Change in Cycling: A Conversation with Paul Kimmage

Two weeks ago, I had the honor of interviewing cycling journalist Mr. Paul Kimmage at a Q&A discussion about cycling’s recent scandals and what they mean to the sport. I was curious to learn more about his personal experiences in covering cycling, and what he saw as its future. Our discussion did not disappoint.

Dave Vollbach, center, chats with Paul Kimmage (left) and David Anthony (right). (Photo credit: Daghan Perker)

Recognized as one of professional cycling’s biggest advocates for reform, Kimmage was one of the first to break cycling’s “omertá” or code of silence in reference to doping. Through the years, Kimmage has been both revered as an honest, outspoken journalist, and reviled as a pariah to those uncomfortable with his persistence.

Kimmage clearly has a deep passion for cycling. To Kimmage, riders should race for love of the sport; it’s when cyclists and the administrators lose sight of this that problems surface.

Referencing his interview with Floyd Landis, Kimmage explained that it took him seven hours of in-depth conversations with Landis to truly understand his reasons for doping – and his subsequent denials. (Kimmage was equally perplexed by guest David Anthony‘s rationale for doping.)  Despite the transgressions of the many racers who have doped, Kimmage asserts the root of doping’s ubiquitousness is the system not the individual riders.

Specifically, he exuded disappointment that cycling’s governing body, the Switzerland-based UCI, has, in his opinion, mismanaged the sport so unethically: too motivated by money, too eager to protect its superstars to keep sponsorship dollars flowing. From the large bribe-cum-donation accepted from Lance Armstrong in 2002 to Alberto Contador’s lax return to racing post-doping with little oversight, the UCI is not really applying nor enforcing rules to protect its riders nor the sport.

“I love cycling,” notes Kimmage. “I think it’s the greatest sport in the world.” (Photo Credit: Daghan Perker)

Now, ironically, many of the cycling’s biggest sponsors are walking away – and taking their checkbooks with them.

His assertion that the UCI is covering for its biggest stars is not new, but has gotten him into trouble recently. His 2011 article about Landis for The Sunday Times  prompted a lawsuit from the UCI – and Kimmage’s subsequent dismissal from the publication.  However, with the recent release of the United States Anti Doping Association’s (USADA) evidence against Lance Armstrong, the UCI suspended their lawsuit.

Rather than back down, this autumn Kimmage filed a criminal claim against the UCI under one of Switzerland’s defamation laws. I asked him what he hoped to achieve with the claim, and he was clear: In his opinion, removal of UCI’s current president, Pat McQuaid, and former president Hein Verbruggen are the only ways to move forward.

Paul Kimmage chats with the audience. (Photo Credit: Daghan Perker)

Only a few days after our panel, the organization Change Cycling Now hosted a discussion in London which included Paul and many other notable figures in cycling. As a result of their panel discussion, it was announced that Greg LeMond will run for UCI president this winter.

If LeMond’s passion for cycling is as tangible and intense as Paul’s was during our discussion (which I wouldn’t doubt) then it seems that we might be able to look forward with hope for our sport. Because, like Kimmage, we love this sport.

– Dave Vollbach

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