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An interview with Pat McQuaid, February 24, 2005
Looking ahead, thinking big: Part II
As a former professional rider, successful race promoter and, more recently, member of the board of the UCI, Pat McQuaid is a well-known figure within the cycling world. The Irishman was part of the successful campaign to bring the start of the 1998 Tour de France to his home country and, since then, has worked as race director on events such as the Tour de Langkawi and Tour of Britain. This year's edition of the Malaysian tour marked an official end to such a role, with UCI matters now his main focus.
McQuaid has been President of the UCI's Road Commission for the past few years and as such, oversaw the introduction of the new continental calendars. Together with the new ProTour, cycling is going through a time of big reforms which he and the other UCI members hope will help the sport expand and increase its popularity on a global level.
In this two-part interview, McQuaid sat down with Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes to give his opinion on a number of matters, including these reforms, the UCI's efforts to get the Grand Tour organisers on board, Phonak's successful appeal to CAS regarding their ProTour licence, and his hopes of becoming the next UCI President when Hein Verbruggen retires this autumn.
Click here for Part I
CN: The new season has begun, and while the ProTour events themselves haven't started, what changes have you seen so far?
PMcQ: We have seen a big upsurge in the number of Continental teams outside Europe, and even within Europe. But certainly outside Europe. We are seeing evidence of a lot more interest in putting on new races on the international calendar, again outside Europe. We haven't seen the doomsday scenario that was being predicted, that a lot of races would go off the European calendar; if anything, we probably have one or two more than we did last year. We have got to wait and see the effects of the ProTour etc, maybe next year it will be more evident what will happen there. But certainly the evidence that we have seen, and what I am very happy about, is that Continental Calendars have been accepted and that they are creating a dynamic within each continent that is helping the scene grow, currently, and which has the potential to see huge growth in the future.
CN: The Tour de Langkawi has just finished. In terms of teams, it had what was seen as the strongest lineup ever. Do you think that is a reflection of the new restructuring?
PMcQ: Absolutely. Absolutely. I was at the Tour Down Under last year and I was, naturally, at the Tour de Langkawi as well. I spoke to both organisers and told them... they were showing fears and the local media were fearful of the effect that the ProTour was going to have on their events. I assured both of them that I thought the ProTour was going to help them, and I am glad to know that I have been proven correct. Both events have had good fields and both events haven't had huge difficulty in getting the riders and the teams that they wanted. And that will continue to be the case, because the ProTour teams now have 25 to 28 riders, and they need to have early-season preparation races for all those riders before the ProTour starts. There aren't enough races in Europe currently for them, so they need to travel. Once organisers have good conditions, with good weather conditions in other parts of the world at this time of year, teams will travel.
CN: Overall, what direction do you think the UCI is going and what does it need to do?
PMcQ: I think the new reforms and the new Continental Calendars will give a huge impetus and assistance to the globalisation. I think over the next ten years or so I think we will see the sport becoming a lot more global, with a lot more activities and a lot more involvement by the UCI in cycling outside of Europe, more so than within Europe. Certainly we will be heavily involved in cycling within Europe because that is where the heartland is.
Looking at the UCI international calendar last year, 84% of all events were held in Europe, seven percent were in Asia, seven percent in America, five percent in Oceania and two percent in Africa. So when you look at those percentages you can see there is a huge amount of work to be done outside Europe, and I think that is where the concentration will be over the next 8 to 10 years. The new reforms and the continental calendars will give the opportunity for that type of expansion and development.
CN: Some of those countries may have been less exposed to some other sports. Can cycling benefit from a niche?
PMcQ: Cycling could have a niche and does have a niche, certainly, yeah. At the end of the day, there is no doubt that football is a global sport and football is practiced heavily. FIFA do a huge job in promoting football throughout every country in the world. To play football, all a kid needs a piece of ground and a round ball that two kids can kick around with each other.
Cyclists do need a bike and in some countries that is a very expensive option, but in other countries that can be quite cheap. If you look at the billions of people in China who ride bikes... okay, it is hard to compare because cycling in China is a utility vehicle for going to work, they don't see it as a sporting tool. But with the emphasis of the Chinese government now on the Beijing Olympics and their preparation, they are putting a lot of effort and emphasis on every sport and their development, and there is no doubt that China will produce good road cyclists within the next six years or so. Also, a good structure of racing.
Like you say, a lot of the countries aren't heavily exposed to a lot of sports, so cycling does have an opportunity. Whilst a kid just needs a ball to play football, if he has a bike he can go out into the countryside. There is a load of countryside all over the place if he just wants to go out and ride his bike.
CN: Is there a cost factor to it, though?
PMcQ: Well, an area we need to look at within the area of cycling is to try to control the expense as well. That is something the UCI did do a couple of years ago. The UCI initially took some criticism for that but I think everybody now more or less supports the view that we should try to put some control on the development of bikes, which they have done. But it is still an expensive sport - if you want to compete at a fairly high level you still need a pretty expensive bike and that rules a lot of the poorer nations out. Now we are currently looking at ways around that, are currently in discussion with the major bike manufacturers about the possibility of a simple, standard bike that we could maybe use in development countries and that everybody who rides particular races rides them only on this bike. A bit like they do in some levels of motor racing, with the cars controlled. We are looking at that and that may be something which will happen in years to come as well.
CN: You've been heavily involved in the reforms as President of the Road Commission. How do you think the new Continental Calendars will affect cycling?
PMcQ: The one area which will be of a big assistance to this splitting up of the UCI calendar into five continental calendars is the fact it gives a huge impetus to development. For instance, consider if you are a promoter in America, for example. If you were coming in with a new event or a new sponsor last season and you wanted to run a race on the professional calendar, you applied to the UCI and then it went to the calendar committee of the professional cycling council. They looked at it, they looked at the dates that you were looking for, and saw if it was clashing with major events in Europe that might be on, such as Midi Libre or the Dauphine. There might have been three or four events on in Europe at the same time, so the UCI went back to that promoter and said, 'Sorry, you can't have those dates' because of these reasons.
But the promoter may have been fixed to those dates because perhaps his sponsor may have some reason why they want that particular race on at that time. That is one problem. The second problem is that new events were limited by the old ranking system as coming in as a 2.3, which meant they could be a maximum of six days in length. So for a country like America that has wide expanses and can run longer races, that wasn't ideal.
CN: So how is it different under the new system?
PMcQ: Well, in the new situation, with an American continental calendar and a European calendar and various others, the American continental calendar can stand alone and develop on its own. That's going to be a great help.
As things were last year, seven percent of all UCI international events were in North and South America. Within North America itself, there were only a handful of races on the UCI calendar. For a continent of that size it is ridiculous. I would hope that within the coming years, because of the development of the continental calendar and the fact that it can develop on its own without being tied to the European calendar, it means we will get a lot more races on the American calendar. Then there is more incentive for Americans to race in America.
CN: Staying with America, Lance Armstrong has been extremely successful and is a very popular figure there. Do you think that positive effect for American cycling can be maintained after he retires?
PMcQ: I don't know... somehow or other I'm not sure about that because Greg LeMond was a hugely popular figure in America as well. Yet, going back to what I said about the UCI calendar and the number of international American events, the number of these races are limited. They didn't rise during Lemond's period and they certainly haven't grown during Armstrong's career. I mean, there are some big races and good races in the States, like San Francisco and Philadelphia and the Tour of Georgia, but not really enough for a country the size of North America. There should be a lot more. The last really big race they had was the Tour de Trump, which was a 10-day race, and they have nothing to come near that since.
The thing is that American sport has its own cultures and its ingrained events. It is hard for a non-mainstream sport to break into the American culture. I think Armstrong's retirement, when it happens, will have a negative effect on American cycling.
CN: So the reforms will be important?
PMcQ: The reforms are very important to counteract this. I think the continental calendars are the biggest thing to come into the UCI in many, many years. They are probably one area which can hugely develop sport within each continent, leaving aside Europe which we can't forget about as it is the heartland of cycling. But I think the continental calendar in somewhere like North America can have a huge benefit to the promotion of the sport.
I mean, you take the size of Texas... that is the size of France, or bigger than France. In France there are a couple of hundred races taking place every year, yet Texas may have only three or four races. So there is a huge amount of work to take place in the States. I don't think Armstrong's retirement will affect it hugely one way or the other, but I think that by the UCI concentrating on promoting the development of the continental calendar, I think it will have a big effect on American cycling and on the other continents as well.
CN: Winding up, the Tour de Langkawi was officially your last event as a race director. You are being tipped as a possible successor to Hein Verbruggen as UCI president when he stands down this Autumn. What will you do between now and the election?
PMcQ: Well, I have a huge amount of work to do on the Road Commission. I am still president of the Road Commission and that goes on until September. The new board is elected then and there will be new Commissions as well. So I have a huge amount of work to do and will continue to work hard in that time. I will continue to travel to the various events throughout Europe and further afield, doing whatever work needs to be done and also doing whatever I need to do for the board in the run-up to the election.
CN: Can you tell me what the situation is with the presidency?
PMcQ: I am a candidate. Any federation can put forward a nomination, and the Irish federation will be putting me forward. I do know I have a fair bit of support from the various confederations around the world, so I am hoping that it will all work out well.