By Brecht Decaluwé in Deinze, Belgium
Unibet.com gained their ProTour license, but their bid to start many of the ProTour events has been stymied by staunch opposition from the Amaury Sport Organisation, RCS Sport and Unipublic, the organisers of the Grand Tours and many other ProTour events, including Paris-Roubaix. After being denied a start in Paris-Nice, the organisers and the UCI supposedly came to a compromise that would allow the team consideration for further events. However, they've been denied entry into Paris-Roubaix, and were left off the list of teams being considered for the Giro d'Italia. Cyclingnews' Brecht Decaluwé caught up with the UCI leaders in Deinze to talk about the situation.
Unibet.com got a late start to the ProTour season - their squad was left off the start lists for Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, which meant the team lost valuable opportunities to accumulate points toward the series standings. They then went on to start Milan-Sanremo, Ronde van Vlaanderen, and the Basque Tour, as well as fielding a strong team for Gent-Wevelgem. UCI president Pat McQuaid and ProTour manager Alain Rumpf were at the start of Gent-Wevelgem to throw their support behind the Unibet.com team. "From a legal point of view we haven't got many options, but from a supporting point of view there's a lot we can do so that's why we're here, to support the Unibet team and the ProTour," McQuaid said to Cyclingnews.
Much of the objection to the team centres around the legality of Unibet.com using the team to advertise their online gambling services in countries where such advertising is supposedly illegal. Belgium is no different, and before the race, rumours were flying that the Swedish registered team would not be allowed to start in the semi-classic because of the legal situation of its sponsor in Belgium.
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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'