"What they are doing is completely hypocritical"
By Shane Stokes
Speaking to Cyclingnews from the World Cup track meet in Manchester over the weekend, UCI President Pat McQuaid has suggested that the UCI will block the proposed introduction of the Trophy of the Grand Tours in 2006.
News of the three race series came in Friday's press release from ASO, RCS and Unipublic, the organisers of the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España, who said that they would withdraw their 11 races from the ProTour with immediate effect. They announced that the return of their races to the international calendar would coincide with the introduction of the Trophy of the Grand Tours, a €2 million contest designed to encourage teams' participation in each of cycling's three week stage races.
Following on from suggestions in the UCI's own communiqué on Friday that the series would not be considered until 2007, Cyclingnews sought to clarify the governing body's position. When asked if he envisaged it coming in next year as planned, McQuaid was direct in his response. "Absolutely not, absolutely not," he replied, stating that the UCI has the power to stop the series. "According to our rules and regulations we can [block it], yes."
McQuaid said that Friday's announcement was a regrettable one for the sport. "I think the decision is something which could be very bad for cycling and runs the risk of causing some very deep divisions within the sport," he stated. "It is also a very hypocritical one. They [the Grand Tour organisers] claimed that they couldn't enter the ProTour because they said it was run like an American-style system. Yet is there anything more American than what they have just done, putting a load of dollars on the table to buy the teams' participation?
"They said that because of ethics, they couldn't accept the licensing situation as we had proposed. That's to say, a system whereby the licensing commission would look into the four or five different parameters which we gave them to gauge whether a team should get into the ProTour or not. Those parameters include the strength of their administration, their sporting strength and their financial background, such as having a sponsor with a four-year contract signed up. But they wouldn't accept that. They said that it was against the ethics of sporting rules, that it should be based on sporting merit and there should be a system of promotion and relegation.
"So they don't accept those things on the basis of their ethics, yet they throw all of that out the window and, purely for the sake of money, they want to buy the teams in. That is what it is all about, nothing else - buying the teams in by giving them money. I think what they are doing is completely hypocritical and so, from that point of view, I can't accept it. We [the UCI] will have to reflect on it."
McQuaid said that the ProTour Council was originally due to meet next on March 17th, but that this will now be moved to a date early in the new year in order to determine the next step forward.
"The UCI will reflect on this decision, as will the teams. We haven't talked directly to them yet, but the AIGCP put out something [on Saturday] which basically states that they have studied the situation, they note that there is no change for 2006, and for beyond 2006, they will have to call a meeting of their members to decide."
A longer interview with Pat McQuaid will follow on Cyclingnews this week.