Mike Rowbottom @ITG

Cycling is a sport where tactics are crucial. And for the moment, Richard Plugge, vice-president of the team’s representative body, the AIGCP, is playing a waiting game.

A year into his Presidency of the International Cycling Federation (UCI), France’s David Lappartient appears to have been playing a few of his own games this year as he has spoken freely of the possible new shape of the sport.

The UCI plans to announce big reforms during next week’s UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck, when a three-day Management Committee meeting will be followed by the UCI Congress on Friday (September 28).

Plugge - and the teams and riders he helps represent -  is now hoping the points made during a crucial meeting between owners, the UCI and teams in Madrid last Wednesday (September 12) will have registered.

Will the AIGCP (Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels) vision of rights more widely shared, as in other sports such as football and tennis, have a place in Lappartient’s vision of the future? 

And will its insistence that the numbers of teams, and of team members, should not be reduced hold good?

Richard Plugge, vice-president of the AIGCP and director of Dutch Team LottoNL-Jumbo, hopes the UCI has taken on board riders' wishes over bundling rights and maintaining team numbers ©Getty Images
Richard Plugge, vice-president of the AIGCP and director of Dutch Team LottoNL-Jumbo, hopes the UCI has taken on board riders' wishes over bundling rights and maintaining team numbers ©Getty Images

According to Plugge - director of the DutchTeam LottoNL-Jumbo - the President responded to both these suggestions "very positively".

But as Plugge also told me this week: "The President was supportive of some of our principles but he didn’t say anything about others, so we will have to see."

Something interesting is going on here, that is for sure.

Lappartient, who has conducted a vigorous verbal punch-up with Team Sky principal Sir David Brailsford this season, and frankly appears to have much enjoyed it, has floated more ideas than a Think Tank in recent months.

He has suggested reducing the number of WorldTour teams from 18 to 15. He has suggested reducing Grand Tour teams from their current level of eight, to six – with the aim of making racing more even, and thus more entertaining.

But Lappartient commented after the meeting that he felt "confident we are on the right track to reaching a global agreement".

A win-win situation then. But hang on. Surely you can’t reduce teams and increase them at the same time? Can you?

"The ball is now in the UCI court," Plugge said.

"They have to respond officially. We need to see how they will be adjusting and adapting to these things in their new plan. We hope the UCI will listen to us and incorporate our principles into their reforms.

"We will hope to hear something from them before the UCI Management Committee starts its meeting in Innsbruck next week."

UCI President David Lappartient pictured with a mobile x-ray unit to detect technological cheating ©Getty Images
UCI President David Lappartient pictured with a mobile x-ray unit to detect technological cheating ©Getty Images

Plugge added: "The President knows that the teams are united. Our principles are all aligned, and there is great unity amongst us.

"And as I say, the meeting was conducted in a good atmosphere. I wouldn’t say I was surprised by that - I was encouraged.

"But again - it’s a meeting. When you see new plans, changed plans, adapted plans - that’s when you know a meeting has been fruitful.

"I don’t know M Lappartient that well - he was elected only a year ago. But we have spoken at meetings, and I met him only the other day on the street.  I think he is listening to the stakeholders, and I think he is flexible on some issues.

"But when we see if the plans have been adapted - that is when we will really know."

Plugge, and the AIGCP, want to see a sport that shares its riches more evenly - and is more organised in generating those riches.

Sustainability is the key phrase he uses. And that, he believes, has to rest on credibility.

"We also made it clear that maintaining our sport’s restored credibility would be a key factor in future growth," said Plugge, a member of the Cycling Anti-Doping Foundation, and also sits on its Finance Committee.

Like others in the sport, he is not wildly enthusiastic about Lappartient’s push to combat possible technological doping in the sport by introducing X-ray systems to detect hidden mechanisms or motors. But he believes the general thrust of that policy is a good one.

"For cycling, and for sport in general, betting and doping are the worst nightmares," he said. "The thing about technological cheating is that it’s very difficult to do. Betting and doping you can do all by yourself. Technological cheating - you need help. I don’t think it’s really a big problem in our sport. But then you can never rule anything out.

"I think cycling’s reputation is restored from what it was, say, 10 years ago.

"Cycling is really putting a lot of money into protecting the sport.

"Around 10 years ago cycling was bottom of the list as far as the World Anti-Doping Agency was concerned. Now on the list of sports who are serious about combating doping, we are around the top. We are one of the sports that has the most robust anti-doping practices in the world."

Richard Plugge believes cycling has risen from being considered 10 years ago one of the worst offenders when it comes to drugs to now being among the most rigorous in terms of its anti-doping policy ©Getty Images
Richard Plugge believes cycling has risen from being considered 10 years ago one of the worst offenders when it comes to drugs to now being among the most rigorous in terms of its anti-doping policy ©Getty Images

Plugge continued: "But then you have perception. And we know that perception is something that changes more slowly. Perception always comes later than the facts.

"But we are now one of the best kids in the classroom instead of one of the worst, which we were 10 years ago.

"And introducing a sustainable business model to the sport will strengthen that.

"Teams are like families, but they are also like companies, employing between 80 and 120 people. If you have a good business model and a stable and sustainable future, it rules out a lot of bad things that might happen. It all starts with sustainability."

And that all starts with a positive response from the UCI….

"Our meeting with M Lappartient was a good experience," Plugge added. "I think we really got some debate on our plans, and especially our principles.

"I would expect him to get back to us before next week’s UCI Management Committee meeting to reassure us that he is not walking us down a blind alley - a dead-end street."