With talk of being sold out by the IPCT, weakness on the part of the UCI, legal action, a cartel rivalling the ProTour and a monetary interest by Grand Tour organisers in preserving the wildcard system, Unibet's Koen Terryn was taking no prisoners when he talked to Cyclingnews' Shane Stokes on two occasions last week. Unhappy with the way his squad has been treated, he, the team and its lawyers are now fighting for their place in ProTour events and their very future in the sport.
The Unibet.com team worked hard last season to get a ProTour licence, buying new riders, making changes to the management and increasing their annual budget from four to ten million euro per year. Speculation built last autumn that they were certain to get a licence and in the middle of December, that pass to the ProTour was issued by the UCI.
However, in spite of all that effort, the team has yet to see any return for its investment. The first race in the top-ranking series, the Paris-Nice, will begin on Sunday, but Unibet's fast-track court action ended in failure, and the Swedish-registered squad will miss the start. They have also been left off the start list for Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro d'Italia, although it remains to be seen whether that could change as a result of the recent UCI – Grand Tour organisers' agreement.
According to a team press release issued on Saturday, Friday's decision was taken due to a law passed in France back in 1836 which essentially protects a state monopoly on gambling. Unibet.com and the team's former backer MrBookmaker.com previously competed on French soil without any problems, but this year it has become an issue. To get around this, the team used non-branded jerseys – as did the Boule d'Or team over two decades ago - yet, despite being told by the police that these complied with the law, the latest court action has turned that situation around.
In a week when a similar monopoly in Italy was ruled illegal by the European Court of Justice, prompting speculation that such protectionism could soon be phased out due to actions being taken by the European Commission, the team was not impressed with the turn of events.