ASO's Unibet.com snub expands to Belgian events as Tour nears

When Unibet.com was left off the invitation list for the Dauphiné Libéré earlier this month, the...

When Unibet.com was left off the invitation list for the Dauphiné Libéré earlier this month, the team's directeur sportif Hilaire Van der Schuere asked Sportwereld: "Will we thus also get turned down for the Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Tour [de France]?"

Just a week later, two of those three fears have been realised, with French race organiser Amaury Sport Organisation snubbing the Swedish registered ProTour team for Liège-Bastogne-Liège and La Flèche Wallonne, according to an AFP report.

ASO, which also organizes the Tour de France, has maintained its stance against Unibet.com, saying that the squad's sponsor, an online gaming company, violates French law. The company has said that by inviting the squad to participate it would be breaking French law and could be charged for doing so.

While Liège-Bastogne-Liège and La Flèche Wallonne are on Belgian soil, ASO has outlined that the European nation has similar laws to France and for this reason it is again prohibited from inviting the squad. The news comes after Belgian national lottery Lotto announced last month it would take legal action against Unibet.com.

"We have a monopoly on Belgian gambling," a spokesperson for the national lottery told Tuttobiciweb.com last month. "Unibet is not authorized to develop its business, nor publicize it in Belgium. From here begins the problems of Unibet.com."

ASO has held firm on its stance, despite Unibet.com providing alternatives such as the now famous unbranded question mark jersey it ran on French soil earlier this year. While the squad has contested events on French soil in Unibet.com branding in years gone by, a French court recently upheld ASO's decision not to invite the squad to participate in the Paris-Roubaix under a law passed in 1836 which protects the state's monopoly on gambling.

This latest decision by ASO is likely to further anger team director Jacques Hanegraaf, who said after the Dauphiné Libéré, organised by the Le Dauphiné Libéré newspaper, announcement: "This cannot go on. I expect action from the UCI."

Having paid the multi-million Euro bond to become a ProTour team, Unibet.com is entitled, in theory, an invite to every round of the ProTour. Instead, it has been left out of Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Paris-Roubaix, Dauphiné and now Flèche Wallonne and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.

If ASO continues to follow precedent, Unibet.com could well be forced to watch as its rivals contest the jewel in cycling's crown, July's Tour de France.

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