Organisers are putting their own race under pressure
By Shane Stokes
Responding to a series of quotes from Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme which appeared in Friday's L'Equipe, Pat McQuaid has stressed that the UCI wants Paris-Nice to go ahead without problems, but that it is crucial for the organisers to respect the regulations which are in place.
"There are stories stating that the UCI wants to prevent Paris-Nice from happening; this is not the case," he told Cyclingnews by phone from Malaysia, where he is attending early stages of the Tour de Langkawi. "What was communicated to team managers is that the UCI is examining its options at the moment and that it will, at all times, stay within the regulations. We ask everybody to do the same. We haven't actually stated yet what action is liable to happen. But if necessary, we will apply sanctions... there are lots of sanctions that we could take."
"The UCI wants Paris-Nice to take place under good conditions. However we would like to make it clear that the organisers who violate the rules of international cycling are putting themselves out of the running. In the case of Paris-Nice, it is ASO, the organiser of the race, who puts its own race in danger because it doesn't respect the rules of the UCI... not the UCI itself. They are the ones who are leaving their own event open to possible sanctions."
When asked what these sanctions might be, McQuaid declined to elaborate. He instead stressed that neither he nor the UCI wants that things will go that far.
"We hope it doesn't get to that point, but it is crucial that the regulations which are in place are followed. We would like to remind that it is the UCI ProTour Council who determines the participation conditions of the UCI ProTour events, and absolutely not the organisers."
"ASO has the sole goal of killing the UCI ProTour"
McQuaid stated earlier this week that the UCI is prepared to enter into dialogue about the ProTour, and has conceded that some modifications need to be made before the system is perfect. However, he affirms that there is a strong level of support that the series continues, rather than stops. "In the last 10 days, the UCI has spoken with all of the stakeholders and has meetings with organisations such as the UCI management board, the CPA riders' council, with the UCI ProTour Council and others; everybody is confirmed to be 100% behind the UCI ProTour project. We know that the attitude of ASO has the sole goal of killing the UCI ProTour and we cannot accept that.
"Our rules serve to protect in a fair manner the rights of everybody contributing to the sport of cycling - teams, riders, organisers, everybody - but in the present case, the UCI has the duty to ensure that the teams' rights are respected by applying the same participation conditions to all organisers. In other words, it is not possible for organisers to apply their own selection criteria because this can only have very, very negative consequences. As I already said a few days ago, it would be an anarchic system."
Simply put, he says that it is unacceptable that Unibet.com, a team which fulfilled all of the criteria [and invested a lot of money] to gain a ProTour place is now being pushed out of a race it is, under UCI rules, entitled to ride. Especially in favour of another team which is much weaker.
"We have a system which is very strictly regulated, and this is a much better system than a system whereby organisers can pick and choose," he continued. "In the case of ASO, it is trying to exclude the Unibet.com team who were ranked second in the European continental circuit last year, and instead wants to invite another team ranked much lower, Agritubel. Which is the more equitable system?
"It is clear that this goes against the logic of the sport. ASO always say that they are the defender of logic but it is clear in this case this demonstrates what happens if an organiser determines their selection criteria through personal interpretations rather than sporting merit."
"ProTour is not a closed circuit"
McQuaid argues that it is far better that an objective, quantifiable system is in place. In other words, that teams know in advance what races they can ride, rather than having to woo organisers to get the green light.
"Access to UCI ProTour and the right to participation on our calendar is obtained along objective and transparent criteria; that is clear for everybody. Those criteria are applied by a neutral authority, the License Commission. So, for us, it is a very big contradiction for ASO to accuse the UCI ProTour of being a closed system. After all, it is itself excluding a team rather than respecting rules. These rules have been defined in a very transparent and democratic manner and accepted by everybody, but this is a flagrant contradiction, once again.
"This also goes against the conditions put forward by the AIGCP which expresses that it is essential that the UCI, and the UCI alone, should set participation rules for events. This is applicable for all races."
McQuaid is clearly convinced that the ProTour is the way forward for cycling and that it is unacceptable for a race organiser to disregard the rules which are in place. He rejects the Grand Tour organiser's contention that the series is too restrictive.
"The UCI states that the UCI ProTour is not a closed circuit, as ASO say. The proof is that since its launch, new teams and new riders are participating in the UCI ProTour events. However, the UCI considers that ASO, RCS and Unipublic constitute a cartel, detrimental to the interests of cycling, teams and riders. And as you know, the UCI has lodged an official complaint against the Grand Tours with the European Commission."
He concluded by saying that the governing body are determined that the normal selection criteria is followed, as laid out in UCI regulations. "The UCI hopes that Paris-Nice can take place in good circumstances, but in the meantime, it exhorts the organiser of the race to respect international cycling rules and the legitimate rights of riders and teams. That is crucial.
"The UCI will be uncompromising on this point, while in the same time remaining open to dialogue with all cycling interlocutors."