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Zdenek Bakala at the Omega Pharma-Quick Step Cycling Team press conference
UCI president emphasises cycling's heritage
New UCI president Brian Cookson ran for his post on a 'manifesto' that included a plan to grow cycling globally, overhaul road cycling and strengthen the sport's influence in the Olympic movement, but he does not see fostering a "breakaway league" as the answer for cycling.
Cookson told Bloomberg News that the "World Series Cycling" project, which would have added 10 new races and aimed to share profits with participating teams, "isn't the right way forward".
Executives of the British broadcaster BSkyB met with teams in February about possible support of the series, which was proposed by businessmen Jonathan Price and Thomas Kurth, with backing and support from Omega Pharma-Quick Step team owner Zdenek Bakala.
The World Series Cycling project has been in the works for well over a year, but it has yet to reconcile with the already well-established calendar of races which sponsor-driven teams are loathe to miss.
"The heritage of cycling is very important," Cookson told Bloomberg. "You could have, say, a race from Paris to Lyon but it wouldn't be as exciting as Paris-Roubaix."
However, increasingly cash-strapped teams are struggling to survive in the current model, which sees major race organisers own and control lucrative television rights while riders and teams are awarded mere fractions of the revenue in prize money.
The economic downturn in Europe has made matters worse. Trickle down effects from the recession have led five professional teams to pull the plug: Euskaltel-Euskadi, Vacansoleil-DCM, Sojasun, Crelan-Euphony and Champion System have all folded leaving dozens of riders scrambling for contracts.
Cookson acknowledges that something needs to be done to improve cycling's financial model. "We have to find ways of giving the teams a more sustainable economic situation, otherwise we'll go into a spiral of decline," Cookson said, and said that the UCI is "looking at" television revenue as a potential source of income.
Yet television rights were among the factors in a UCI-Grand Tour organizer spat which led the Amaury Sport Organisation to run Paris-Nice and the Tour de France outside of the control of the UCI in 2008.