News feature, July 17, 2008
UCI president Pat McQuaid saw the ProTour project face near-certain ruin on Tuesday when the teams and Grand Tour organisers joined together in calling for a new system, saying that they will work together to move the sport forward. McQuaid gave his reaction to Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes and, from the sound of things, the governing body has no intentions of backing down.
Tuesday's announcement that seventeen teams on the Tour de France would not seek a renewal of their ProTour licences came as a big blow to the UCI. It effectively threatens the death of the ProTour series in the fourth year of its existence, and also sees the teams siding with ASO in the matter.
These teams announced afterwards that they had reached an agreement with Tour organiser ASO, plus RCS Sport and Unipublic [the organisers of the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España] and would work together to develop a new calendar of cycling. They have requested that the UCI is also involved.
As might be expected, UCI president Pat McQuaid was less than happy with the situation. "The teams and ASO have worked out a calendar between themselves," he told Cyclingnews late on Tuesday evening. "The teams were presented with certain ultimatums within that calendar. For instance, they were told that the 18 teams [sic] that were in the room have a right to ride the Tour de France next year, but if one or two of them don't renew their sponsorship - and there are one or two of them looking for sponsors - then there would only be 17 or 16 who have a right to ride the Tour de France.
"The UCI makes the rules, and both the teams and the other organisers need to understand that." -Pat McQuaid's final answer to the teams and race organisers.
"In other words, if one or two of them [ProTour level teams] don't get new sponsors and the UCI replace them with others - and I am thinking for instance of the Russian team that was announced today - they don't get an automatic right into the Tour de France. So, effectively ASO is making rules to suit themselves. This is part of the calendar that they are trying to impose upon the UCI, but the UCI won't accept that. The UCI makes the rules, and both the teams and the other organisers need to understand that."
McQuaid has argued this point for several months, that the UCI is the governing body in the sport and that the others involved need to be aware of that. However Tuesday's announcement by the teams essentially sees them turn their backs on that, acting together with ASO in what the UCI says is an act of defiance.
Several teams have spoken about their belief that a new system would be proposed. Team Columbia owner Bob Stapleton said as much to Cyclingnews at the start of the Tour de France, and McQuaid said that the UCI saw it coming. "It is not a particular surprise to us that this has happened, following the meeting we had with the teams in Brussels two weeks ago," he admitted. "It proves once again that what we have been saying about ASO's strategy is correct.
"First of all, they take their own races out of the UCI, and now they are encouraging or forcing the teams to go outside the UCI as well," he added. "I think that these teams have a responsibility to the sport and to the future of the sport, and not just themselves at the moment. However they are only thinking purely of their own situation today, and that is a very short-sighted approach."
According to the Irishman, the loss of ProTour status means that he feels some events will disappear off the calendar. He also said that the teams concerned have a responsibility to these races, and that they themselves will revert to being of the same level as many other squads. Long-term, he argues this diminishes their chances of being selected over others.
"Gaining control of professional cycling seems to be the strategy that ASO have been working on," he stated. "Since the ProTour came in, the strategy was to kill the ProTour and then they could take over professional cycling. It is quite clear to anybody looking at it now that that is the case.
"The teams are falling for it. Instead of standing up to ASO and supporting their international federation, they are prepared to support ASO. They are just thinking purely of the money in the short term."
McQuaid warns the teams that as commercial entities, the Grand Tour organisers will not act independently. "This is a rival federation, it is the same thing," he states. "ASO will make the rules. The teams are being very foolish, because they need to operate under an proper independent authority. With this they won't be doing that, they will be operating under a vested interest."
What happens next?
The situation is clearly boiling over and has become more strained than ever before. McQuaid insists that the UCI is the only body entitled to make the calendar of cycling. He implies that teams have a choice to make; choose the ASO/Grand Tour organiser's series of races, or those sanctioned by the UCI. Picking and choosing from both doesn't appear to be an option.
"The UCI will never accept that ASO makes the calendar of cycling within the UCI. If they go outside the UCI as they have done - and we have been saying that they want to make another international federation, a dissident federation – well, they can make their own calendar then and take their own teams. They can do that, but those teams make a choice."
The obvious question is, if the teams decide they are going with the series, will they no longer be allowed to take part in UCI races?
"Exactly," he replied. "That is the obvious ramification of it. We can't accept otherwise. That [the races affected] would include world championships and the Olympics as well. It doesn't include this Olympic Games, this season will continue to the end, but we are talking about [all UCI-sanctioned races] from next year onwards."
There may also be serious implications for national federation most closely linked with ASO. "Bear in mind, we also have the process against the French Federation which is going to come up at Congress in September. This is now added to that process, and goodness know what the Congress is going to think, or what decisions it is liable to take.
"Currently the French Federation is suspended because of Paris-Nice. If there is other stuff on top of that in September, well then a suspension could become a complete exclusion. Congress will decide that."
What's clear is that rather than bringing about an end to the conflict, this agreement appears to have made things worse than before. Time will tell what happens but, as of now, things look bleak.
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'