By Hedwig Kröner
ASO president Patrice Clerc has stated his organisation will not disregard French law in order to invite Unibet.com to contest its events. Clerc's comments come one day after the emergency meeting that gathered the representatives of the Grand Tour organisers, the UCI and the ProTour teams around a table to find a solution to the conflict that has been growing since the world governing body of cycling launched the pro cycling reform three years ago.
The question of the greatest cycling races' involvement within the ProTour series has by far not been solved, but for now, the 2007 top-level racing calendar has been saved, and will go ahead as planned - the only 'collateral damage' being ProTour team Unibet.com, which might not be able to race all events despite its ProTour licence.
"We will examine [Unibet's] candidacy closely," Clerc told AFP. "Like Astana, it is part of the teams at the top of the basket. But Unibet confronts us with an additional problem with regard to French law. As long as the team is outlawed [on French soil], we are prohibited to consider its candidacy. If it isn't anymore, as a consequence of a special authorization of some ministry, for example, we would consider inviting it."
Paris-Nice and Tour de France organiser ASO is wary of legal consequences an invitation of Unibet could have for the company. Just a few weeks ago, Etoile de Bessèges organiser Rolland Fangille was fined 4,500 euro and given a suspended prison sentence for letting Unibet.com riders take the start of one stage wearing their official team kit.
Asked if Unibet would be able to participate in the Tour de France, Clerc replied: "If I refer to the current state of French legislation, it won't be easy because of its sponsor and its team jersey. To advertise, directly or indirectly, an activity assimilated to illegal lottery is against the law. I won't risk putting ASO in conflict with the law."
As for the planned efforts to come to a final resolution of the conflict in Autumn, Clerc didn't expect to find a solution to all the problems. "I hope that we will find a consensual platform which will enable us to build something that will last," he said. "To say it with Patrick Lefevere's words, we have to come to a situation 'that we can live with'. To take the time to create a good system - because the damage done these last two-three years is considerable."
While the ASO president still had doubts about his adversaries at the UCI, the 'peace talks' on Monday were seen as urgent in a battle that to some observers had lost all common sense, jeopardizing the image of cycling in the same way as the recurrent doping affairs. "I note that all the participants of the meeting gave their agreement for discussion," Clerc said. "Nobody can believe that we will embrace each other after all that has happened. I have a great mistrust, but we will try to discuss things. It is not out of conviction that we met again, but out of reason."