UCI president aims to boost track cycling at 2024 Olympics
LAUSANNE, Switzerland (AP) The 2024 Olympics can boost track racing's reputation, International Cycling Union President Brian Cookson hopes, with more medal events and better-suited venues.
''If people think track cycling is in any way in decline, the message is: `No, it is not,''' Cookson told The Associated Press in an interview on Wednesday.
The current OIympic track program has 10 medal events, and just five for men. The totals were 12 and eight, respectively, at the 2004 Athens Games.
''Previous administrations, I think, of the UCI gave out negative signals about the future of track racing,'' Cookson said. ''I want to give positive signals.''
Despite the popular success of track cycling at the 2012 London Games, the next two Olympic velodromes have been among the most stressful venue issues for the UCI and local organizers.
A delayed velodrome is the last venue being built in Rio de Janeiro, and the 2020 Olympic velodrome is 120 kilometers (75 miles) from downtown Tokyo.
Cookson acknowledged to being ''a little frustrated'' with Rio delays, which include a canceled test event, while using an existing velodrome two hours' travel from Tokyo at Izu was a ''less than desirable solution.''
The UCI has already been encouraging the four 2024 Summer Games bidders to begin planning for track cycling, even though there are almost 18 months to the hosting vote. The candidates are Budapest, Hungary; Los Angeles; Paris; and Rome.
''Absolutely, we are,'' Cookson said. ''We have talked to them already.''
Paris clearly meets the UCI's velodrome needs, having hosted the 2015 track world championships in a new arena at Saint-Quentin-en-Yvelines, about 25 kilometers west of the capital city's center.
By 2024, Cookson hopes the track races replaced by BMX, or dropped for gender equality reasons, can be restored.
''Why can't we stick with our previous events and have additional events for women?'' he said. ''Other sports seem to have been treated more generously in the past.''
In Rio, a velodrome built for the 2007 Pan-American Games was demolished for not being up to Olympic standards and a new arena is being built at the Olympic Park.
The Siberian pine track is currently being laid and needs strictly regulated air humidity, yet the arena is currently power by generators and not yet linked to the main electricity grid.
''These issues are critical because we are dealing with a natural material,'' Cookson said, adding: ''I am sure we are going to have a great Olympic track cycling competition.''
On Tuesday, Rio sports director Agberto Guimaraes personally assured the UCI leader at a meeting of the 28 Summer Games sports federations that the velodrome would be ready for a June 25-27 training event.
''Nobody is taking for granted your venue,'' Guimaraes said. ''I can promise you your venue will be ready in June.''
Back in its European heartland, riders potentially using hidden motors has been a main issue for the UCI this week.
Claims by a French television program and Italian newspaper, which used thermal cameras to suggest cheating at two road races last month, was based on ''inconclusive'' evidence, Cookson said.
''We will be testing at all the major events this year,'' he said, putting his faith in the UCI's methods of identifying technological fraud.
A verdict is pending this week in the case of a rider who was caught using a bike with a hidden motor: Belgian teenager Femke Van Den Driessche, who rode at the Under-23 cyclo-cross world championships in January in Belgium.
Cookson said the UCI disciplinary tribunal should give its decision this week. Van Den Driessche did not attend a recent hearing and indicated that she already ended her career.