The UCI's ProTour series appears to be officially dead after all 17 teams at the Tour de France decided to leave the series and not renew their licences next season. The agreement was reached at a meeting between the teams and the three Grand Tour organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), RCS Sport and Unipublic during the Tour's rest day in Pau. The UCI was not present at the meeting.
"It has been decided unanimously not to renew the ProTour licences for the 2009 season," read a joint statement from the teams.
The teams indicated that they would form a new alliance with the three Grand Tour organisers to come up with a new structure to replace the failed ProTour concept. "The teams are working to develop a new system of organisation of professional cycling," the statement added.
The team managers were tight-lipped about the details of the new system, but Team Columbia's Bob Stapleton told Cyclingnews, "There is a good union in the sport to make progress amongst those teams," he said of the 17 soon to be former ProTour squads."I think there is finally a need to cooperate to make changes in the sport."
He said that an official statement would be released "at the right time". Stapleton observed that due to the split between the Grand Tour organisers and the sport's governing body, "one way to maintain a balance is to see the teams working together". He said that the Tour was a good time to have the initial meeting, and that the new structure for cycling will evolve over the next few months.
Stapleton confirmed that the meeting had been scheduled for some time. The need to find a solution arose out of the conflict between the Grand Tour organisers and the UCI. The disagreement over the ProTour led the Tour organiser, ASO, to hold the race outside the governance of the UCI this year, and under the French Cycling Federation (FFC) instead.
"We have groups that have historically haven't worked together now working together," said Stapleton of the recent metting. "There are several groups that have tried to join together in the past - the MPCC [Mouvement pour un Cyclisme Crédible or Movement For Credible Cycling, mainly French and German teams -ed.], and the AIGCP [Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels] - this is a progression but we need a body that represents all of the sport and not individual bodies."
The political crisis between the sport's power brokers has twice threatened the start of the season at Paris-Nice. Last year the ASO refused to invite the ProTour team Unibet.com in a move which highlighted the organisers' main problem with the ProTour - that they were required to invite every team with a ProTour license.
This year, the ASO refused to invite the ProTour team Astana to its races, and rather than repeat the battle of 2007, it also decided to run the race under the FFC, which led the UCI to threaten sanctions against riders and to suspend the FFC.
The only ProTour team not present at the Tour de France, Astana, is also expected to leave the ProTour. "If everybody decides so, I can't imagine Astana will not follow," Astana chief press officer Philippe Maertens told Reuters.
UCI President Pat McQuaid told Reuters that all the teams could face exclusion from the UCI. "We'll deal with that according to the regulations," said McQuaid. "They face exclusion from the international federation. It is something we are going to discuss."
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'