which they’d been invited. Inviting people one minute and barring them the next does look infantile from here. Let’s hope the UCI gets out an explanation soon.
Putting aside the pro/anti radio debate for a minute, I’ve said before that I’m worried that the sport itself gets taken hostage by political bickering. Protests during races don’t work, they just confuse casual fans who probably don’t their acronyms or even that riders use radios during a race. It embarrasses race organises and could cost them too.
But if you had to pick a race to make a point then it’s got to be the Tour of Beijng. Why? Well, first few get harmed since the race has never been run before, it’s not like a fragile tradition is at risk here. Second, not many teams want to go all the way to China for an unknown race, quite a few sponsors simply have no commercial interests in China. Third the riders are in a similar position, many will not fancy the long journey at the end of the season, don’t forget the tales of clenbuterol-contaminated pork too.
But the biggest reason is that this race is the baby of the UCI, the sole race on the calendar that the UCI itself promotes. The sport’s governing body is so closely linked to the organisation of this race that if it’s diminished then standing of the UCI takes a hit. If the race goes down several people in Aigle are going to lose face big time with the Beijing authorities. Money is at stake too.
It’s not without risks. China is obviously on its way to becoming the world’s biggest economy and upsetting sporting officials there could see the future of the sport put on hold. But obviously the solution is to run the race but let local teams in. But again this shows the risks involved with the UCI, it’s taken on the role of organising and promoting the race and the risks that go with this. It is simultaneously trying to promote the sport and push a race whilst also trying to set its rules.
The “dis-invitation” of the CPA and AIGCP from an upcoming meeting looks ridiculous from here and certainly hands the pro-radio camp a minor PR win. But the talk of a boycott has got to causing panic with the UCI. I’d rather everything was harmonious but we’re not there. I don’t want to see any races disrupted but if the teams stay away from this race it represents a substantial humiliation for the UCI without too much collateral damage, although don’t be surprised if the Chinese join the rest of the world in thinking pro cycling can appear incapable of progress.
My thoughts are that the UCI should perform a spectacular U-turn around: drop the radio ban and apologise for poor consultation. But at the same time it can slam the door shut in front of the Trojan Horse attempts of teams to expand their influence on the way the sport is run. I’m all in favour of riders and teams behind heard and this needs to be expanded but I draw the line at letting them decide or veto. It’s a tricky balance: the UCI needs to act as a rallying point, uniting various groups around common ideas, not as a divisive organising playing groups off against each other. Right now that balance isn’t being achieved. A governing body must govern, but govern wisely.