Since 2006, Pat McQuaid has been the president of the UCI. The Irishman now lives in Switzerland but spends much of his time flying around the world to attend meetings and, when time permits, watch some racing. He was in Liège on the eve of the Tour de France. RIDE caught up with the 62-year-old and got his thoughts on the Tour, the Olympics and asked if he still enjoys cycling…
Interview with UCI President Pat McQuaid
RIDE: Here we are on the eve of the 99th Tour de France and we see Bradley Wiggins as a stand-out favourite. You would have followed his career from very early on so what do you think about this progression?
Pat McQuaid: “You’re right, I’ve followed him since he was a young track rider and all through those early years. And it’s not a huge surprise to me that he is where he is today. As a track rider he always had big engine and always was a world-class athlete. He could always produce the goods on the track and with the advent of the Sky team and with the work that Sky people are doing, they’ve transformed him – to some extent – into a road rider, and a very successful one.
“He’s got the engine. He has the physical attributes – being lean and so forth – to be a climber. I noticed last year that he’s worked a lot on cadence on the climbs and we could see that at the beginning of this year in races. He’s saving his strength all the way on the climbs, which is the correct way to do it, and so it doesn’t surprise me that he’s been so successful so far this year. And that he’s starting the Tour as one of the favourites.”
We have two Anglophone riders as the favourites, if we consider Wiggins and Cadel Evans…
Pat McQuaid: “It’s true but I’ve never thought of it like that…”
And for 20 years we’ve been hearing the UCI push the concept of globalisation of cycling. It’s a reality now isn’t it?
Pat McQuaid: “Yes, it’s happening now. There’s still a lot of work to be done, there is still progress to be made. The sport has huge potential in other parts of the world and I have no doubt that in the coming years it will continue.
“The reality is that the peloton of today has changed completely and it’s now very international.
“With the two favourites for the race, being Anglophones it is further evidence of the changing nature of the peloton.
“It’s a pity that Andy Schleck isn’t there as well, I’d have liked to see him in the melee. But the changing nature of the peloton is good for the sport, and good for the promotion of the sport.”
You’ve spent a lot of energy on establishing cycling as a sport in China. Do you see a time when we’re going to see a Chinese rider as the favourite of the Tour de France? Have you seen an athlete over there who has the potential?
Pat McQuaid: “To be perfectly honest, I haven’t seen an athlete yet who has the potential, no. But I’m sure they are there. I’ve no doubt about it. With almost one and a half billion people, there’s got to be one.
“These two events that we have in China now, we’ll develop those in the coming years – and develop the sport in China – as it’s already progressed very rapidly and teams and athletes will come out of China in a fairly short space of time… I’d say about five or six years.”
We’ve seen great rides by Nico Roche in the Tour and this year another Irish rider, Dan Martin, makes his debut. What are you expecting from him?
Pat McQuaid: “I’m expecting a lot from him. He’s a rider who is coming on nicely. He’s got a very good palmares already, the winner of the Tour of Poland for example, and he’s a good climber. He can time trial as well and those are the attributes you need to be a good Grand Tour rider. I would say he’s a hungry type of rider who will be up there.
“It’s his first Tour de France and he’s there to help others but I’m sure that, in a year or two, he could come in as a leader of a team.”
You’re not going to see the prologue live but you said you’ll return for stage. Which is The Stage not to miss if you look at the parcours?
Pat McQuaid: “Well, for me it’s a question of when I can return in terms of my work-related activity. I may come back for the first time trial which is not far from Switzerland but other than that I haven’t got any particular stage marked down that, if I had three weeks free, I would go on.”
You’ve seen a lot of cycling over the years. Do you still appreciate it? Is it still attractive to watch?
Pat McQuaid: “Absolutely. I’m still passionate about it. I enjoy riding my bike and I do so practically every day now these days. And I enjoy watching races. I enjoy analysing what’s going on and criticising what’s going on, etcetera. And I love watching the adrenaline flowing in the bunch like in the sprints… when you’ve been in a sprint and you know what the adrenaline is like then it’s even more appealing to see it.
“All of the different aspects of cycling are things I’ve got the same passion for that I’ve had for years.”
We’re in an Olympic year where London is bound to put on a big show. Is the Tour de France still the biggest thing in cycling?
Pat McQuaid: “It’s still the biggest event because it goes on for three weeks and from that point of view it’s still the biggest annual event in cycling.
“The Olympics this year are going to be incredible for cycling because I will predict that there will be one million people on the roadside for the Olympic Games road race. This will be the biggest crowd ever seen at an Olympic Games event. I might be corrected on that, but in my opinion it will be. And when you look at the test event last year which Cavendish won – it had 400,000 people. He then went on to become world champion. The British public is loving it, cycling is on a high in Britain. They’re now going to have three weeks of Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish in a race that finishes on a Sunday and the road race is on the following Saturday. It’s a free event and they’re already clamouring for tickets for other events at the Games – it’s huge in Britain – and it’s going to be a great show.
“The track ticketing reflects the popularity of cycling. There are 6,000 seats at the velodrome, multiplied by six nights, that’s 36,000 seats and I’ve been told by a very good source that there were six million applicants for those 36,000 tickets. That shows you the popularity of track cycling in Britain. And there’s BMX and mountain biking as well.
“I think cycling will get a huge benefit. It brings a lot to the Olympic Games and it will get a huge bonus out of it in the end. Hopefully then we can capitalise on it going forward.”
By that, do you mean the return of the Madison, the individual pursuit and the ‘kilo’ and 500 metre time trial?
Pat McQuaid: “Not necessarily all of those events but maybe trying to get another endurance event in to the track program – that is important. And who knows what else could come of it all…”
Finally, you were active in trying to eliminate radio communication from the race. We’ve talked about how beautiful racing can be without radio contact. Do you think that’s still a possibility for a future Tour de France?
Pat McQuaid: “It’s still the philosophy of the UCI and this is a philosophical question; it’s not a question of safety, or a managerial question or anything else… as far as we’re concerned it’s a philosophical question in relation to what the philosophy of the sport is and should be.
“The UCI is still intent that, in time, the radios will be eliminated.
“At the moment it’s part of a bigger study that’s going on in relation to communication within the races – cameras and all that which comes with modern technology and innovation within a race – and it’s all part of that. But from the philosophical point of view, the UCI still feels that cycling would benefit from not having radios.”
Interview by Rob Arnold
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