By Gerard Knapp
The directeur sportif of the Discovery Channel team, John Bruyneel, has urged the organisers of cycling's three Grand Tours to reconsider their opposition to the fledgling ProTour concept as promoted by the International Cycling Union (UCI).
In an interview with Cyclingnews, Bruyneel said, "the teams and riders are the main actors of cycling. We have made huge sacrifices to be part of the ProTour; invested more money, more staff, more riders, changes in the schedule, changed our goals, and nobody has complained.
"I think everybody is happy with the way it went. Unfortunately, the Grand Tours have not been doing the same thing, that is where the resistance comes from. I just think that cycling cannot be done without riders and teams and I hope that finally they will start to understand that."
In 2005, the Grand Tours - the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta España - were all part of the UCI's ProTour, but not this year. The UCI's ProTour concept was rocked in December 9 last year by the withdrawal by the organizers of the Grand Tours. Further, the organizers also withdrew eight other major races, namely Paris Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Paris-Tours and the Tour of Lombardy.
The withdrawal virtually gutted the ProTour of its key events, so an agreement with the organizers of these events is seen as critical to the future of the UCI's concept. However, the races are owned by three large European companies - ASO, RCS and Unipublic - that have successfully developed their properties without any kind of umbrella structure. They are firm in their opposition to any form of controlling structure imposed by the UCI.
The next step in the process is a meeting to be held in less than three weeks in Switzerland, where the UCI will meet with representatives of these companies (see report).
Bruyneel's comments are not entirely unexpected, as the world's leading teams once again reiterated their support for the ProTour concept at another UCI meeting held on January 18 this year.
At this meeting, a market research firm gave a presentation that was said to describe the potential commercial benefits to cycling if the world's major races join the ProTour. But it's expected that the UCI may need more than a slick AV presentation to win them over.
As Bruyneel said, "I think every new system has to be open for modification. And it is open for modification."
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split
October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
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'
August 18, 2008 - Feedback on 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'