Hammond and Rider’s Council back ProTour in Paris-Nice row

This week has been marked by an escalation of the dispute between the UCI and ASO, with the latter...

News feature, February 4, 2007

Roger Hammond is part of the CPA Rider’s Council representing professional cyclists. Earlier this week they allied with the UCI in regard to the decision by ASO to block ProTour team Unibet.com from riding Paris-Nice.

The T-Mobile rider talked to Cyclingnews’ Shane Stokes this weekend, explaining why the Council feels that ASO are wrong in their stance.

This week has been marked by an escalation of the dispute between the UCI and ASO, with the latter reiterating that it will not invite ProTour team Unibet.com to Paris-Nice. This has been passed off by some as being a consequence of the French restrictions on gambling, but Saturday’s news that the organisers of the Vuelta have also said that they will block the Swedish-registered team show that the stance is due, at least partly, to the struggle between the UCI and the Grand Tour organisers.

One group which should perhaps have the most say is seldom heard from; that of the riders themselves. The organisers are responsible for putting on the events and the UCI is responsible for running the sport, but those actually pedalling the bikes are the people who the whole sport revolves around. Yet in spite of their 24-7 involvement - or, perhaps, because of - they lack a strong political clout.

The establishment of the CPA’s Council of Riders of the Association of Professional Cyclists has however afforded riders a bigger role in the sport. Led by Jens Voigt and Jose Luis Rubiera and also featuring riders such as Matthias Kessler, Michael Rogers, Philippe Gilbert, Iñigo Cuesta, Cédric Vasseur, Thomas Dekker, George Hincapie, Filippo Pozzato, Fabian Cancellara, Roger Hammond, Denis Menchov, Thor Hushovd, José Azevedo and Dario Cioni, they are acting as a representative group and a communication link between those in the suits and those on two wheels.

"It is difficult to say exactly how many riders support the ProTour - not everybody has been presented with the full facts." -The CPA's major mission is to inform the pros with hard facts from the UCI..

Earlier this week the CPA Council made news when it publicly declared its support for the ProTour, backing the UCI in the stand-off over Paris-Nice. It issued the following press statement on Tuesday, explaining its stance on the issue:

The first meeting of the CPA Rider’s Council took place yesterday in Brussels in presence of Francesco Moser and Daniel Malabranque, President and General Secretary of the CPA. UCI President Pat McQuaid as well as other members of the UCI staff also attended the meeting of this Council which was originally created in October 2006.

Presentations and discussions were focused on the different problems professional cycling is currently facing; (the conflict between the UCI and the 3 Grands Tours which the Council wishes to resolve on short notice, and the anti-doping fight).

Having taken notice, however, of the recent decision of the Tour organizers not to allow 2 ProTour teams in their races in 2007 (and 4 in 2008), the Rider’s Council wishes to stress that it is totally unacceptable for riders that participation to their races be unilaterally determined by organizers.

Riders and teams, but definitely also organizers, will have to respect the UCI rules and these rules can only be changed by a democratic procedure as foreseen in the UCI statutes, and certainly not in a one-sided manner by one of the parties.

The Rider’s Council fully herewith joins the position taken by UCI ProTour teams in a meeting last week with the UCI. Teams and riders have asked the UCI to take all adequate measures in order for all UCI ProTour teams to participate to all races on the 2007 UCI ProTour calendar.

Cyclingnews contacted Hammond this weekend in order to get more details about what took place at the meeting and to hear his assessment of the current situation.

"The meeting took place last Monday," he explained, speaking by phone from Belgium. "We were presented with all the facts which we, as riders, appreciated. There is so much hearsay and rumours and things being thrown around that it was nice that the UCI took the time to sit down, talk to us and explain what was going on and what the full situation is. We can now hopefully make some sort of educated decision about it all, whereas before it was quite difficult to understand what was happening.

"In the end the riders agreed that the ProTour is the best way forward for the sport. I have seen quotes from Pat McQuaid [in media interviews] saying that it is not a perfect system yet, but we think it is definitely the right overall direction to take. We sat down and had a look at the facts and where they are trying to take it and we definitely agreed that it is the right direction to go."

The CPA has been formed to represent the riders but due to the absence of any voting by the peloton on the ProTour, it is hard to say precisely what proportion of professionals back the new system. However, the collective support from the CPA group of well-known names is very significant and, according to Hammond, will enable other riders to both learn more and to convey their opinions on this and other matters.

"What this group does is represent a wide section of the cycling fraternity," he explained. "For example, I represent the English-speaking northern Europe. Mick Rogers is the southern hemisphere English-speaking guy, Dario Cioni is the Italian speaking and we have got [Matthias] Kessler, who is German-speaking. George [Hincapie] represents the Americas. And then you have Jens Voigt who is the principal guy and José Luis Rubiera, the sub-principal.

"We will make ourselves available for the riders to come and talk to us. That is one of the goals of the CPA. It is difficult to say exactly how many support the ProTour - at the end of the day, I am sure there will be individual riders who don't agree but also a lot of riders who do agree. The thing is at the moment, not everybody has been presented with the full facts."

He elaborated on how they hope to change that. "In the past mixed messages got through to the riders whereas hopefully now, as we have sat down and been given the facts, we can ensure that the full and correct details are being passed on. That then opens the dialogue between the other riders and us, and we are in direct contact with UCI. Effectively, then, on a broader scale it has opened up this communication between the wider group of riders and the UCI, which is the most important thing.

"As regards this issue, I hope that we can get the message across to the rest of the riders in cycling. It affects not only the ProTour but racing in general, really."

Unibet.com - exclusion 'unfair'

Unibet fought hard for a ProTour place but if things are not resolved, that effort may have been in vain. It’s greatly frustrating for the squad, who have put a lot of work into making the step up to the top league. Hammond said that the group was not happy with this situation. "It was stated in our press release that those who were present [at the CPA meeting] agreed that there are rules made and they should be obeyed by riders and officials. Those rules are there for a purpose and it is for the benefit of everybody, really. Really, they should be adhered to; if it is a case that someone doesn’t agrees with the rules, they then have to be changed in a democratic way rather than have the situation where there is one rider or one organiser going off and just doing their own thing.

"This is what we agreed at the meeting. The thing is that we all believe it [the ProTour] is the right direction for cycling and also believe that the rules have been put in place in a democratic way. To an extent, everybody was involved in the conception of the ProTour. The event organisers were involved, but now rules are not being obeyed. And that’s not right.

"It’s hard for Unibet, having bought a ProTour license in the expectation of getting the fruits of that, only to be told that they can’t go to the first event."

For the CPA Riders’ Council, it appears clear that the Grand Tour organisers are not playing things fair. "There are ways and means of changing the rules and one principle is that it has to be done in a democratic way. That was pushed quite a bit at this meeting and I think that everybody there agreed with that. I can't imagine anybody who would disagree with that principle, really. It is not as if we were making a difficult decision... it is simply a case of if we think that rules should be followed or not? And that’s not a difficult question, really."

What next?

UCI President Pat McQuaid spoke at length to Cyclingnews in recent days, stating that the UCI was open to dialogue but was standing firm on the position that Unibet should be in Paris-Nice. Hammond said that there has been no mention of possible sanctions should ASO not comply.

"Right now, everybody is still hoping and praying that this whole thing will be solved amicably. I think that this was the main crux of the meeting... the desire to work things out. I thought it was quite good of the UCI to sit down and to make sure that they weren't completely out of place. They were getting a general perception about whether they were going in the right direction or not, basically.

"That [the exact direction] is the next episode, I guess. But for now everybody has decided that this is the way it is, and that the rules should be applied. The rules are there and they should be adhered to. Hopefully now this will all be resolved before Paris-Nice, because it is not good for anybody.

"This is the last thing that cycling needs at this point in time... there are more pressing things to sort out without having this sort of thing, after all. The general consensus within the UCI is that hopefully everything will be resolved. Everyone is hoping that. If not, we are not sure what will happen."


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