Mike Rowbottom ©ITG

On Friday (September 21), David Lappartient will have been International Cycling Union (UCI) President for a year, having succeeded Britain's Brian Cookson.

In that time the 45-year-old Frenchman has cut a high profile figure with a series of proposed reforms that have seriously discomposed the status quo within the sport.

And not for a moment to take away from the achievement of Geraint Thomas in winning this year's Tour de France - but the 2018 race will also be remembered for the epic battle of words between the newly ensconced UCI President and Thomas' team principal at Team Sky, Sir Dave Brailsford.

Recollecting the highlights of this fierce conflict also serves to clarify the direction in which the new man at the top is attempting to move within the sport…

When Team Sky's four-times Tour de France winner Chris Froome incurred what was proposed as an Adverse Analytical Finding (AAF) for excessive salbutamol - an asthma medication - during last year's Vuelta a España, it set into motion an ongoing appeal that eventually lasted almost nine months.

Lappartient's early take on this was that it would be better for Froome to "sit out" from racing until the matter was concluded one way or the other.

He followed up in March - following publication of a highly critical Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport Select Committee report on anti-doping - by saying that if Team Sky was "using substances to increase performances, this is exactly what is cheating".

Froome continued to compete, winning the Giro d'Italia, and the investigation into his case was eventually closed by the UCI on July 2 - just five days before this year's Tour de France started. The UCI reported that Froome had supplied sufficient evidence to suggest that his sample results "did not constitute an AAF".

But Lappartient then appeared to suggest that Froome had been cleared of wrongdoing by the World Anti-Doping Agency and UCI because of his wealth.

"Froome had more financial support to find good experts," Lappartient said.

UCI President David Lappartient pictured in March in front of one of the new x-ray machines designed to detect technological cheating within bike frames ©Getty Images
UCI President David Lappartient pictured in March in front of one of the new x-ray machines designed to detect technological cheating within bike frames ©Getty Images

A day into the Tour, on July 8, Brailsford responded: "I gave him the benefit of the doubt when he started. 

"I thought, 'okay, he is new to the job, he obviously doesn't quite understand the responsibilities of a Presidential role'. I think he has still got the local French Mayor kind of mentality."

The Team Sky supremo added by way of helpful advice: "Don't take a French angle or a nationalistic view on the international community. Protect the international community with no bias.

"And I think he is still learning that really. The quicker he can get there, and learn what a President of an international federation's responsibilities are, the better it will be for everybody. But he has got some work to do."

Lappartient - who happens to be Mayor of Sarzeau - a town in Brittany with a population of 6,143 that hosted the finish of the fourth stage of this year's Tour - then told Le Parisien: "I do not really want to answer him, but I will say that the last one who called me a 'Breton Mayor' was not brought any luck. It was Brian Cookson.

"And then, by insulting me as Mayor, he insults the 35,000 French Mayors and the French in general. I do not know what he's looking for with that.

"Because he does not realise that it takes Mayors taking stages of the Tour de France for such great events to take place. He does not understand much about cycling. When you are arrogant, one day or another, there is always something that brings you back to humility."

The next exchanges between the two men took place after Froome had been cuffed by one fan and spat at by another. Brailsford added that Team Sky's marketing executive Emma Kennaugh had also been spat at, and commented: "We know we're going to get abuse and we know that not a lot is going to be done about it."

He added that it was "a French cultural thing".

Lappartient in turn responded: "Pouring oil on the fire is not very good. We must not forget that Team Sky owe their success to what has been done through the Tour de France and France.

"He must be frustrated to see that there is not a love for him or his team, however, we must not attack the people of any country. We must respect all the spectators, the people who come are people who love cycling.

"When you are the manager of the team, you should try not to insult those who come to see the race…

"Geraint Thomas and Chris Froome have, for me, the right attitude. Chris Froome says he likes France, and that he trains every day in France. He speaks our language, he also knows what the Tour de France brought him.

"While the riders, like us, try to reduce the pressure, their sports director puts oil on the fire while there is no need to do it. I invite him to pay attention."

Lappartient said he felt some TV viewers had been put off by Team Sky's dominance of the race and their tactics. "We cannot blame the winning team and its strategy, but people want to dream," he said. "They want to see the show. And it's a bit boring."

Team Sky's Jonathan Castroviejo of Spain, followed by Poland's Michal Kwiatkowski, lead out during the 19th stage of this year's Tour de France for their team-mate in the overall leader's yellow jersey, eventual winner Geraint Thomas ©Getty Images
Team Sky's Jonathan Castroviejo of Spain, followed by Poland's Michal Kwiatkowski, lead out during the 19th stage of this year's Tour de France for their team-mate in the overall leader's yellow jersey, eventual winner Geraint Thomas ©Getty Images

The UCI President also said he would not mind Team Sky finishing first and second on the podium as long as it was an exciting finish. 

"If we have a good fight between them and they are the two best, I have no problem with that," he said. "What I would like is that we vibrate. We have to vibrate a little."

Brailsford, meanwhile, sought to ameliorate his comments on the "French cultural thing". "My intention was never to criticise the entire French nation," he said. "I'm a Francophile. I think anybody who knows me knows that wasn't my intention but I was pretty agitated about the attention we were getting.

"Of course, I don't believe that spitting is a French cultural thing, but my point was that we only get that kind of thing at the Tour de France."

This extended spat has highlighted Lappartient's direction of travel as he seeks to bring about some profound reforms.

The UCI reduced team sizes for the 2018 season. They dropped from eight-man rosters to seven in the Classics and smaller stage races, and from nine to eight in Grand Tours.

Now the sport's world governing body is pressing forward with changes that could be approved as soon as this year and introduced by the 2020 racing season.

Proposed is a major restructuring of the WorldTour and Pro Continental divisions. The plan would reduce the WorldTour from 18 to 15 teams - which could see between 120 to 160 fewer WorldTour riders by 2020.

The intention is also to create a qualifying system to allow five rebranded "Pro" teams from the second division to race in the Grand Tours. Two other wild-card invitations would remain for race organisers to bring the peloton to 22 teams for the major tours.

Lappartient told Swiss publication Le Temps that the UCI must "analyse everything" for the coming season.

"Sky is like a football team that plays smartly, but without exciting fans," he said. "When the viewers see eight riders dictating the pace, locking down the race, they think about switching channels to a soap opera. It's up to the UCI to make sure races are attractive."

To that end, Lappartient has floated the suggestion of budget caps and six-rider Grand Tour teams.

"We should go further with a reduction to six, I think, for the measure to be really effective. At seven, a team like Sky is still racing. At six, the less the leader, it's only five guys to ride, they would tire a little more," he said.

UCI President David Lappartient's plans could reduce numbers in Grand Tour events such as the Tour de France ©Getty Images
UCI President David Lappartient's plans could reduce numbers in Grand Tour events such as the Tour de France ©Getty Images

"We could regulate the overall payroll of the teams, to balance the forces. Because today, we realise that Sky has Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome and Egal Bernal, three riders who could be first, second and third in the Tour de France. However, cycling is interesting when the best are in different teams."

Meanwhile, on the subject of doping, Lappartient has claimed: "We have a clean sport today. It would be unrealistic to say it's 100 per cent clean, but in comparison to 20 years ago we're seeing real cycling. Today a cyclist can win one of the Grand Tours clean."

He wants to change the sport's medical rules by January 1, 2019 to crack down on the use of corticosteroids and tramadol, and to extend provisional suspensions to all such cases involving such substances.

"Only certain forms of administering corticosteroids are prohibited and there is very good reason to believe these medications are being misused," he said.

Lappartient has also highlighted betting and technological fraud, in the form of hidden motors, as prime areas of concern.

All in all, then, it has been a tumultuous first year in office for the Mayor of Sarzeau. So how does he reflect upon it?

"It hasn't been a walk in the park, but I knew what to expect coming in," he told insidethegames. "I heard about Chris Froome's abnormal result just as I was taking up the reins of the UCI. That matter took us right up to the Tour de France, but we've also made progress on other important issues that are part of my mandate, such as the sport's credibility, with new methods to battle technological fraud, as well as the introduction of video assistance to our races.

"We've also made important decisions regarding riders' health, in terms of glucocorticoids and tramadol, and we've made headway in gender equality, by offering equal overall prize money in the Telenet UCI Cyclo-Cross World Cup, and by guaranteeing equality during podium ceremonies at the UCI World Championships."

So where would he like his sport to be a year from now?

"In a year's time our sport will have changed considerably," he responded. "Significant progress is going to be made in several areas. I am confident that the reform of men's professional cycling will be completed with, notably, a calendar structured with sequences according to race type.

"In women’s cycling, we will have two levels of UCI team with the creation of a first division in the UCI Women's WorldTour.

"We will improve the health of the peloton, in line with the announcement of a ban on using tramadol and glucocorticoids in competition. We continue the development of cycling alongside National Federations with new financial means and the opening of new continental satellites. We will confirm the equality of men/women quotas at the Paris 2024 Olympic Games."

Asked if he felt the disruptions to this year's Tour de France indicated new levels of risk for riders, Lappartient replied: "Not any more than usual. 

"Regarding Chris Froome and Team Sky, I urged fans to act with restraint with regard to the riders. 

"As a member of the governing body of a sport, it's never pleasant to see the race favourite get booed or jeered. It's not nice or healthy, but no-one can dictate to the public how they should behave. There are 12 million spectators lining the roads during the Tour de France, and it's inevitable that among that size of a crowd there will be a handful of idiots.

"It must be noted that 10 per cent of the French police force were deployed, i.e 10,000 men, and that's not even counting the other security services. We can't exactly put barriers up on every hill. 

"Fortunately, though, that kind of behaviour is still the exception. Cycling is an outdoor sport that takes place on roads, which is what makes it magical."

David Lappartient said that Team Sky's four-times Tour de France winner Chris Froome should have
David Lappartient said that Team Sky's four-times Tour de France winner Chris Froome should have "sat out" from racing while his case was ongoing ©Getty Images

On the subject of the sport "vibrating" - what would he describe as a good vibration?

"When the result defies predictions, calculations and scheduling," he replied. "Sky’s domination? I don't need to go over it again - it works, it's fine, they put in hard work and it pays dividends. But it's not what lovers of our sport expect.

"[Vincenzo] Nibali winning Milan-San Remo, [Peter] Sagan winning Paris-Roubaix - those performances really got the crowds going.

"I was at the Mountain Bike World Championships last week and I saw some memorable races: the intense duel between Nino Schurter and Gerhard Kerschbaumer, Mathieu Van der Poel's third place, the great performance by Kate Courtney - the first American champion since 2001- the performance by Alan Hatherly, the first South African champion since the late Burry Stander, and the silver medal won by the Belgian rider, Martin Maes, in the elite men's downhill.

"All of those races produced excitement and spectacle. We have to look for the same kind of thing in road racing. The UCI can take action by, for example, banning earpieces from elite races at the Road World Championships in Innsbruck. We're going to put together a working group to study what we can do to make races more appealing."

Regarding the recent "vibration" between himself and Brailsford, does he believe the latter's apology means they are now coming to a more amicable understanding?

"I don't have a particular relationship with one team or another," Lappartient responded. "I asked Dave Brailsford to show some restraint during the Tour de France because I thought he was adding fuel to the fire. I step in when I feel our sport's interests are affected."

Lappartient's proposals for change in terms of budgeting and team sizes and numbers have drawn criticism from some of the top riders.

Team Sky's Michał Kwiatkowski, for example, tweeted: "Sagan dominance = exciting. Quick Step classics dominance = exciting. BMC TTT dominance = exciting. Sky Grand Tours dominance = boring, so let's turn cycling upside down."

Asked if this was just the noise that comes from people who don't like change, Lappartient said: "Our sport needs to change in order for it to become more appealing, to generate additional revenue, and to attract funding from investors who believe in us and want to remain with us over the long term. 

"We're looking at things like earpieces, power meters, race formats, team sizes and team budgets - all of these are part of the list that we’re currently putting together.

"We - and I, personally speaking - will meet and discuss with everyone. Some people will have different opinions, and that's perfectly understandable, but at a certain point it's up to the captain at the helm to point the ship in the right direction."

Having highlighted betting and motorised cheating as two of the most urgent threats to the sport, does Lappartient still feel that is the case?

"Those are definitely two potential threats that we need to be prepared for," he said. "We've introduced strong measures to combat technological fraud, involving significant investment, and we carried out some 3,000 checks during the Tour de France, including X-rays.  

"I'm not saying that cheating didn't go on in the past, but what I would like is for it to no longer have a place in our sport today. As for betting, cycling is certainly not the most threatened sport out there, but I don't want us to end up with another problem to deal with in a few years' time. Who knows how earpieces are being used?

Former UCI President Pat McQuaid has said he believes reducing the number of WorldTour teams from 18 to 15 will play into the hands of Tour de France owners ASO ©Getty Images
Former UCI President Pat McQuaid has said he believes reducing the number of WorldTour teams from 18 to 15 will play into the hands of Tour de France owners ASO ©Getty Images

Former UCI President Pat McQuaid recently told Velo News he believed that the UCI's plans to reduce WorldTour teams from 18 to 15 would hand more dominance to the Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the Tour de France owners.

Lappartient met with the teams in Madrid to discuss the way ahead. Iwan Spekenbrink, President of the team's organisation, the AIGCP, told Press Association Sport before the meeting that they wanted to discuss more fundamental reforms than those that had already been proposed.

"We need to bundle rights and start selling them as a product," said Spekenbrink, the chief executive of Team Sunweb.

"The UCI should facilitate us, the economic agents, to get on with that. If you look at the successful sports - the Premier League, F1 and so on - they pool rights and work together. They are co-owners of a bigger entity."

So how did the meeting with the teams go as far as Lappartient was concerned?

"The meeting in Madrid was held in an atmosphere of constructive dialogue," he said. 

"Representatives of riders, teams and organisers were present. There were some questions, but in the end, we felt real support from all sides for the project. I am confident we are on the right track to reaching a global agreement."

The captain speaks from the helm. Will his ship reach its intended port? Watch this space…