By Hedwig Kröner
The French cycling community is outraged. Since receiving the letter from the UCI, telling them of strong sanctions if they choose to participate in the upcoming Paris-Nice, riders of all cycling disciplines are frightened they might not be able to race their respective World Championships or Olympic event. The consequences of the French cycling federation sanctioning the race could lead to track, mountain bike and BMX riders getting sidelined from the prestigious international competitions.
"For French riders the position of the French Federation (FFC) will also be relevant," UCI president Pat McQuaid stated in his e-mail to the riders. "Proceedings will be opened against the FFC for its collusion in the affair and if the FFC is suspended this may also have ramifications for French rider's participation in events."
Currently preparing for the Track Worlds in Manchester, which will be held from March 26-30, French sprinters could not believe the fight between the UCI and Grand Tour organiser ASO would also take them hostage. "It's crazy to think that the UCI can imagine stopping athletes from competition to obtain what it wants. If that was the case, it would be very grave. We would be very far away from the principles of the sport," said French team coach Florian Rousseau to L'Equipe on Wednesday. The Olympic Gold medallist knows very well that the Manchester Worlds also count for Olympic qualification, and both events could now be held without the French trackies.
"If they want to prohibit us from going to the Olympics, it will become a state affair. But being an optimist by nature, I tell myself that it's not possible. Maybe I'm wrong..." Rousseau added.
Sprinter Grégory Baugé was also astounded at the news. "The UCI might have the means to do what it says it will, but we will have to wait for the reaction of the IOC (International Olympic Committee). They're trying to disturb us, it's not good. For the moment, I try not to worry too much. We have nothing to do with this, there are other ways to solve these problems," he commented.
Four time mountain bike World Champion and Olympic medallist Julien Absalon received the news while at his Orbea team's presentation in San Sebastian, Spain. "Personally, it's inconceivable not to go to the Worlds and the Olympics," Absalon said. "We're talking about months, years of preparation that they want to sacrifice for their personal interests. It's another stupid reaction of the UCI – this whole story is getting more and more stupid! One more time, the riders are being held hostage; it's enough! The core of the problem is not a sporting one, it's political."
Meanwhile, the president of the French federation Jean Pitallier also seems to be caught between the two opposed parties, and said he could not stop the race from taking place, even if he wanted to. "I can't change the position I am in," Pitallier said. "I have to conform to the texts of the sports code which oblige me to give ASO an authorisation [to take place], since the event is in line with sporting and technical criteria. I don't have any elements on hand to prohibit the race, or else ASO can sue me. I just hope that common sense will take over again. It's madness to suspend 160 riders. And to extend this onto other disciplines is not tolerable. It's playing with the nerves of the athletes."
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