ProTour storm clouds brewing
By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Chambord
Cyclingnews had a chance to interview Chairman and Managing Director of the Tour de France Patrice Clerc on Wednesday in Chambord. A former director of Roland Garros Tennis (French Open), Clerc is a savvy marketer who has brought focus and structure to the Tour de France since he came on board in 2000. Late last year, the organizers of the three Grand Tours, ASO (Amaury Sports Organization-Tour de France), RCS (Rizzoli-Corriere della Sera-Giro d'Italia) and Unipublic (Vuelta a España) signed a provisional agreement with the Union Cycliste Internationale to allow their races to be included on a one year basis, and that a working group of key race organizers, UCI ProTour and ProTour teams would be formed to address and resolve the key points that have impeded a final agreement to be made.
With the beautiful Chateau de Chambord as backdrop, we asked Clerc if he could update Cyclingews on the status of the negotiations and he was eager to respond, telling us that, "The problem is very simple. We (GT organizers) are still in disagreement with the UCI ProTour on fundamental questions. I think the way that things have been conducted from the beginning are wrong. When you want to enter into a new era, to make a major change in the organization of a sport, you need to have a consensus. Everybody knows that in a consensus, a compromise, you don't get everything you want. And when there are some disagreements, it means you cannot get everything you want. We (GT organisers) cannot get everything we want, and the UCI cannot get everything they want, nor can the teams cannot get everything they want. Either we are part (of the ProTour), and in that case we need to negotiate with the UCI to find a solution. But we see the way that discussions have gone and it's either we are in or we're out. In that case, the answer is obviously, we are out.
We asked Clerc about the possibility of a ProTour without the races of Grand Tour race organizers in 2006 and he frankly replied "Of course, it's always been clear that we have made a special agreement with the UCI for 2005 based on our proposal to study the future in order to find that compromise. I'm sorry to see that at this point, no discussion has been possible. It's very simple; we expected this year to be a year of discussions, to try and find a basis for compromise. And the answer we've gotten from the UCI is that "either you're in or you're out". No discussion is possible when one party takes that stance. We don't want to enter into polemics and a personalization of this argument. The Tour de France does not belong to me; it's a major world event. I'm the one speaking for the Tour de France today, but it could be someone else tomorrow's. It's nonsensical to personalize these issues."
As for the issues, Clerc outlined one key matter. "I think that there is some kind of respect that is due because of the history of this event (TDF) and the others. There are people who have continuously worked on an idea that was born in 1903 since then. We have developed this idea over the years, and professional cycling has been built on those events. Not just on the Tour de France, but many others; Tour of Flanders, Milano-Sanremo, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Giro d'Italia...the history of cycling has been built on the ideas and work of those people, so I don't see why, now, that our voice doesn't count."
Also see: March 25, 2005: An interview with Patrice Clerc - "The ProTour has nothing to do with magic"