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13 major teams plotting a commercial transformation of the sport
Cyclingnews has discovered that 13 of professional cycling's leading WorldTour teams are working together to redesign and revolutionise the structure of the sport, with the aim of introducing a more commercial management structure and so boost revenue.
The project has remained a secret until now but has been dubbed 'Project Avignon' after the first meeting was held in the French city on the second rest day of the 2013 Tour de France.
Several sources, who did not want to be identified because they are part of or linked to Project Avignon told Cyclingnews that other meetings have been held, including on the day of the Tour de France route presentation last October in Paris.
Three working groups have been formed to look at the sporting, commercial and organizational aspects of a new structure for professional cycling. It seems that ethics, credibility and the fight against doping are also considered important parts of the project.
Project Avignon replaces plans for the so-called World Series Cycling breakaway league that were proposed to teams by businessman Jonathan Price. It seems the leading teams have terminated that project and are keen to directly control of any shake-up of professional cycling.
Other sports have undergone similar, commercial transformations in the past, creating commercially driven franchises: the English Premier football league is one example, as is ATP in men's professional tennis, Formula 1 motor racing and the NBA Basketball league in the USA.
Cyclingnews understands that the 13 teams who are involved in the project are: Belkin, BMC, Cannondale, Garmin-Sharp, Lampre-Merida, Lotto Belisol, Movistar, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Orica-GreenEdge, Giant-Shimano, Team Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo and Trek Factory Racing.
The teams currently not involved are Ag2r-La Mondiale, Astana, FDJ.fr, Europcar and Katusha.
No war with ASO
While Tinkoff-Saxo team owner Oleg Tinkov recently told Cyclingnews that he is ready to boycott the Tour de France unless organiser ASO gives teams a share of television revenue, the teams involved in Project Avignon are trying to work around ASO's dominance of the sport.
Instead of demanding a slice of the television revenue cake, the Avignon Project's goal is to make the cake bigger for everyone involved. They hope that a restructuring of the sport will allow for the creation of new races and so provide new sources of revenue for the teams and shareholders in the project.
The UCI's involvement?
Cyclingnews understands that the UCI is aware of Project Avignon.
A major restructuring of professional cycling would result in the UCI having less direct control on the sport but the sport's international governing body could possibly become a shareholder in the final project, share in other benefits, or see the UCI-owned world road race championships given a special place in the project.
The UCI and new president Brian Cookson is already working with the teams to create a smooth, limited-conflict transition to a new structure for professional racing that will begin to take effect from 2015. Cyclingnews understands that several representatives of Project Avignon attended a meeting concerning the reforms to the UCI WorldTour in Geneva on Monday.
Details of exactly how Project Avignon would change professional cycling have still to be thrashed out. Any new structure and ownership appears unlikely before 2017 because several major races have WorldTour licences until the 2016. However a major shake-up of the race calendar and the sporting and business structure of professional cycling is underway.