News feature, July 27, 2005
ProTour polemics & UCI governance
A long-time friend of Lance Armstrong who was the former head of cycling at La Gazetta dello Sport, Angelo Zomegnan is now head of RCS Sport, part of the Italian media giant Rizzoli Corriere della Sera and organizer of the Giro d'Italia, Milano-Sanremo and Giro di Lombardia, among other major cycling events. Zomegnan visited the Tour de France last weekend to pay homage to his friend Armstrong, who he covered since the American's first pro win at GP Sanson in Marostica, Italy in 1992.
When Cyclingnews sat down with Zomegnan to get his perspective on recent developments between the Grand Tour organizers and the UCI over the ProTour, he said: "Really, since last year, nothing has changed between us [Grand Tour organizers] and the UCI over the ProTour since last year in September.
"We are still convinced that the ProTour concept is not the ideal way to bring forward needed reforms in professional cycling. What has changed, according to Zomegnan, is that "many race organizers and teams in the ProTour have begun to understand that this reform isn't going that well, and even if they are not saying so publicly, have become convinced that the ProTour isn't working."
Cyclingnews: Why are the organizers and team saying that the ProTour isn't working out for them?
Angelo Zomegnan: Because there are too many days of racing, because there are too many teams. The ProTour is a system that is copied from a model that comes from American pro sports that isn't adaptable to cycling. Because, in cycling, the champion rider, the team leader is still more important than the team itself. So you can't just borrow the model of the NBA, where at the end of the finals, the worst team gets the top draft pick.
In cycling, the weakest team is still the weakest team at the end of the season. So there are too many teams in the ProTour; 20 teams are too many, the system just can't support this many teams and the teams can't support 157 days of racing per season. Plus the calendar has too many conflicts; the ProTour TTT is at the same time as the Tour de Suisse, the Tour of Catalunya during the Giro d'Italia, the Tour of Poland during the Vuelta d'Espana. So when the Giro and Catalunya are at the same time, Spanish TV, or rather TV Catalunya, will show their race and not the Giro so this limits the exposure. So the difference between last year and this year is that many race organisers and many ProTour teams now understand that the obligations of the ProTour participation are greater than the advantages.
CN: How can these problems between the Grand Tour organisers and UCI be resolved?
AZ: Well, an ultimatum isn't the best way to solve any situation. [see news story: Grand Tour organisers respond to UCI ultimatum] We have responded to the ultimatum and our position is clear: on Tuesday, July 26th, there will be a meeting in Aigle, Switzerland between the UCI [and the three Grand Tour organizers], with ASO representing the Grand Tour races. We'll see after that meeting.
CN: Mr. Zomegnan, the three Grand Tour organizers have also raised questions over governance at the UCI. Can you clarify your position on this matter?
AZ: There are really two aspects to the question of governance. First of all, we have to look at the matter of the UPTC [UCI ProTour Council]. Then there is the matter of the overall governance of the UCI. Regarding the CCP, we do not agree with the way the CCP is made up. We believe that we [Grand Tour organisers] need a seat at the table, even if we don't have a ProTour license.
So if the CCP thinks it can continue without representation from [Grand Tour organisers], that's their choice. For example, the International Tennis Federation decided to not have their international circuit without the four Grand Slam events [Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, US Open]. But the Grand Slam events are still there and are going stronger than ever.
[notes: the UCI ProTour Council (UPTC) has Vittorio Adorni (Italy) as its president, with members Laurent De Backer (Belgium), Rocco Catteneo (Switzerland), Felice Gimondi (Italy), Miguel Indurain (Spain), Hein Verbruggen (Netherlands) and Charly Mottet (France), all designated by the UCI. Francesco Moser (Italy) and Jens Voigt (Germany) were designated by the riders and Patrick Lefevre (Belgium) and Manolo Saiz (Spain) have been designated by the teams. Alain Rumpf is the UPTC Coordinator.]
CN: So can the ProTour go ahead without cycling's Grand Slam events?
AZ: Well, I think that our races can go ahead even without the ProTour... but the problem of governance of the CCP is derived from the exclusion of ideas proposed by the working group. This body is made up of three representatives of the UCI, three from race organizers, three team reps and two rider reps; 11 members. So it was the teams that proposed that the race organizers were included in the CCP, even if they didn't have a ProTour license. But the UCI didn't agree that this should happen. So it complicated the issue.
CN: What about the big picture issue of the governance of the UCI?
AZ: This is a different issue than the one we face as Grand Tour organizers with the CCP, and is an issue for the national federations with the management committee of the UCI. This body is where cycling is governed on a worldwide basis. WWhat seems strange to me that a President of the UCI will be elected because he's pre-selected. So he's going to be considered President before he's even elected? Plus there's the sleazy question of payments - UCI employees are not supposed to be elected to positions, nor are UCI officials supposed to be paid by the UCI. [Zomegnan is referring to Verbruggen's anointed successor as UCI President, Road Commission prexy Pat McQuaid from Ireland, who is allegedly already working in Aigle, Switzerland in a paid capacity - ed.]
So inside the UCI there's a lot of polemics going on, with Sylvia Schenck, the former head of the German Federation, Dato Seri G Darsan Singh, former president of the Asiatic Cycling Confederation from Malaysia. His candidacy isn't a joke; Mr. Singh has stated that he is willing to do the work of the UCI President gratis, as it has always been done." [Zomegnan is referring to Schenck and Singh's disapproval of McQuaid already working at the UCI before he's been formally elected - ed.]
[notes: Article 51 section 2 of the UCI Constitution states: "Under penalty of inadmissibility, the nominations (for President) must be written in English or in French and deposited at the registered office of the UCI ninety days prior to the date of the Congress." With the UCI Congress slated for the week of September 19, qualified candidates must already be on file at UCI HQ in Aigle.]
There are a lot of arbitrary moves that are happening now, moves that are disturbing. Verbruggen is certainly the best manager that cycling has ever had, but he's not omnipotent. There are rules to respect and okay, if they aren't good rules, they can be changed. But you can't just do what you want. It's OK that people should be paid for their work; times have changed, but this should be implemented with a change of the UCI rules. There are many things being done [at the UCI] that are not in the rules. That's the arrogance of power.
CN: What might be the future of ProTour?
AZ: A ProTour without the Giro, Tour and the Vuelta and other major races? The concept of the ProTour licenses are that they guarantee the teams the right to race the Tour de France. For 100,000 Euros paid in four years, the teams buy the right to ride our races. But the participation has to be based on racing results, on the performance on the road, not from behind a desk. What will teams who have bought a ProTour license do if the Tour de France doesn't invite them? How can the team managers go to their sponsors and say 'We won't be in the Tour de France this year?'
After today's crucial meeting in Aigle between UCI President Hein Verbruggen and ASO's Patrice Clerc, who is representing the three Grand Tour organizers, the future of the ProTour for 2006 and beyond may become clearer. Or maybe not.