The anticipated first meeting between UCI President Brian Cookson and Tour de France race director Christian Prudhomme since Amaury Sport Organisation's (ASO) decision to withdraw its events from the WorldTour calendar from 2017 will have to wait a little longer, with the latter's trip to Australia cancelled. ASO organises the Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Vuelta a Espana and several other big races on the calendar.
In a press conference with the media on the morning of the Tour Down Under's queen stage, Cookson touched upon several topics regarding the UCI's WorldTour reforms. Cookson spoke of negotiating with ASO, expanding the WorldTour calendar and team license applications among several other topics.
Negotiations with ASO
I am reluctant to say too much because I don’t want to negotiate through the media. I think it was a surprise and a disappointment that after two year of talking, of consensus building, partnership building, of compromise in many directions all the different diverse stakeholders in our sport, one major player decided they didn’t want to be part of it, that’s all a bit disappointing. I am not sure how much movement potential there is in any of the directions they are unhappy about. I don’t think it's unreasonable, the set of proposals. The teams haven’t got everything they wanted but when I sit down with the other organisers and they tell me that again they are generally quite happy with the way forward, clearly the ASO feel their interested are threatened. I don’t want to threaten those interests.
There is no proposal to change any of the criteria, any of the rights, no one is trying to take their rights away from them, no one is proposing to share their profits or anything like that but we have to grow this cake and use the same analogy that I’ve been using for the past two years that pro cycling is a pretty small cake. ASO have the majotiry of the slices and we got to find a way to make that cake bigger so everyone gets a slice and do that without taking any of the cake away from ASO … they I think could grow and develop and benefit from a more global approach, the most sustainable economy for professional cycling. In one sense they are already doing that with their events like the Arctic Race of Norway, the Tour de Yorkshire and so on. I think we can work together. I think we can collaborate effectively to everyone’s benefit but this, ‘I am taking my football home with me because I don’t like the way you’re playing the game’ is not helpful to anybody.
I think there are a lot of good people in the ASO who want to work with the UCI, want to work with other organisers, want to work with teams and I am sure, with goodwill, that we can find a solution that works for everybody.
Meeting with Christian Prudhomme at the Tour Down Under
I was hoping that Christian Prudhomme might be here this week and we might have an informal chat, nothing too structured and so on but apparently his travel plans have changed. I get on fine with Christian Prudhomme and most of the people at ASO and I am hopeful that we will find a resolution.
I don’t think they are afraid to talk to me or anyone at the UCI. I think these things happen from time to time and lets not put too much onto that.
A WorldTour without ASO races
I think it's regrettable that ASO are not being cooperative with the new plans at the moment. I am hopeful that in the year before the threat to withdraw their events that we can find a solution that works for them, and works for everybody else. I am not about to enter into a war with ASO. I think we’ve been down that road before and we spent that last two years speaking very intensely with the ASO and with all the other stakeholders. I think that the seat of proposals that we have is usually radically but they are a step forward in the right direction and proposals that most of the other stakeholder are happy with. I think ASO can be perhaps persuaded, perhaps be talked to, perhaps we can find some grounds for movement in one direction or another. I am not ruling anything out or anything in at the moment.
It’s not impossible to run the WorldTour without ASO’s events but of course they are some of the biggest and best events, so it's regrettable if they would not be part of it so we do want them to be part of it.
Expansion of the WorldTour calendar
What we’ve decided, if you recall the original proposals from a couple of years ago, there was going to be less races and less racing days and so on. That was a real challenge for the existing organisers. One of the things I can’t really understand is why the Vuelta, for instance, are objecting to the new proposals because in the original proposals they were more or less forced to go down to two weeks, which they said they didn’t want to do. I know why because obviously they’re part of the ASO ownership now but equally, I think the principle has to be … the original idea was to have the best riders in the best events all the time every week throughout the season. Well, that’s a difficult concept to apply to our sport because who are the best riders? In the days of Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault winning Paris-Roubaix and the Tour are I think long gone and I don’t think we are going to see that any more.
What we can see is that as long are they aren’t two WorldTour events on at any moment, then I think we can survive with a number of overlaps and then natural forces will allow events like the Tour of Turkey for instance to emerge and grow and to come into the WorldTour when they are ready. They may need to look at changing the number of days and dates in the calendar and so on. Trying to get that balance between defending the wonderful heritage of our sport and events like the grand tours and monuments and so on, and finding ways of incorporating an event like this, the Tour Down Under, and other events that have aspirants to be part of the highest level of our sport is a challenge.
I don’t think we’ll meet that challenge by reducing the number of days and number of opportunities, I think we need to mange that process and make sure that the teams have the recourses to participate and by and large. I am not talking about new events that they are not taking part in already. I am talking about events like Turkey that they are already going to and managing that process a bit more effectively and controlling it a bit more effectively is part of what we are trying to do with the reform process.
On recent doping scandals in world sport
I observe what’s happening in other sports and I don’t want to be complacent in anyway but I think we are a year or two ahead of some sports in the way we’ve had to deal with the crisis in our sport. I’ve said many times in the past that there are two groups of sport, there are sport with a doping problem and are doing something about it and I think we are in the lead in that position, and then there are sport that have a doping issue and are in denial about it. Sooner or later, those sports are having to deal with those issues. We’ve seen that in the last few months.
If I can help advise any other sport, I am more than happy to do so. I am also more than happy to focus on our sport and do what I think is right. We’ve made group progress with the CIRC report, we’ve thrown ourselves open to independent scrutiny, we’ve established independent impartial processes so there is no conflict of interest anymore between developing and managing the sport and disciplining the sport. Particularly in this most important way in respect to doping. I don’t know, we could have an anti-doping violation by a top rider tomorrow and I wouldn’t know about until a couple of hours before you guys know about it so that’s only so I won’t be wrong footed by you guys asking me a question about something I don’t know anything about. I don’t get involved in the detail handling of doping cases any longer in the way my predecessors used to. I think that’s’ a really good and important step forward.
Team license applications
What we are trying to encourage is for the teams to have greater financial stability so in most cases now we can get the teams [with] the equation is the other way around. They are coming in and asking for a longer-term commitment. If they only have a two-year guarantee from their sponsors then that’s something the licence commission will take into account when they are assessing their suitability to continue in the WorldTour or to join the WorldTour, or indeed to join the Professional Continental.
All of those thing are assessed by the panel and the message we’ve been getting loud and clear from the teams is that one year is a recipe for weakness and instability and difficulties for the teams. Three-year licence is still not a big deal, they have to be assessed on a yearly basis for economic vitality, for ethical criteria and sporting criteria as well. I don’t think it’s that big a deal but clearly this is something that ASO have been challenged by.
Future of the Tour Down Under
One of the reasons we spent two more years talking about all the reform proposals, the original proposals were very problematic in their respects. One of them was, the Tour Down Under for instance would really be difficult to move its dates as it fits in with school holidays and so on. I think we have to be flexible and recognise the success of this event. The Tour Down Under is a great event, it’s a great way to start the WorldTour every year and if that means that we start the WorldTour at the end of January than the beginning of February I think we can do that. I think we have to do that.
The possibility of the WorldTour returning to China
We are talking to potential organisers of events in China and elsewhere and we will be going through a process in the next 12 months to look at events that could be brought into the WorldTour if not next year then the year’s after that. One of he things we are trying to do is to get a graduated solution so that events just don’t come from nowhere and suddenly have a place in the WorldTour but events have to go through the system and show that they are capable of surviving and producing an event at the highest level and this is something we are looking at. I envisage that China will have WorldTour events at some point and hopefully in the near future.
I think the Tour of Qinghai Lake is a great race. It's been developing over many years and this something that we want to encourage so I am not making a commitment to any one race here today, but the principle of establishing a race and growing it and making it a successes and I think that’s well demonstrated by that event and it's something that I hope we can encourage in others as well.