News feature, March 6, 2007
Working agreement formulated; long term solution to be developed
With just five days to the start of Paris-Nice, the prospect of open civil war in cycling appears to have been overcome by a last-chance meeting held between the UCI, the organisers of the three Grand Tours and the IPCT in Brussels.
While it is a temporary solution and some points from the meeting need to be further clarified, it appears that all of the teams listed as part of the UCI's ProTour series should now be able to take part in the 11 races organised by ASO, RCS Sport and Unipublic this year, bringing the sport back from the brink of chaos.
Under the accord forged by the UCI's Pat McQuaid and Alain Rumpf, Patrice Clerc (ASO), Angelo Zomegnan (RCS Sport) and Victor Cordero (Unipublic), as well as the crucial input of IPCT representatives Patrick Lefevere and his lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, the 18 ProTour teams accepted by the Grand Tour organisers will have automatic entry. Wildcards Astana and Unibet.com are also likely to get a green light.
However clarification is needed with regard to the following long clause mentioned in the release: "Without prejudicing their right to grant wild cards to all other teams of their choice, for the duration of this agreement ASO, RCS and Unipublic will examine in a positive spirit the granting of wild cards to the teams Astana and Unibet, in particular insofar as such decisions are not likely to expose or be likely to expose the organisers to legal consequences, of whatever nature they might be."
Unibet.com has faced problems competing in France due to legislation restricting advertising for gambling. The wording of the clause means that it remains to be seen if this law could still compromise their participation in races such as the Tour de France, or if the wearing of non-branded jerseys will satisfy ASO vis-à-vis their taking part. The team competed in several races on French soil this season wearing clothing with a distinctive question mark rather than the Unibet.com logo.
Today's meeting in Brussels international airport was seen as a last chance opportunity to resolve the crisis, with participation in events such as Paris-Nice remaining under threat. The parties concerned sat down at 2 pm and were still holding talks late in the evening, with final word of an agreement not coming through until a full nine hours after discussions began.
According to the joint release, those in attendance: "finalised an agreement which guarantees an out of courts solution for the whole of the 2007 season, also providing a mechanism to look for a long term-solution, by partnering all the third parties concerned."
It states that in the interests of complete transparency, the full details have been disclosed of what was formulated. "The present agreement has the aim of amicably settling the disagreement which is affecting professional cycling, in line with the methods and in the ways defined below," stated the release, "with the agreement that this ruling is of a purely provisional nature and thus does not prejudice anything as regards the respective rights and obligations of the parties, nor of the bases of their respective positions, regarding the aforesaid disagreement."
"In other words, this settlement is similar to that in which an emergency interim ruling would be returned on the same matter."
In order to work towards a long term solution, the sides concerned undertake to meet at least once a month. The goal of the talks is to find a long-term solution to the ProTour issue by September 21st at the latest.
While there is clearly a lot of work ahead, the outcome of the meeting and the positive tone of the joint release means that things are looking a whole lot healthier now for professional cycling than they did just 24 hours ago.
Under the agreement, 18 teams - namely Ag2r Prévoyance, Bouygues Telecom, Caisse d'Epargne, Cofidis, Lampre Fondital, Liquigas, Predictor-Lotto, Quick Step - Innergetic, Rabobank, Crédit Agricole, Discovery Channel, Euskaltel - Euskadi, Française des Jeux, Gerolsteiner, Saunier Duval - Prodir, Team CSC, Milram and T-Mobile - all have automatic entry into the events organised by ASO, RCS Sport and Unipublic.
These are: Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Giro d'Italia, Tour de France, Vuelta a España, Paris-Tours and the Giro di Lombardia.
In addition, the 18 teams will be joined by Astana and Unibet, although as stated above, clarification is needed with regards to the clause, "insofar as such decisions are not likely to expose or be likely to expose the organizers to legal consequences, of whatever nature they might be."
The release continues by suggesting that both sides of the dispute still have reservations. "The UCI takes note of this unilateral position and states that it is not fully satisfied," it states. "Consequently, the UCI reserves the right to assess these future decisions and their regulatory consequences, [while] on their part, ASO, RCS and Unipublic reserve all their rights in this respect."
However, it appears that these issues should not threaten the peace deal in the short term. "Any disagreement or litigation which arises from the two paragraphs above will not at all call into question the validity of the remainder of the agreement, and will not stop the obligation to carry out the remainder of the agreement in good faith."
One of the occasions when the whole ProTour conflict was most clearly underlined last season was at the Giro di Lombardia, when series leader Alejandro Valverde threatened not to take part because RCS Sport were not going to award the white jersey to him. In solidarity, the podium presentations were boycotted by Paolo Bettini and the other riders, leading to a muted conclusion to the day's proceedings.
This time round, the wording of the communiqué appears to suggest that such presentations may have been sacrificed for the sake of the working solution. Again, the specifics will be clarified in the days to come, but the statement makes clear that the Grand Tour organisers will give minimal indications that their events are part of the ProTour. Presumably, this means that the leader will not be given podium space to show off his white jersey.
"For the remainder of the present convention, ASO, RCS and Unipublic are not obliged - in any manner - to be bound by the concept of the ProTour and its branding, except for the acceptance of the wearing of the jersey corresponding to the leader of the classification. ASO, RCS and Unipublic note that the awarding of the aforementioned jersey will be carried out by other parties away from the protocol of the races."
Although this is less than the UCI would wish for their series, the release draws to a close with an undertaking that it will accept that state of affairs for now. "During the duration of this agreement, in keeping with the principle of good faith of the agreement, the UCI doesn't envisage adopting unspecified sanctions or measures (notably relating to rules), which are likely to interfere with the smooth running of this agreement. On the contrary, the UCI is fully committed to carrying out its task as a governing body in a particularly constructive spirit."
The final line continues that positive theme, giving hope that the months ahead could bring further progress. "The parties congratulate each other on this solution to the crisis which - in the general interest of cycling - provides the basis for a constructive collaboration.
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'