UCI president Brian Cookson has queried the thinking behind Tour de France organiser ASO’s decision to withdraw its races from the WorldTour in 2017, pointing out that UCI rules stipulate a maximum distance of 200 kilometres for non-WorldTour races.
ASO announced on Friday that it would register its events, including the Tour, Vuelta a España, Paris-Roubaix and Liège-Bastogne-Liège, as HC races in 2017 in protest at the UCI’s proposed reforms of the WorldTour system.
The move would allow ASO greater control over which teams are invited to its events, but in an interview with the Guardian on Wednesday, Cookson highlighted a drawback to the ASO plan.
“I don’t think their move is a helpful one and I wonder if they’ve thought it through properly,” Cookson told the Guardian. “Have they looked at all the rules? The maximum distance for HC events is 200km, so are they going to shorten Paris-Roubaix or the longer Tour stages? They can’t pick and choose which rules apply to them if they want to be part of the sport.”
ASO and the UCI have been at loggerheads over the WorldTour system at various points since its inception in 2005, most notably during the 2008 season, when the Tour de France and Paris-Nice were organised under the aegis of the French Federation rather than the UCI.
Cookson pledged to forge a better working relationship with ASO and other stakeholders when he succeeded Pat McQuaid as president in September 2013, and he said that the lines of communication would remain open in a bid to end the impasse.
“I was elected to stop conflict in the sport and I will keep talking. With discipline and diplomacy we can sort the problem. I don’t want to get into a war with ASO but if they want to be part of the development of cycling they need to think about their place in it,” Cookson said.
Among ASO’s objections to the WorldTour reforms are plans to create new WorldTour races and to award three-year licences to teams, which ASO says would create a closed system. Cookson said that the reforms were not an attempt to detract from the Tour de France or its economic might.
“It’s not that radical,” Cookson said of the reforms. “The Tour de France will always be the greatest race in the cycling firmament but there has to be potential for other races to come into the WorldTour. Perhaps ASO won’t organise all the new events, but we want to make everyone economically stronger, not just one private company. No one is trying to damage them, we are trying to grow the sport around them.”
Cookson also responded to former UCI president Hein Verbruggen’s claim that the governing body had agreed a settlement of 40,000 Swiss Francs after he had taken legal action to challenge the findings of the Cycling Independent Reform Commission report. He said that the UCI had been willing to make “a small gesture of goodwill but not 40,000 Swiss francs” and that no payment of any kind has been made as Verbruggen had since violated the agreement.
“We have evidence that he was involving himself in UCI politics, and as far as I’m concerned the agreement is null and void. We haven’t paid any money. Absolutely not,” said Cookson, who added that Verbruggen’s hold on the title of honorary president of the UCI was of no consequence.
“He may hold the position but it is a meaningless title. It’s not in my gift to remove it. He doesn’t receive UCI papers, and he doesn’t have access to UCI papers. He has no influence on the UCI and he will continue not to do so as long as I remain UCI president.”