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International Cycling Union takes drastic action amid financial ‘crisis’

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GENEVA (AP) — The International Cycling Union took “some drastic action” on Thursday to cut costs amid a revenue shortfall from hundreds of events canceled or postponed during the coronavirus pandemic, including the Tokyo Olympics.

Cycling’s financial outlook is among the bleakest revealed by an Olympic sport’s governing body since the Tokyo Games were rescheduled to 2021.

UCI president David Lappartient and other managers have reduced salaries and allowances, and all 130 employees at its Swiss headquarters and training center are on full or partial furlough.

“Our international federation is going through a crisis that we haven’t experienced since the Second World War,” Lappartient said.

The 28 core Summer Games sports were due to share at least $540 million from the IOC in Tokyo Olympic revenues.

The UCI reported getting 25 million Swiss francs ($25.75 million) from the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics. It could have expected the same or more in 2020 for organizing 22 medal events in road and track events, mountain biking and BMX.

Now the UCI warns the one-year delay in Tokyo “will lead to a considerable loss of earnings.”

“We need to anticipate both a possible postponement — to 2021 — of the payment of Olympic revenues initially expected in the second semester of 2020, and a probable reduction of the sum paid to the International Federations,” the cycling body said.

The IOC said last week it was too early to comment on possible financial plans with the governing bodies.

For the UCI, hosting and registration fees paid by race organizers including world championships added up to 45% of its 181 million Swiss francs ($187 million) revenue from 2015-18, according to its most recent accounts.

The UCI said it will reimburse registration fees paid for races later canceled. It has received “more than 650 requests” to postpone or cancel events through August.

However, the Tour de France is still due to start June 27 and the Sept. 20-27 road world championships, racing past UCI headquarters in Aigle, “would appear to be safe.”

The UCI’s financial reserves — about 45 million Swiss francs ($46.5 million) in its accounts for 2018 — are also taking a hit.

“Our asset portfolio has suffered from the effects of the pandemic on the financial markets, combined with the collapse of oil prices,” the governing body said.

The UCI is likely to be eligible for financial help, including interest-free loans, in an emergency program approved last month by the Swiss federal government.

MORE: Most decorated U.S. female Olympian on front line of coronavirus fight

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Slovakia’s Sagan first to win three-straight road race world titles

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In a dramatic photo finish, Slovakia’s Peter Sagan became the first man ever to win three consecutive men’s world championship road race titles when he crossed the finish line in Bergen, Norway.

Norway’s Alexander Kristoff rounded the final turn toward home with a slight lead, churning for the finish, but Sagan sprinted up his right side to edge the Norwegian on the final extension at the finish.

An estimated 100,000 spectators watched the riders repeatedly try to establish a lead pack throughout the race which ended with 12 loops through the streets of Bergen, but no one could find a way to make a clean break. Sagan would bide his time in the peloton for much of the race.

Adding even more drama to an already thrilling road race, with 3km left France’s Julian Alaphilippe began pulling away from a bunched peloton, which kicked off the final lap en masse. With Alaphilippe appearing in control, the cameras shooting from the lead pack motorcycle lost power.

Television commentators and everyone watching on TV or online were left in the dark, waiting to catch a glimpse of the lead riders. Tension mounted while viewers were stuck looking at a road void of cyclists near one of the final turns toward the finish.

“Where are the riders at the front of this race!” lamented NBC’s Paul Sherwen.

When the riders finally came into view, Alaphilippe was no longer in the lead, and 25-30 riders were jockeying for position as they rushed to the finish, but it was Sagan who would cross first in the end.

“For the last five kilometers, I said to myself, it’s already done. But it’s unbelievable. This is something special. You saw in the climb, we were in pieces. And at the finish, it all happened in seconds,” Sagan said after the race according to The Guardian.

“I want to dedicate this win to Michele Scarponi, it would have been his birthday tomorrow. And I want to dedicate this victory to my wife. We are expecting a baby.”

Italian cyclist Michele Scarponi was killed after being hit by a van while training near his home in Filottrano back in April. The loss was one that was felt across the entirety of the cycling world.

Michael Matthews of Australia finished the race in third.

Full results can be found here.

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Hein Verbruggen, cycling chief during Lance Armstrong era, dies

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BRUSSELS (AP) — Hein Verbruggen, the former president of the International Cycling Union who oversaw the worldwide spread of a sport often tainted by doping, has died. He was 75.

The UCI and the International Olympic Committee both reacted to the news on Wednesday, underscoring the Dutchman’s clout within both organizations.

The IOC flew its flag at half staff and Dutch King Willem-Alexander, a former IOC member, called him “a man with a big heart for the Olympic movement, for cycling and those close to him.”

Dutch cycling association spokesman Kevin Leenheers confirmed the death, saying Verbruggen died on Tuesday night.

Critics said Verbruggen was too close to those involved in doping. He was often confronted for his relationship with Lance Armstrong, the American rider who was the face of cycling with his seven Tour de France victories before he came to embody the abuse of performance-enhancing drugs.

Time and again Verbruggen faced accusers saying he was colluding with dopers instead of countering them. Just as often, he fought back to save his tarnished reputation. He proclaimed his innocence until his death.

Verbruggen was a consummate businessman all his life, yet he was never able to shake the doping scandals during his reign.

The reason for his opposition to doping was simple, he said.

“I want to get rid of doping because it prevents me from selling the sport,” Verbruggen said three decades ago, as he was making his way up the ladder in the cycling world.

As a sales manager at Mars food, he got into cycling and found a sport which was totally antiquated when others like tennis were developing with the times and becoming successful professional enterprises.

When cycling still centered mainly on France, Belgium and Italy for major races, Verbruggen was already dreaming about the world at large, driven by such ideas as World Cup rankings to get a more global appeal.

“Protect in Europe what we have, and then afterwards comes America,” he said.

And no one was bigger in America than Armstrong. With his fightback from cancer to become the dominant rider of his age, the storybook saga was cut out for Verbruggen to push the internationalization of the sport.

The two thrived together until the rumors of doping became overpowering. The strongest claims were that the UCI helped cover up an Armstrong positive test at the 1999 Tour de France, the Texan’s first victory, and at another race two years later. Verbruggen denied it.

Verbruggen served as UCI president for 14 years and stepped down after Armstrong’s seventh straight Tour win. Afterward, those years came to be defined as the doping era.

Two years ago, a year-long investigation found no proof that a payment Armstrong made to the UCI was to cover up a positive test even though it said the Verbruggen era was marked by “inadequate” policies on doping.

Beyond cycling, Verbruggen was also a major presence in the Olympic movement and was instrumental in the preparations for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.

“For this, he will be always remembered,” IOC President Thomas Bach said.

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