Sunday Shorts

Sunday, 11 November 2012

Zdenek Bakala

Meet the new boss of cycling, Zdeněk Bakala. Whether he’s the same as the old boss depends but the UCI has signed a memorandum of understanding with Bakala, the Czech billionaire to invest up to €20 million from Bakala alone being cited.

Earlier this week we had news of the UCI launching a consultation exercise, now we have news that a deal is close to being signed, with Pat McQuaid saying “we look forward to making a formal announcement on this as soon as possible.”

Now there’s room between consultation and an agreement but it suggests some people have a destination in mind and perhaps even the conclusions. Nobody will put this much money in unless they’re getting ownership of something, whether a cut revenue streams or a closed-door private monopoly, for example Formula 1-style control.

We can assume investors like Bakala are only willing to commit cash if certain decisions are taken and a particular path is taken; these are not spelled out. Many would like to know more.

It’s taken many by surprise to see that the UCI is very close to an agreement. At the same time it’s long been clear that, despite owning the Omega Pharma – Quick Step team, Bakala hasn’t come to cycling just to play fantasy cycling with his money. I’ve written about him before and now he’s seen the opportunities for reform and how things can be better produced, packaged and promoted. He’s been saying this since he came into the sport.

The timing means we have several concurrent UCI calendars. The independent enquiry, the election of a new President and now major changes in the promotion of pro cycling.

One more thing stands out: ASO are not on board. How this works out remains to be seen because the Tour is so dominant on the calendar. I suspect we’ll see a traditional calendar with the big races owned by ASO like the Tour and Paris-Roubaix whilst other events get ejected, for example the Vuelta a [insert your preferred region of Spain here] or the Tour du [insert a department of France] will make room for new events in the US, Britain, Germany and South America. But all this will emerge. How much good the consultation does remains to be seen, especially if a fait accompli awaits.

Skins Lawsuit
If investors rushing to join the UCI has been a boost for the UCI then the news of Skin’s lawsuit against the UCI has angered some in Aigle. I was sceptical about this but since we got news of the lawsuit the firm has acted to explain a lot of this with its Chairman Jaimie Fuller working hard to get the message across, he’s even been posting comments on here to explain things. It’s all a lot more reassuring and I’ve seen others who have taken the same stance from early scepticism to support. In some ways I’d rather not see the UCI in court but perhaps it is the only way to tease out answers to still unanswered questions, for example on the Lance Armstrong donations. It’ll be interesting to watch.

Movistar appoint clean team manager
An unexpected headline of the week perhaps? Well it’s just worth nothing that the appoint of José Luis Laguía to the Movistar team. Famous to many as the five time winner of the Vuelta’s mountain competition, he later became a team manager with Kelme. A decade ago the Kelme team was like a laboratory on wheels, just like many other squads. Despite all of this when Jesus Manzano lodged complaints about the team, he spared Laguía and said he was the only team manager who didn’t talk doping to him. In an interview with publico.es the manager hints he left the team because he didn’t agree with how things were being run. None of this means too much for now but I thought it worth sharing for he even talks publicly of ethics and pro cycling, often a rare topic amongst the managers of many teams.

New colleagues
Laguía won’t have to wait long to meet his new colleagues. The week ahead sees several teams meeting up to plan their 2013 season, including Movistar. It’s the first time the 2013 roster will assemble and we’ll see familiar images of riders in the team kit training alongside new recruits still in the kit of their old team. That is if riders are allowed to ride. The main purpose of these early meetings is often administrative and mental, to take measurements for team kit, whether clothing or bikes, and sign paperwork as well as some early team building exercises, whether old rituals involving alcohol or modern, executive-style plans.

The Chicken lands in Court
Talking of the week ahead, the saga of Michael Rasmussen comes to court. Sacked by Rabobank during the 2007 Tour de France his claim is that the team were aware of what he was doing so they should not have been so quick to sack him.

We’ll see what the results of this case are but it is a reminder that too often when a rider is caught we hear tales of “shock” from team management who quickly blame a “lone wolf” when in fact management often have a good idea of what is going on and if they don’t, then they should ask themselves how somebody adds 50 watts to their power output during the space of three months. One aspect promoted by the Mouvement Pour un Cyclisme Crédible is to suspend teams who have several positive tests because if we can accept one or two rogue results, there’s probably something cultural if multiple riders are being caught.

Taiwan KOM Challenge
On the subject of Danes who go uphill very fast, well done to John Ebsen who won a 100km long hill climb in Taiwan. A 3.5% average gradient might not sound like much but the Taiwan King of the Mountain challenge is a race with a difference. Starting at sea level it rises over 100km to 3,275m on Hehuan Mountain, a height only matched in Europe by the Pico del Veleta ski station in Spain. Here’s the video from 2011, it shows the ascent from tropical conditions to the frozen temperatures at the peak… but it doesn’t show the road that stays over 20% for sustained periods.

The 2012 edition has just taken place and saw several Euro pros invited but it was Ebsen of Brunei’s CCN Cycling Team that won. But there are some other riders worth noting, including Mike Sinyard, the owner of Specialized. The concept is interesting, a race that’s tourism promotion where many can take part on their own terms whether they want to race or just take pride in reaching the top.

Finally, can you name the young rider in the yellow “Royal Soda” jersey below?

Royal Soda

For a clue look at the pointy elbows and the brake levers at different heights which suggests awkward posture on the bike, an inelegant but effective style on the bike that remains today. Thanks to a reader for sending in the picture.

Cam November 11, 2012 at 7:15 pm

Thanks for giving this world-class event some airtime. Cycling journo and CCN rider Lee Rodgers wrote a very enjoyable account of his experience in last year’s race (a.k.a. the Maxxis Taroko International Hill Climb)

http://cyclingtime.com/en/1965/article/Maxxis-Cup:-A-Rider’s-Perspective

Mr.60% November 11, 2012 at 7:15 pm

thomas voeckler

broerie November 12, 2012 at 11:25 am

That’s what I thought too

The Inner Ring November 12, 2012 at 1:16 pm

Correct. He’s riding in Martinique, the French island in the West Indies, where he spent his childhood. Note tropical plants behind. And he’s on an ONCE bike with matching overshoes and gloves.

BC November 11, 2012 at 8:46 pm

Beware strangers bringing gifts. More conflicts of interest, but I guess money talks at every level !
Yes Mr 60%, correct: Voeckler

BR November 11, 2012 at 9:27 pm

Great video and thanks for sharing. I didn’t guess that it was TV until I read “awkward posture on the bike, an inelegant but effective style on the bike that remains today”

Ad November 11, 2012 at 9:59 pm

On Movistar, I saw Dowsett say on cyclingnews: “They told me, ‘We just expect you to turn up fit for racing.’ That means there is more responsibility for me with the training but I like that.” (http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/dowsett-i-aspire-to-be-like-wiggins)

The lack of professionalism and oversight that INRNG has written about before in teams’ training schedules, which can of course in the worst case scenario open the door to doping, seems to be evident here. I still think it’s incredible that a team would sign up a rider like this on, I expect, good money and then just leave them to it and hope for the best.

Logan November 12, 2012 at 1:50 am

Yeah, you would think that they would have coaches monitoring your power figures etc, check your not over training and all that type of thing.

Seems to me, that it is quite amateur really.

The Inner Ring November 12, 2012 at 1:18 pm

That doesn’t sound good. Just paying someone money and hoping they do the job is a recipe for disaster and it’s a tribute to Dowsett if he does well. But we can see riders looking for fitness gains can be tempted to work with the wrong coaches and take short cuts.

TheDude November 12, 2012 at 12:57 am

I would enjoy observing the drama of the UCI hauled in to court. Hopefully in a jurisdiction other than Switzerland. Namely, Hein Verbruggen and Pat McQuaid. Is there an equivalent to a “class action suit” that pools multiple interests in this context I wonder? Figure… Skins, Kimmage, Lemond, and other parties amassing financial resources to muster a great inquiry may trigger and grand “opening” of the dark den of the UCI.

Robert Merkel November 12, 2012 at 9:24 am

That Taiwanese race sounds truly epic; I’d heard of the 50km (!) western side of this climb but didn’t realize that the other side was even more ridiculous.

rhys November 12, 2012 at 11:33 am

Can you stay overnight and do a descent race the following day? If so, I may be interested!

Bundle November 12, 2012 at 1:56 pm

The question about Bakala is in retrun for what he is investing thar money.
And concerning “ejection” of races, may I remind readers that in the course of the 21st century, an enormous number of generally good regional Spanish races, some of them very old, have already disappeared: Vuelta a Galicia, Vuelta a los Valles Mineros, Setmana Catalana, Vuelta a Aragón, Bicicleta Vasca and Vuelta a Valencia. France has lost one of its very greatest: Midi-Libre, not to mention other good ones like Tour du Vaucluse. This was all bad news, and the replacement of these races by the Tour of Lower Shanghaï or whatever tasteless race with no one watching, is not. More races is good. Less races is bad. Changing one race for another is good or bad depending on their quality.
My bottom-line is that there is way too much money sponsoring teams, and it should go to where it’s lacking: race sponsoring. I know riders and DS would like to have more and better jobs and less workdays, but the consumer wants it the other way around. And races should be left to compete against one another, taking place at the same time, competing for media coverage. The UCI has no business telling races when they must take place. Now, if ASO, RCS, and Unipublic want to coordinate their calendars, freely, that’s a completely different thing.

Larry T. November 12, 2012 at 3:51 pm

+1
As to cycling’s Champions League – good luck but I see lots of flaws, starting with comparison to football (soccer in the US) as in those matches are about team x vs team y and could be played pretty much anywhere, the reverse of cycling where the Ronde or Giro can only be held, and draw their interest from, the location. They talk (again) of 18 teams which is simply too many – the race organizers want more control on “wild-card” entries, not less. I remember this being an issue in the past. And again, WHERE is all this TV revenue going to come from? Unless I’m mistaken, pretty much the only cycling race in the world bringing in large TV revenue is LeTour. The next biggest race, the Giro certainly doesn’t and I can’t imagine others that do, especially since most of them are viewable via the ‘net for FREE. So this guy invests 20 million into the scheme – how does he get any return on this? I think the only thing about this scheme that’s gotten any traction is the injection of the 20 million into something the UCI thinks they can get their greedy hands on. Otherwise it’s the same old s__t we’ve heard before except for doping control being handled externally. Finally, the latest lawsuit – am I the only one that sees something fishy about a maker of compression clothing, which was recently banned in competition by the UCI now bringing suit against them and calling for new management at the top?

trounder November 12, 2012 at 7:42 pm

“The only way to end up with 1 million in the bike business is to start with 2 million.” Well, they’re starting with 20 million instead and they’re not opening a bike shop.

It may be hard to see where the ROI is in this deal, but interest rates are low and a reasonable return with managable risk is what smart money wants. This deal hinges on Bakala and the UCI colluding to control their respective “rights” to PRO cycling through a shell company (see horizontal and vertical integration). This helps the non-profit UCI as a way to “offshore” profits they’re not supposed to be making. And for Bakala, if he strikes the right deal with the “Rule Makers” then I’m sure he can figure out a way to make a tidy sum. He’s obviously the brains, so this shouldn’t be a problem. They’ll figure something out, even if it seems like small potatoes compared to other sports. It may turn out to be good for cycling, who knows!

What irks me about the UCI -Bakala statement is this: “The UCI and the investors are also committed to ensuring that the final structure of the joint venture will avoid conflicts of interest.” Good luck to the Irish! Let’s start with NOT having your family run the thing, Pat. Beyond that, it sounds like the deal has “collusion” at its heart…so I’m not sure how you build a Chinese wall tall enough to pass the smell test. But maybe that’s the point, there is no conflict of interest because they are aligned to make money. Either way, the statement rings hollow for me.

Furthering my cynicism; I think the Skins suit is less “fishy” and more of a joke. The fact that the Skins product is banned by the UCI during competition is enough for me to see through the platitudes. It’s easy to donate the proceeds of a lawsuit that you have no chance of winning, so for me that doesn’t legitimize the tactic. Even if the guy sincerely wants a change in leadership at UCI for the good of the sport, the lawsuit is frivolous in my book. Run for a position in your national fed or at the UCI if you’re that passionate. You obviously know how to market yourself.

Or, why not follow Rabbobank’s example and stop sponsoring PRO road bicycle racing until its governance resembles an organization that Skins can get behind. Rabbo have been in the cycling game a lot longer than 5 years, and they didn’t file any lawsuits claiming to have been harmed in some way. Skins could still give away its products to or even sponsor clean cyclists, just as Rabbo can still support its women’s and development squads.

Instead, this guy wants to pay a law firm to run into a brick wall and then hypes it with a press release. It’s fatuous. My 2 cents. Thanks again to INRNG for serving up these savory topics with just the right amount of seasoning for our discriminating tastes!

Cevenol November 13, 2012 at 5:05 am

The Midi Libre is the race I miss the most as there is no top tier race tackling the great roads my native Cevennes any more….

Chris November 12, 2012 at 5:32 pm

On the subject of long climbs, the Alto de Letras in Colombia has to be mentioned…

http://app.strava.com/runs/alto-de-letras-7533544

I wonder if somebody will ever do a Letras standalone KOM race. That would be cool

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