News feature, June 4, 2008
ASO repeats opposition to the closed system of the UCI ProTour
At a press conference in Paris on Tuesday, Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme has confirmed his request for the French cycling federation (FFC) to sanction the 2008 Tour de France as it did for Paris-Nice in March. The request comes after the International Cycling Union (UCI) refused to cease disciplinary action against the FFC for its support of Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) at Paris-Nice.
Prudhomme repeated ASO's opposition to the closed system of the ProTour and regretted the UCI's refusal to let all Grand Tours select their starting teams. While the Giro and the Vuelta were allowed to choose their participating teams, the Tour de France was required by the UCI to invite all 18 ProTour teams. In February, ASO decided to leave out Astana and has now refused its signature event to be registered on the UCI calendar.
"We have asked the FFC to sanction the Tour de France and the AFLD (French anti-doping agency) will be in charge of the controls before and during the Tour de France," Prudhomme announced.
"We would like to see the end of this conflict with the UCI but I don't see the UCI making any progress," said FFC president Jean Pitallier. "We will soon designate the commissaires for the Tour de France. Those who have done Paris-Nice will have the priority." Experienced French judges Michel Lefort and Joël Ménard are among the most likely to be named as chief commissaire.
France wants to contribute 700,000 euro towards biological passport
The French secretary of sports Bernard Laporte was also present to support both the organisers of the Tour de France and the FFC. Laporte took office at the end of October 2007 after coaching the French team at the Rugby World Cup and his first duty as a politician was to take part in the summit which gave birth to the biological passport. At the time, the French government, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and the UCI appeared united in the fight against doping, but that unity has since fallen apart.
"The UCI has refused a contribution of 700,000 euro from the French Ministry of Sports and ASO," Laporte revealed. "We are disappointed to not participate in the biological passport anymore. We hope the project keeps improving and we'd like to take part in it with our 700,000 euro again later.
"We want to work with the UCI again for the interest of the sport, that's all that counts for us. I've noticed once again, on a recent trip to China, that the Tour de France has a worldwide impact and we have to all work together to keep people's interest high in the race and the sport of cycling in general."
Laporte said he was prepared to offer his services as a mediator between the UCI and ASO once again. "I guess we'll renew the contact after the Tour de France," he predicted. "Cycling deserves better than this unfortunate tussle."
Fewer controls but more targeted, says AFLD
Prudhomme no longer believes in the high number of doping controls during the Tour de France, but rather a more targeted approach on suspect riders. "Last year, I went to the Tour of Romandie for the announcement of 160 controls during the Tour de France," he recalled of the pact signed with UCI president Pat McQuaid and the then AIGCP (International Association of Professional Cycling Teams) president Patrick Lefévère.
The disastrous experience of the 2007 Tour de France, with the positive tests of Alexander Vinokourov, Cristian Moreni and the exclusion of Michael Rasmussen, has changed his mind. "Now, I believe in targets," he said.
This is exactly what the AFLD wants to do before and during the Tour de France. "Our priority is to be efficient," said AFLD president Pierre Bordry, who had a constructive meeting with the UCI on May 14 and insisted that his agency works independently from ASO.
"We have the support of WADA and of the association of the national anti-doping agencies," Bordry added. "We count on them to give us the necessary information for our targets."
He also underlined the "excellent relationship" with the UCI in March when the AFLD wanted to double check guidelines for Therapeutic Use Exemptions (TUE), mostly for the authorisation of corticoids. But he admitted that data from the biological passport will not be available since the UCI will not share it with a race that is not part of its calendar.
ASO's vision for a cleaner Tour than 2007 was strictly based around the biological passport program when the 2008 Tour de France route was unveiled in October last year.
As with Paris-Nice, the AFLD will also make use of hair testing, but it will be used only "in cases where both A and B samples appear positive," Bordry explained. Eventual sanctions are applicable worldwide to all athletes who have signed the WADA code. All Tour de France teams will also be required to sign a contract that includes a whereabouts clause, in an effort to avoid another Michael Rasmussen style controversy like last year.
Still no chance for Astana in 2008
Christian Prudhomme offered his "congratulations" to Alberto Contador for his victory at the Giro d'Italia, but confirmed that the defending champion still has no chance of starting the 2008 Tour de France due to his commitment to the Astana team.
"Since the beginning we've said that we've got nothing against Contador himself," Prudhomme explained. "It's the repetition of the facts regarding doping at Astana, not only in 2007 but also in 2006, that has led us to leave them aside this year. If Astana has good results and no problems in 2008, we'll probably review our position for the next season."
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'