Tour de France organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) have hit back in the power struggle with the UCI for control of professional cycling by informing the international governing body that its races will not be part of the UCI’s WorldTour programme in 2017. Instead, ASO’s races, which include the Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and the Vuelta a Espana, will be listed in the lower HC category, which are not affected by the more stringent WorldTour rules.
ASO and the UCI have been butting heads recently over the proposed reforms for the WorldTour, which are due to be introduced in 2017.
The French race organiser’s stance is a clear threat to Brian Cookson’s role of UCI President and the reform process he has supported. It could also weaken his role as head of the sport and his chances of being elected for a second term as UCI President in 2017.
The power struggle will also divide the teams and other race organisers. The French teams have generally supported ASO, while the Velon teams have backed the UCI. RCS Sport, which organises the Giro d’Italia, has also backed the reforms and tried hard to find consensus between the ASO, the UCI and Velon. The uncertainty of a drawn out dispute and question around the future of professional cycling could also cause potential sponsors to decide not to invest in professional cycling.
ASO has threatened to pull its races from the calendar on several occasions but this is the first time that they have made their position public.
“Amaury Sport Organisation has informed this day Union Cycliste Internationale it has opted for the registration of its events on the Hors Classe (HC) calendar for season 2017,” a statement emailed to the press on Friday morning said.
“UCI has actually recently adopted, from season 2017, a Reform of the World Tour calendar characterized by a closed sport system.
“More than ever, A.S.O. remains committed to the European model and cannot compromise the values it represents: an open system giving first priority to the sporting criterion.
“It is therefore in this new context and within its historical events that A.S.O. will continue to keep these values alive.”
ASO’s sporting criterion include a form of relegation and promotion in the WorldTour and they fear the growing importance of Velon – the business group of 12 of the leading WorldTour teams. ASO has participated in the long discussions about the reforms but is in a position to dominate the sport due to the importance of the Tour de France. They were against the reforms produced by the UCI, even though they were approved by the stakeholders, the UCI’s Professional Cycling Council and the UCI’s Management Committee. After staying silent during the recent UCI Seminar, ASO has now responded.
The WorldTour reforms are due to come into effect in 2017. Teams and races will be awarded three-year licences, which would create a more closed system, with new races being considered for an enlarged WorldTour calendar. ASO rejected the previous proposals in July of this year, concerned that the changes would weaken their position as the biggest race organiser. They prefer a previous reform process that was created during Pat McQuaid’s terms of UCI President and aimed to reduce the number of WorldTour races.
The Tour de France will remain as part of the WorldTour in 2016 and will thus be required to invite all 18 WorldTour teams. However, that would change in 2017 as the HC status will allow race organisers more freedom in deciding which teams to invite. It could mean that WorldTour teams that don’t prove themselves in races or who fall out with ASO because of links to Velon, could miss out on a spot in the biggest race on the calendar. The same is true for their other important races such as the Vuelta a Espana, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege.