2008 Tour de France a national event?
By Hedwig Kröner in Althen-des-Paluds
Those who still doubted that the ongoing battle between the International Cycling Union (UCI) and French race organiser Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) has become an affair of national amplitude, had to realise the scope of the dispute when France's Secretary of State for Sport, Bernard Laporte, visited the Paris-Nice stage race yesterday on its road atop the Mont Ventoux in Provence.
With his presence, he re-iterated the government's support for the race organiser and the French Cycling Federation (FFC), which is letting the race take place under its rule book after the rift between UCI and ASO definitely became too wide in the weeks leading up to the event. On Sunday, all the invited teams and riders were at the start line even though the UCI president Pat McQuaid had threatened them with heavy sanctions if they raced.
Speaking to Cyclingnews after the podium presentation at the finish of stage four, Laporte, the former head coach of the France national rugby team and an outspoken man, described the current situation from his point of view: "Quite simply, the sport has taken his rights back," he said. "I was a rugby player, and I wouldn't have liked it if somebody had prevented me from playing on Sundays. It's the same with the riders: they want to race the competitions that are part of their heritage. Paris-Nice is a renowned competition, and always has been – the riders wanted to ride it, and they came."
Laporte said that he did not have any news from the UCI at this point, even though he had offered his mediation in the conflict. But he insisted the organiser and the French federation only played by the national rules, which allowed them to hold a race outside of the UCI framework. "I only protect the rights of the French cycling federation, which applied its rules," he continued. "I'm ready to be a mediator in the ongoing discord, but under one condition: that the two parties both listen to each other, that we discuss it and find an agreement everybody can adhere to. But the UCI cannot say 'this is how it's going to be and not otherwise' – that's not mediation."
The politician was not afraid to see the ASO and the FFC repeat the same scenario in the short-term future, for races like Paris-Roubaix and even the Tour de France. "I'm ready to protect the riders, the federation and support its president, Jean Pitallier. We only apply our rules, and I don't see what should be wrong with that," he replied when asked whether his stance would be the same further in the season. "There is a law for sports in France, and the federation sticks to it, which is why I support it. If this wasn't the case, believe me, I would insist that they do!"
Laporte also discarded any doubts on French cyclists of all disciplines possibly not taking part in their respective World Championships and Olympic events. "Why should that be so?" he asked in return, confronted with the possibility of the UCI suspending the whole French federation and its riders. "If the French federation made a mistake, then you suspend it. But this is not the case. If there's going to be a disciplinary procedure, it will end in a dismissal, because the federation has not committed an error," he concluded.
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split
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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'
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August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'