Brian Cookson Interview: Team size revision, Tour anti-doping, disc-brake ban and more

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As he did last year, UCI president Brian Cookson attended the La Course women’s race in Paris on Sunday, held on the final day of the Tour de France. Several hours before the men thundered onto the Champs Elysées, Cookson watched the sport’s top women fight it out for honours in the race.

While that battle was raging the Briton took time out to speak to CyclingTips about a broad range of subjects. These included his view of this year’s Tour, the argument for smaller team sizes and possibly a step back from race radios in the future, the current suspension of disc brakes and whether that might be reversed plus rider safety.

Cookson also commented on anti-doping and motor checks at this year’s Tour, discussing a question about whether a neutral body needs to conduct the latter plus the apparent lack of doping positives at the event and in the retests from the Beijing Olympics.

Read below for excerpts from that interview. A separate interview on La Course and women’s racing will appear soon on Ella CyclingTips.

CyclingTips: We are in Paris on the final day of the Tour de France. What are your thoughts on the race?

Brian Cookson: I think it has been another exciting Tour. It is always unpredictable, even until two days ago when the rain came down and riders started falling all over the place. The whole thing exploded into excitement again. Any bike race is never over until you cross the finishing line. It is a bit of a cliché, but it is true. I think we have seen Chris Froome very strong and very difficult to beat.

We have seen his team extremely strong, well organised and united behind one objective, which may be a lesson for some of the other teams. But equally we have also seen some great performances individually, from the likes of Cavendish winning stages, Sagan winning lots of stuff, a great ride from Romain Bardet so the home fans have got something to shout about.

And then we have seen some great young riders like Adam Yates and Louis Meintjes coming through again, so that has been good too.

CT: Christian Prudhomme has said it is time for teams to drop from nine to eight riders to make things less predictable. What are your thoughts on that?

BC: Well, I think there are two sides to that argument. You could say that even smaller numbers of riders on each team would make for even more unpredictable racing. I think it is going to be a hard one to sell to the teams. It would also mean that a team would only ever focus on one objective; they wouldn’t have a climbing half and a sprinter half, or a time trial couple of riders.

Then on the other hand, I can think of an example from Sky, for instance, a couple of years ago. They lost Kanstantsin Siutsou in the first two or three stages, but they still managed to win with eight riders. So I am not so sure that would make such a big difference. But I understand where Christian is coming from on that and it is something that we are going to look at and talk about with him and the teams.

CT: Some have also suggested that getting rid of race radios would make things less predictable. It is an old debate. Are radios here to stay?

BC: I think you can’t uninvent technology. And if it wasn’t race radios, then the riders would be getting information on their Garmins or on their power meters or whatever. I think if we ban that, then the next thing they would have Google Glasses and it would be right in front of their eyes.

I think it is very difficult to uninvent technology. I also remember the bad old days when the team cars used to drive alongside the peloton to transmit information, and spectators scattering and so on. So I don’t think it is necessarily such a big influence on racing as some people seem to think.

CT: Speaking about technology, what is the latest on disc brakes?

BC: Well, there has been a bit of a hiatus on that issue while the Tour has been in progress. The UCI equipment commission will be looking at that and working with the manufacturers. There was some concern about the safety, obviously. Now I think there is a feeling that maybe that particular injury that was suffered in Paris-Roubaix [a crash by Movistar’s Fran Ventoso – ed.] might not even have been caused by a disc brake. So we need to look at of those things.

To me, I think the discs can be made safer. Whether that is a matter of rounding the edges or it is a matter of a guard of some sort, I think there is a challenge for the manufacturers there to make it acceptable for the riders. If the riders accept it then that is the main hurdle [solved], I think.

The Evo Hi-Mod disc features a quick-release axle at the rear, to save weight and make wheel changes easy for the pros.

As far as I am concerned, I don’t think we have seen the end of disc brakes. I think you could argue that maybe some of the crashes in the Tour this year wouldn’t have happened if the riders had been able to stop quicker in the wet conditions and so on.

Again, let’s look at that, but I think the important thing is that the riders have to happy with it before we agree to it.

CT: The riders seem to have a greater influence nowadays, and safety is obviously a consideration. Do you see them being able to gain more influence over organisers in relation to safer final kilometres in races, more barriers etcetera?

BC: Well, I think the fact that the riders are getting more organised is a good thing. I think if there is a consistent voice for the UCI and the race organisers to discuss and debate with, then that makes a lot of sense. Equally, it is their workplace. I think we have to respect their views on their health and safety issues.

We are living in 2016 now, not 1926, and so we have to take those things into account. That is right and proper and we will keep listening to riders as we have to listen to teams and organisers as well.

Note: right at this point, a big crash happens close to where Cookson and CyclingTips are speaking in the Place de la Concorde. After approximately 20 seconds, the interview resumes.

BC: Well that [the crash – ed.] is a demonstration that cycling is a sport in which accidents happening and one hopes to always keep those to a minimum. It is not just a case of the technology, it is a case of rider behaviour as well and judgement. They are all responsible for each others’ safety, as well as the organisers are responsible for providing safe racing conditions.

CT: There have been retests from Beijing and London and there have been talk that four sports were involved from Beijing. Have you had any word if cycling is involved or not?

BC: So far as we know, cycling is not involved.

CT: There have obviously been a lot of motor checks on the Tour. The CADF was set up to be independent of the UCI, and to carry out anti-doping tests in a neutral way. Do you see that the same logic should be applied to motor testing, to have it at arm’s length from the UCI as well?

BC: Well, at the end of the day, the conduct of a race is in the hands of an independent jury of commissaires. The people who are doing the motor checks report to that independent journey. They are our commissaires, of course. We have got responsibilities as an international federation. There are limits, I think, to how much we can outsource that without losing our purpose as an international federation.

I think it works for doping. Interestingly, lots of other sports have been encouraged to do what cycling has already done. But for other checks, I think at the moment it is working well, and we are cooperating well with the French police, with the French authorities and we are doing a variety of checks.

So I think we are ahead of that issue at the moment and I think we are managing it for the correct way for the moment.

CT: There have been no doping positives thus far and no motors found at the Tour. You must be encouraged by that?

BC: Well, so far as I am aware, there are no positives. [note: it takes several days at least for final results to come through – ed.] But as we have just being saying, doping is handled by the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation with a French national AFLD and that is a good thing. I will only find out about any doping problem probably when a case has been opened against someone.

As far as I am aware, there haven’t been any doping positives in the Tour this year. That is a good thing and long may it continue.

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