By Daniel Benson with additional reporting by Laura Weislo
Coming on the back of the International Cycling Union's (UCI) decision to possibly exclude teams from starting Paris-Nice if they fail to pay the 120,000 euro fee for entry into the biological passport, Quick Step's Patrick Lefevere appeared in defiant mood when he spoke to Cyclingnews. The Belgian outfit is one of the five teams, along with Cofidis, Bbox Bouygues Telecom, Silence-Lotto and Caisse d'Epargne who face the possible exclusion from Paris-Nice, which starts Sunday.
"I don't like this kind of blackmail from the UCI and Pat McQuaid. I don't accept blackmail from anyone, McQuaid, ASO, not even Osama bin Laden!" Lefevere told Cyclingnews.
The team manager has been critical of the UCI in the past during their spat with Tour de France organisers ASO and said this decision had left him frustrated. "The UCI's tone is completely wrong in these circumstances. We've already paid 30,000 euro and proposed that we pay outstanding amount in installments. The next one being on April 1st and then another in July. What business pays for something in advance like this?"
Lefevere was also willing to take the matter to a higher body if a twelfth hour resolution could not be met. "I have no problems with taking this to the courts to seek damages if we're not allowed to race tomorrow [sic]. The UCI can't turn around two days before the race and blackmail us like this, not with all the delays and problems they've had with the biological passport in the past. We'll be turning up for the race tomorrow, you can count on that."
Vaughters lends his support
Lefevere, a former president of the International Association of Professional Cycling teams (AIGCP), received support from Jonathan Vaughters, who assumed the leadership role in that organisation this year.
Vaughters was confident that the teams and UCI would come to an agreement prior to the start of Sunday's race. "I'm confident that the five teams listed by the UCI are completely supportive in spirit and in finance of the biological passport. They all take part in the program, all have had their athletes tested multiple times, and all are fully invested in the total execution of the biological passport.
"I am also 100% sure their financial situations with the UCI will be resolved by the start of Paris-Nice."
Vaughters agreed that the teams need to be given leeway to make their contributions for the passport program as they can afford to. "In these difficult times, financial flexibility is something everyone in cycling will need to have. Hopefully, in the future, the AIGCP and the UCI will be able to negotiate payments plans acceptable for everyone far in advance of deadlines so these situations don't become a controversial matter."
(Note, as of Friday evening, all teams have paid. Stay tuned for First Edition news for the full story.)