With ten days to go before the start of Paris-Nice, the ongoing divide between the Grand Tour organisers and the UCI may well have the most serious consequences on the road cycling reform and its calendar. One day prior to the meeting of the IPCT, the interest group of the ProTour teams, Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner reached ASO president Patrice Clerc in his Paris office and was able to ask him the ultimate question: Were the reports true that participation in Paris-Nice would determine the inclusion of the teams in the other ASO-organised events, such as the Tour de France?
Clerc's point of view was not one of putting pressure on the teams to stand by the Grand Tour organisers; he rather explained that the current situation of Paris-Nice could be repeating itself over and over at all 11 races that the Grand Tour managers ASO, RCS Sport and Unipublic organise. Because of the current deadlock of negotiations with the UCI, it seemed only logical to Clerc that the world governing body of cycling would prohibit the ProTour teams from racing at their events throughout the season, thereby putting an end to the ProTour itself.
"All the 18 teams we had invited have confirmed that they wanted to participate in Paris-Nice," he explained. "Remember, in December we said that they weren't obliged to do so. Now, until two weeks ago, all the teams had their participation confirmed. But if certain teams do not want to participate in Paris-Nice anymore today, they have to explain themselves.
"If this is because of budget reasons, or a change of strategy of the sponsor, we could examine this, and understand. But if the reason is that they obey to a boycott of the UCI, I don't see why this would be different with regard to the other races that we organise. If they decide not to race Paris-Nice, because they've been told to boycott our competitions, then this applies to all of our races. Why one and not the other?
"Now, had a team said in the beginning that Paris-Nice was not included in their racing programme, I would have accepted that," Clerc continued. "They could have chosen their schedule and said, 'We're not coming to Paris-Nice, neither to Paris-Roubaix, but we want to do Liège-Bastogne-Liège' - fine, no problem! But as all the teams first said they were coming to Paris-Nice, and now all of a sudden they're saying they can't come because they've been prohibited to do so - let's be logical: then they will be prohibited to do so for the Tour de France as well!"
When asked how many teams recently reaffirmed that they were going to be at the start of Paris-Nice in Issy-les-Moulineaux (ASO headquarters) on March 11, Clerc replied, "Many. Those who have reiterated their presence have sent the signal that they will be there. But as for the others, that doesn't mean that they won't be there!"
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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'