Crisis and the UCI’s Road to Redemption

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It has been a bittersweet week for cycling. I will say up front, it is my opinion that Lance Armstrong doped. Having followed the case with a mild obsession for the last five years, it is very hard to come to any other conclusion. In that sense, it has been a good week. The cycling world has obtained some closure on one of the most controversial and painful chapters of its history. And yet, a good week is not the same as a happy week. I still remember the awe with which I watched Armstrong destroy Marco Pantani and the entire peleton at Lourdes Hautacam in 2000. It is hard
for anyone who had a similar experience to feel happiness about the confirmation of a former idol’s fall from grace.

Armstrong apart, there are plenty of interesting insights on governance and change that arise from the case. It has been a massively difficult experience for the UCI (cycling’s governing body) and they have some way to go yet to rebuild. While the Armstrong case may never see the light of day, the air is thick with accusations of cover ups and complicity. Pat McQuaid’s posturing over who has jurisdiction to charge Armstrong is factually fair, but politically pathetic. The UCI is heavily implicated in the case, and their impartiality in prosecuting it could not be trusted. They should welcome the USADA’s offer to handle it.

While the last thing McQuaid and the UCI will want is for the case to drag out, any accusations of a cover up need to be fully investigated. If ever an organisation needed to demonstrate a resolve and capability to ask difficult questions of itself, then this is it. Cycling’s credibility is shot in the eyes of many fans. While a full investigation would undoubtedly be painful, it is absolutely essential to rebuild the reputation of the UCI.

That’s the great thing about a crisis: It offers an opportunity for a complete change of direction. Outcomes become possible in a crisis that were unthinkable in happier times. And people are very forgiving of individuals and organisations that acknowledge their mistakes and demonstrate sincere effort to change their ways. The UCI need look no further than David Millar. A former disgraced drug cheat, Millar is now one of the most widely respected riders in the peleton thanks to honesty with which he dealt with his mistakes, and the firm anti-doping stance he has taken since his return. So well has he re-established his reputation that the British Olympic Association, an organisation renowned for their anti-doping stance, welcomed him back for London 2012.

There is hope for the UCI, but they must act quickly and courageously. While this case must feel like the worst thing that could have happened, it is in fact a lifeline for an organisation that lost the public’s trust a long time ago.

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