By Shane Stokes
The ProTour vs. Grand Tours battle has reached a critical juncture this week.The UCI and ASO have taken unwavering stances regarding the first event in the series, Paris-Nice, with the UCI forbidding ProTour teams from taking part in what is now a national event, and the ASO responding by suggesting in the Die Telegraaf newspaper that non-participation could cost a team its place in the Tour de France.
On Friday, the International Professional Cycling Teams (IPCT), will meet in Brussels in order to discuss the situation and decide what course of action to take. What they decide could have huge implications for the upcoming season.
Although a few, mainly French, ProTour teams have said that they intend riding Paris Nice, (prompting the UCI to issue a letter of warning to them), the governing body knows that if the majority of the teams stand united and decide to back Unibet.com and the ProTour series, the IPCT will have huge leverage against ASO and the other Grand Tour organisers.
UCI President Pat McQuaid has said that he can already count on the support of six teams, having reportedly got their backing at an impromptu meeting at the Tour of California. However, if the teams decide en masse to back ASO, that will make things extremely difficult for the UCI.
The Irishman told Cyclingnews on Thursday afternoon that the ball is now in the court of those teams, who paid out large sums of money to be part of the top ranked series. "It is up to them to decide what they want to do. At the end of the day it is their ProTour. We have been defending their interests, defending everybody who follows the rules, which is what our job is to do. At this point in time, it is up to the teams to decide what they want to do.
"We don't know what way it will go; I don't think anybody does," he stated.
When asked for his response to the Dutch newspaper Die Telegraaf's story [prior to publication of Cyclingnews' interview with ASO's Patrice Clerc] UCI President Pat McQuaid stated that he was unimpressed by the stance taken in the paper, saying that it is tantamount to an effort to blackmail teams into submission. "Once again, ASO is abusing the position that it has," he said. "It is using the dominant position of the Tour de France to try to force teams into Paris-Nice.
"The race is no longer on the UCI calendar, it is on the French calendar and the regulations say that ProTour and Continental Professional teams cannot ride national events. They [ASO] are trying to lever teams in other ways, basically blackmailing them into riding Paris-Nice. It doesn't surprise me that they have done something like this."