News feature, June 5, 2008
UCI President Pat McQuaid has expressed strong dissatisfaction to the news that ASO and the French cycling federation (FFC) will combine to hold the Tour de France outside the aegis of the governing body this July. Speaking from the IOC meetings being held in Athens, McQuaid told Cyclingnews that he was not impressed by the decision, and that he felt it posed a great danger to the sport.
"My overall reaction is one of great anger that they have decided to take this route," he stated. "They have consistently refused to accept decisions taken by the UCI management committee, and it is obvious that they are out to create another international federation. The contract which they have put out to the teams is a Draconian one, and one which is only going to get worse because it is a one-sided contract and it will be written into their rules as and from next year.
"It is very disappointing that the biggest player in the sport refuses to respect order, refuses to respect regulations. I am here in Greece at a conference with all of the federations from the summer and winter Olympics, and many of them are discussing what is going on with me. Every one of them is in complete agreement that as an international authority, our role is to lay down the rules and regulations of the sport. Yet these guys refuse to respect that."
"It is obvious that they are out to create another international federation." - McQuaid on the reasons for ASO's latest decision to run the Tour de France outside of UCI regulations.
At a press conference held in Paris on Tuesday, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme faulted the UCI's stipulation that the 18 ProTour teams must be allowed to take part in the race. This is being highlighted as one of the main reasons for ASO's decision to go outside the UCI, but McQuaid rejects that this is a valid reason. He states that the teams agreed amongst themselves that all the ProTour squads should be allowed compete, and that the UCI is following on from that decision.
"They are using the excuse of the 18 teams, but that is not the issue at all. Remember that when we talked about the ProTour last September, the 18 teams came out afterwards and had a meeting with the AIGCP. At that meeting, these races were discussed, plus the fact that they are going onto the Europe Tour and going outside the ProTour calendar. There was a decision taken by the AIGCP that the 18 teams in the ProTour should have the right to participate in the Tour de France.
"That went to the CUPT (UCI ProTour Council) via the two representatives there - at that time they were Roger Legeay and Patrick Levefre - and this was discussed and agreed at the council there. It then went to the management committee of the UCI which has the ultimate responsibility for rules and regulations, and it was discussed and agreed there. That to me is a democratic process, in terms of putting a regulation into place. But ASO refused to respect that regulation.
"This isn't really a question of the 18 teams, they are putting that forward as an excuse. What they want to do is make their own rules. They are talking about having their own rules about radios, they are talking about having their own rules about anti-doping, and the contract that they have given to teams is one-sided and Draconian. For example, if the team has a doping problem in the Tour de France, they have to pay the French federation 100,000 euros. So it is obvious that the French federation are in cahoots with ASO."
Going outside the UCI
Last October the UCI, ASO and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) were amongst those who came together for an anti-doping summit held in Paris. There the various stakeholders agreed to set up a new programme dealing with biological passports, and it was seen that this was the first step in mending bridges between the various sides.
However, rather than signalling the start of closer relations, things have deteriorated further. At this point ASO have fully rejected the UCI's involvement in the Tour de France, and McQuaid says that he is convinced that things will get worse again.
"In any organisation, we cannot have dissident stakeholders such as that. They are outside the UCI now in our opinion is to leave them outside until such time as they are prepared to respect the rules of the UCI. Because otherwise we have got anarchy, otherwise we cannot work, otherwise this goes all over the place and the whole sport breaks down. Maybe that is their intention, that they take over the sport.
"ASO produced a document recently, the Protocol d'Accord. It is a document for a new start in professional cycling, written by ASO. What it does is puts the three Tours and the Monuments on the top tier of racing and everything else below that. But it also states that for those events in the top tier of racing, there can be no other races run in concurrence with any of them. In other words, for the 70-odd days of racing there, you can have no other competition."
He warns that this is akin to a monopolistic situation, and one which would be very damaging for the sport. "What that is doing is ensuring their economic interests forever and ever... not allowing any other races to develop, to become a high level. This is what they are after. Not alone that, they want all the decision-making processes in their hands. As an international authority, the UCI cannot allow the decision-making process go into the hands of vested interests. Those vested interests will only look after themselves."
Rejection of claim of 700,000 euro offer to anti-doping programme
McQuaid flatly denies the statement by French secretary of sports Bernard Laporte that the UCI rejected a contribution to the biological passport programme. Laporte claimed that, "the UCI has refused a contribution of 700,000 euro from the French Ministry of Sports and ASO."
"That is absolutely not true," counters the UCI President, appearing to hear the suggestion for the first time when asked about it by Cyclingnews. "So there has been a suggestion that they would put a few hundred thousand euro and we had turned them down? Well, that is absolutely not true.
"They have never offered any money into the biological passport, they have never shown any interest in contributing to that programme. Yet then they turn around and get the benefits of that passport programme, because they are taking 17 of the 18 ProTour teams, all of whom are in the passport system since the beginning of the year. They are getting the benefits of it, but they have not contributed.
"In addition, they are not paying the registration fees for their races, and I have been told that they are not even paying for the anti-doping controls on the Tour de France. They are getting those free as well. The whole thing is completely ridiculous."
Threat of sanctions?
When the teams elected to sign an ASO contract and compete in Paris-Nice earlier this year, the UCI warned that this could lead to sanctions. And while that has not yet happened, it seems that this latest development could potentially lead to action against those who take part in the Tour.
"We will have to wait and see," responded McQuaid, when asked what would happen next. "Two weeks ago a procedure took place against the French federation, between our lawyers and their lawyers, and a delegation of the management committee of the UCI was dedicated to look into what happened at Paris-Nice.
"There will be a recommendation going to the management committee of the UCI next week in Copenhagen. I don't know what that is - I have had to stay out of the process because it was me who called for it to start. I don't know what the outcome will be... we will wait and see what happens there.
"But in terms of the teams and the riders, they are obviously going into another scenario like that which happened with Paris-Nice, which is that they are riding a race which is outside UCI rules. Therefore they can face sanctions. We did say in relation to the teams and riders after Paris-Nice that we wouldn't take measures against them immediately, that we would see what happens as the season progresses. Things are moving on now and we will have to take a decision at some stage soon."
He said that the teams have the leverage to insist that the races are run under UCI rules. "They need to show solidarity," he stated. "Because otherwise organisers will do this, will do what they want and show little respect for the rules and the international authority. This is the road that the teams are going down with ASO at the moment."
Back in March the UCI announced that it would open disciplinary proceedings against the FFC and its president, Jean Pitallier. McQuaid continues to fault the federation, saying that it is siding with a rebel organiser and thus going against the UCI, of which it is a member.
"ASO have every right to run the Tour de France as a private event, outside of the UCI. But it must be done as a private event. Here they are running it with the assistance of the French federation, and that is what we are objecting to. It shows a complete disloyalty from the French federation to the international federation and that we cannot tolerate that. The UCI will not tolerate it at all."
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split
October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
September 26, 2008 - UCI declares peace, appoints new VP
August 30, 2008 - UCI re-signs five ProTour races
August 22, 2008 - ProTour: Bouncing back or lame duck?
August 19, 2008 - Stapleton analyses 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - Feedback on 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'