Hein Verbruggen obituary: Sportsman responsible for raising the profile of cycling around the world

As president of the International Cycling Union, Hein Verbruggen helped build the sport into an international powerhouse even as it became increasingly marred by reports of doping – most prominently featuring Lance Armstrong.

Verbruggen served from 1991 until 2005 as president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), a position that made him one of the most influential leaders in international sport. He held important roles on the International Olympic Committee (IOC), helping organise the 2004 Olympics in Athens and 2008 in Beijing.

During his time in the IOC, Verbruggen navigated questions about the selection of Beijing for the Games at a time when the Chinese government was under scrutiny for its human rights record. He emphasised the IOC’s role as a sporting organisation and sought to distance it from political questions. 

Verbruggen was born in Helmond, the Netherlands, in 1941, and graduated from Nyenrode Business University in Breukelen in 1964. As a sales manager with Mars he persuaded the company to sponsor a cycling team, then entered cycling administration in the 1970s.

He saw an untapped commercial potential in cycling and the rise in the 1990s and 2000s of Armstrong, a cancer survivor who dazzled fans around the world with his athletic talent and moving personal story, saw the realisation of that potential.

But cycling faced withering scrutiny during the Festina affair of 1998, named after the French team that was ejected from the Tour de France charged with doping. Verbruggen trimmed the suspensions of several riders to seven months from eight, despite the IOC’s preference for two-year suspensions. “A ban for two years for a rider means a ban for life,” he said.

The following year, Armstrong won the first of his unprecedented seven Tour victories, a run that made him an international celebrity, although he was increasingly trailed by suspicions of doping. 

In 2012, the UCI stripped the Texan of his seven titles…

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