By Shane Stokes
As might be expected, UCI president Pat McQuaid was satisfied with the outcome of the UEC Congress, stating that it backed up the UCI's assertion that the plans for Paris-Nice were a step in the wrong direction for the sport.
McQuaid was at the Congress and had a meeting between FFC president Jean Pitallier and the UEC management committee on Sunday. It was agreed there that attempts would be made to hold high-level talks on the current dispute.
"First off, there was a vote taken by the Congress and it was won by a large majority," McQuaid told Cyclingnews on Monday. "Also, the management committee of the UEC had a meeting with myself and the president of the French Cycling Federation, and they requested that if the president of the French Federation Jean Petallier can create a meeting between myself, himself and the French sports minister, if I would attend that meeting.
"I said that I would, that I would go to request of the minister and the French federation that they respect the rules of the UCI. That meeting will hopefully happen before Paris-Nice."
ASO's viewpoint is that the race can be run under the exclusive jurisdiction of French law. Pitallier also referred to this legislation, but McQuaid claims that this is not the case and that the FFC is not obliged to back the company in doing this.
"He [Pitallier] said he wants to stay within the regulations, but the situation with that French sports law which he uses and which was used by ASO to put the proposal in to run the race is not how they say. That law is designed for organisers who are not part of a federation or part of a sports organisation, so to speak.
"Number one, ASO does not fall into that category and, number two, our knowledge of the law is that he is not obligated to accept ASO's proposal. And number three, if he accepts ASO's proposal he can demand that the race is run under French Federation cycling rules. If the race is run under FFC rules, they are in line with UCI rules; therefore it has to be run as a national race on the French national calendar.
"He hasn't done any of those. So the French Federation are clearly in breach of the UCI. They are clearly not trying to assist the situation from the UCI point of view and there will be serious consequences for the French Federation if this continues."
However, with the Race to the Sun starting in Amilly this Sunday, time is running out. ASO has requested the teams to compete and return contracts making set requirements for their participation. The UCI has warned teams that this does away with many of their rights, signs them up for an unsanctioned event and opens up the possibility of sanctions.
"We will wait and see what happens," said McQuaid when asked about such disciplinary measures. "The next step is for ASO to put that race back on the UCI calendar. There is no other alternative as far as the UCI is concerned. If they continue [on their current course] and decide not to do that, the UCI has to deal with the consequences of that."
He confirmed that fines and suspensions are possibilities. "Those are some of the consequences we will have to consider. It is the French Federation number one, the teams number two and the riders number three [which would potentially be liable]. We have to follow our rules and will do so in relation to members taking part in events which are outside the rules of the UCI, riding these private races or rogue races or whatever you want to call them."
Some teams have already expressed their unease at the possibility of sanctions, while others have said that the 'unanimous' decision taken by the AIGCP members was not unanimous at all. While McQuaid said that the UCI has not called each team to see where they stand on the issue, he said that he knows of 'at least three' who were not contacted by the AIGCP prior to its president Eric Boyer's assertion that the decision to ride Paris-Nice was backed by all.
He is clearly hoping that a resolution will be found and things won't deteriorate further. However, he said while he regretted the possibility of sanctions, the UCI would have little choice if the teams rode Paris-Nice outside the regulations.
"It is not something we want to do," he said. "It is not something that would be a particularly happy period for the UCI or that we would look forward to doing, but we are obligated to follow our rules. In the event of this race being outside of the UCI calendar, we have no choice.
"If we stand by and do nothing, we may as well close the doors of the office in Aigle."
Breakaway league and review of the ProTour
With ASO wishing to run Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix and the Tour de France all outside the UCI's jurisdiction, and this measure bringing participating teams into direct conflict with the governing body, the scene is set for what could be a very painful period in cycling history. Rather than working together to overcome the problem of doping – pinpointed last year by all sides as the biggest challenge facing the sport – bigger divisions are manifesting themselves. It was thought that granting ASO their wish to be taken off the ProTour would begin the healing process, but this clearly is not the case.
As head of the UCI, McQuaid's big priority is to try to prevent such a split. "There is also another very grave consequence to this thing," he says. "It is obvious that ASO are going in the direction of trying to set up a private league. If the teams support them this weekend [by starting Paris-Nice] they are giving them the moral support to continue in that direction.
"That private league would obviously be outside the UCI and outside the Olympic movement, and the consequences of that for cycling around the world in the coming years could be very grave."
What's more, there are unconfirmed rumours that ASO are looking at taking over other events. Media reports suggested that the Tour of California could be one such target; McQuaid has heard the rumblings, although he is uncertain as to their veracity.
"There are a lot of rumours going around one way or another," he said. "There are rumours that ASO are buying AEG, there are rumours that AEG are buying ASO. I really don't know what…I don't think there is anything definitive anywhere. But if true, it would tie in with this rival league."
The days ahead will determine what way things could go in pro cycling. If the UCI can successfully block ASO's running of Paris-Nice outside its jurisdiction, then that will make a split less likely. McQuaid will be hoping that a meeting between he, FFC President Jean Petallier and the minister for sport will put the ball back in the UCI's court; the governing body has already got a boost due to Sunday's backing at the UEC Congress.
It knows that the majority of the federations want to see the UCI's rules being enforced, as per the resolution passed. As for the second part of that resolution, McQuaid accepts that there are concerns about the structure of the ProTour and is prepared to look at those.
"There has been discord about it for the past three years, all of which has come from the side of ASO and the Grand Tours," he said. "People seem to accept that it could do with a review. Within the context of that proposal, we can say that if the French Federation do what they have been requested to do, which is to put that race and all the other races back on the international calendar and to respect the rules of the UCI, then we will certainly do a review of the ProTour between now and the [UCI] Congress on September."
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split
October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
September 26, 2008 - UCI declares peace, appoints new VP
August 30, 2008 - UCI re-signs five ProTour races
August 22, 2008 - ProTour: Bouncing back or lame duck?
August 19, 2008 - Stapleton analyses 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - Feedback on 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'