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by Shane Stokes
September 21, 2017
Photography by David Lappartient, Shane Stokes
Cookson or Lappartient. Lappartient or Cookson. On Thursday the UCI’s 45 voting delegates will give an answer to that choice when they select the man who will lead the UCI for the next four years. Cookson triumphed four years ago against the-then president Pat McQuaid, but is now facing a strong challenge from the Frenchman, and current UCI vice-president, David Lappartient.
As is often the case in these matters, there have been rumours about which way the voting will go. Some have suggested it is a dead heat; Cookson claimed otherwise earlier this month, indicating he has a comfortable number of delegates on his side.
However McQuaid did exactly the same four years ago, and he ultimately lost out to his rival. On that occasion Cookson won by 24 votes to his 18.
Given that he has been president for four years, many are familiar with Cookson and his policies. He believes he has done a strong job and aims to build further on that. Lappartient is less well known, and so CyclingTips is bringing further extracts from a lengthy interview carried out several weeks ago.
On that occasion Lappartient sat down with this website plus one other writer to speak about a range of topics. His thoughts on battling motorized doping, or technological fraud, have already been published here, as have his views on women’s cycling.
In this excerpt from that interview, Lappartient begins by speaking about his dealings with Tour de France organiser ASO. The French company is one of the biggest companies in race management and runs both this event, the Vuelta a España and events such as Paris-Roubaix, Paris-Nice, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and others.
Lappartient has previously been accused by some of being too close to ASO, with those critics suggesting he would be a too soft on the company if elected as UCI president. He gives a detailed response to this, insisting that he will put the interests of the UCI – and the sport – first.
There has been a lot of talk about your relationship with ASO and how much you would be influenced by that. Some people have used the word ‘puppet’ in describing that relationship – what would you say to that?
First of all, I would say that I have a good relationship with ASO. I think it is good to have a president of the UCI with a good relationship with ASO. Because whatever we do, ASO will stay the strongest organiser in the world. And I don’t see any reason why the UCI must be in a sort of war with ASO.
However that is not a reason to follow ASO in all their requests, and this would never be the case. [As an example], just to come back to what was my position with the French cycling federation: when I was elected to the French cycling federation [as President], I had a look at all the challenges. One of these was the situation with insurance. It is more than 20 percent of the budget, between 3.5 and four million euro.
The French cycling federation provides the insurance for the Tour de France. That is an obligation under French law. But I had a look at what they pay them for this. This is what the insurance pay to ASO every year. But it was 1:4, so for example they pay 100,000 euro, and each time the insurance paid 400,000. I said, ‘we cannot continue like this.’
It is like if you have a broken car every year, and you have no insurance in addition. I told them, ‘we cannot continue like this, you have to pay more.’ This was our discussion. But after one year, it was not possible to reach an agreement.
Finally, I decided to make a press conference, to explain the situation. To say, okay, ‘all the children, part of the licence they pay [to the federation] is to pay for ASO.’ As you can imagine, the situation was not popular for them, and our situation was very, very bad at this moment.
[Separately] I refused to take the affiliation from the club….officially the organiser of the Tour de France is not ASO, it is a club – TDF Sport. I refused to take the affiliation of the club, so it was not possible for them to organise Paris-Nice.
Of course, they came back to me just before Paris-Nice, because the prefecture said, ‘without the affiliation of the club, without the insurance, you cannot organise [the race].’
That was a big, big battle. I put the position of the French Cycling Federation as equal with ASO. And finally after this, I think they have more respect for the French Cycling Federation. And my relationship with them has always been good after this.
At this time, I defended the position of the institution of the French cycling federation. I say that in the future, I will always defend the position of the UCI. But I will be happy if the UCI and ASO will be able to support the same ideas with the teams and with the other organisers. With RCS and Flanders Classics, for example.
In 2016 the sport went close to civil war due to disagreements with ASO over the UCI’s WorldTour reforms. ASO wasn’t happy with what was proposed and threatened to remove its races from the UCI WorldTour. If implemented, the measure would have made the WorldTour drastically less important and, perhaps more seriously, prevented the 18 WorldTour teams from having the automatic right to ride the race.
The allocation of wildcards would have handed substantial power to ASO, which would have been free to select whichever teams it wanted and to refuse others. This would have opened up all sorts of possibilities; for example, teams that had disagreed politically with ASO in the past might find themselves without an invite.
Fortunately this didn’t happen: a meeting of the UCI’s Professional Cycling Council eked out an agreement and ended the battle. Lappartient speaks about his position during these negotiations, and also talks about how a monopoly in the sport would be harmful.
DL: Last year we were in a situation last year where ASO had decided to leave the WorldTour. That means that all the races of ASO would be outside of the WorldTour. The consequences of that is they have to be hors categorie. But if you are hors categorie, then it is 22 wildcards for the Tour de France. They can decide who they want to invite.
In addition to this, the regulations of the UCI say that you cannot have more than 70 percent of WorldTour teams. That means that at least five WorldTour teams will stay at home. I explained this many times to the [teams association] president Iwan Spekenbrink, [saying] ‘look, five of your team will probably stay at home next year.’
He said, ‘well, yes, but in that case, all of us will not take part in the Tour de France.’ I said, ‘you will see…the others will come to the Tour de France, and you will stay at home. So this is not good for cycling. I think we must have ASO back on this.’
I have to say that the position at this time of ASO was more close to what I think about cycling than the position that was defended by the UCI. [The latter] was not quite a closed system, but one that will lead to a closed system, step by step. And I cannot support this.
It is true that my position was not far away from the position of ASO, but it is just because that is what I think. If tomorrow we would be in another situation, you can have no doubt that I will defend what is good for cycling. I will always defend what I think is good for cycling.
I said before that I am not a soldier of ASO, and that is really the case.
I do think I have the respect of ASO. I drafted last year a sort of compromise between ASO organsisers and the UCI. I sent a proposition of six pages to Brian Cookson. And finally this is the frame of the agreement that we have now. So it is not a wonderful reform, but we were able to find an agreement and to have ASO to be back on the WorldTour. So if I can be useful in this, I think it is important.
The last cycling needs is a monopolistic situation. Do you recognises the danger if ASO gets too strong?
So how would you safeguard against that?
I think that ASO is [already] very strong. It is always very dangerous when one organiser – even in business or other sports – when one organiser is maybe too strong. And what we have also to be careful of that ASO, with for example RCS and Flanders are not creating a sort of private league. I must always fight against this. This must be under the umbrella of the UCI. I don’t think we can have all the races with only one organiser.
I am very happy that now we have a new owner of RCS. We can see that RCS, for me, has been doing a good job to modernise a little bit the races in Italy and the Giro d’Italia. We can see that Flanders is also very strong and becoming stronger and stronger.
I think it is good for cycling. It is good for cycling to have finally different organisers and strong organisers and not only one organiser.
And after, of course, you have got also some specific law in the European Union that you cannot have a monopolistic situation, so I know they are taking care about this.
For those people who feel that you have a relationship that is too close to ASO, what would you say to them?
I would say first of all it is not the case. And I also know that it is sometime the argument used against me, of course. We are in an election, so it is easy to say, ‘he has close links with ASO.’
Okay, you can say that, but it is not the case. And people who know me know that is it not the case. And this will never be the case.
But I don’t want to enter in a war with ASO. I want to discuss on an equal level with ASO and I will be always careful to continue with the position of the UCI as the governing body. And on some points, my position will be more close to the teams.
For example, if tomorrow ASO, RCS and Flanders want to bring a sort of private league, or something like this, I would be very, very careful about this. I would always keep the calendar inside the UCI, and not under the umbrella of the organisers. I will do this.
And they will see what will be my position in the future. I will not take my orders from the ASO headquarters.
The subject of doping is, as ever, an important one in cycling. Cookson has pointed out that the reputation of the sport is currently better than it was several years ago. However the area is one where no complacency can be allowed to creep in. Keeping the pressure on is vital, as it is with technological fraud.
Lappartient wants to make refinements to the anti-doping system, including modifications to the biological passport system and also a tightening-up of the use of corticosteroids.
You have also mentioned your anti-doping policies in your manifesto and the changes that you want. Can you summarise these?
First of all, I consider that the CADF [Cycling Anti Doping Foundation] is doing a great job. The CADF is really independent. I have no doubt about this. The problem is more after, when you have got a positive case. We have to maybe be a little bit more professional with the TUEs. We must have a doctor working specifically in the UCI. I think it is important.
But afterwards, if you have a positive case, then this is going to the legal anti-doping service of the UCI. That means that finally the tests are independent, but this comes back inside of the UCI.
I remember it was part of Brian’s programme four years ago – you will find this on the internet – that ‘anti-doping is not independent, because the legal anti-doping service is at the same floor as the president inside of the UCI.’
It was the case. The only difference we have now is that it is not on the third floor, it is on the first floor.
Finally we have to put this independent of the UCI. Because I consider that…you can have too much interference in this. I am not saying there is interference, but we have all the elements to maybe have some problems tomorrow.
So for me, I think that for the sanctions the first level must be this independent foundation. Not the CADF – I don’t think that we must mix the tests and the sanctions. And after for the appeal, it would be CAS.
But I also think that the CADF can become in the future the ADF [Anti-Doping Foundation]. I think that other sports can join the UCI. We have the CADF and we are ready, maybe, to welcome some other sports with us. Because then it will be better. And maybe it is not necessary to have them in Aigle. They can join, in this case, Lausanne, and to sort of have a CADF for different international federations just for testing. And we can have a sort of…after a sanction, not only for…we will start maybe with cycling but then have all the sports to have professional on this. This will be the first level, and after we will have the appeal in the CAS.
So this would be independent from the UCI.
So you would see the CADF actually being the independent body the IOC wants for testing?
Yes. That could be. I think we can propose to others. I know there are some fights between the Olympic movement on this, but I think Thomas Bach…his vision is clear, and I agree with him on this.
The biological passport – what modifications would you make to that system?
I think we have a strong biological passport, but it is very useful maybe to make some anti-doping tests on some of them. But it is quite difficult sometimes to have some sanctions directly from the biological passport. Because of course it is not a direct proof. So it is not so easy. But I think we are working in the good way.
But I think we must implement an independent medical survey for the athletes. To give you an example, the coriticoids…it is not forbidden today. You can have these with a TUE.
I will not go back on the Wiggins affair and some other affairs, if it was necessary or not to have these corticoids. But if you need some corticoids because your health is not good, yes, you can have them. But in this case, you have to stop cycling if you are sick or ill. Because when you take some corticoids, then your level of cortisol [a natural hormone with implications for health] is decreasing. And if you have a low level of cortisol, then you must be stopped, and you can come back when your level will be normal.
It is a case in France, we have this in the rules of the French Cycling Federation, because we have this independent medical survey. It is completely independent from the teams and the national doctor can stop all the riders. That is something very important.
I think this is really something we can implement in the UCI.
At this same time, we will continue to ask to forbid in competition corticoids and also Tramadol. I think that is important.
The UCI has been concerned about tramadol for quite a while, and has made numerous applications to WADA to block it. WADA hasn’t yet done that. The WADA Code is the minimum, but do you believe the UCI can act independently and block tramadol itself?
I think that we have to go in this way. Of course, we have to be serious and not do something that would also be illegal. Of course we have to work very closely with the lawyer of the UCI to see what is possible. But my ambition is to go in this way, to say, okay. I don’t know if in the WADA Code it will be possible in the future, but we say, okay, by the request of some international federations to add some substances on the list for some sports. Because we can also consider that some substances are doping for some sports and not for some others.
Shooting is not the same as…. If a guy was using Tramadol in shooting, I am not sure if it would be useful for him. But in cycling, yes. So this is also maybe something that needs to change.
If I am elected I will definitely ask for a meeting with the IOC and WADA to discuss all of these points.
So is your stance on corticosteroids this the same as the MPCC?
And do you believe that all the WorldTour teams should have this MPCC-type system? Can it be made compulsory that they follow the same rules?
I think this must go into the rules of the UCI, so this will not be part of the MPCC. The MPCC is doing a good job, but I think for the corticoids, we can take the rule of the MPCC and put this on the rules of the UCI. It is not so difficult.
Of course for some other rules, it is completely not possible. For them to write on the regulations that it is not possible to engage a rider who has a sanction, it is not legal. They know that. So they are doing that on a voluntary basis. We cannot introduce this in the [UCI] regulations. But regarding the corticoids, I really think that we can do this.
We have this in my country, and that is why also I want to have this independent medical survey.
If I interpreted this correctly, you have a point in the manifesto where you are saying that the French medical checks carried out during the year should be fed into the biological passport?
Yes. Because, with this medical survey [of the French federation]…you must have some tests done. This costs a lot of money. But we have all these tests for the biological passport and anti-doping. For example, in my country it is not possible to use the same test for anti-doping and for medical survey. It is possible in Switzerland – you can use the same test. One part will go for the biological passport and anti-doping, and the same analysis will go to finally create this independent medical survey.
This is something that we can do without new cost. We can’t spend eight million more on this. But we can do this.
Of course [for that], we have to be sure that the tests will be made in the same situation, because the laboratories sometimes don’t have the same measures. In the practical sense we have a lot of work to implement this. That is why I just say [it should be introduced by] 2019. Of course we will not be ready for 2018, that is for sure.