The ProTour teams and its riders may officially stand behind the International Cycling Union in the fight between the Grand Tour organisers and the world governing body of cycling over the ProTour - still, opinions diverged when team managers and pro cyclists were asked to comment on the latest round of the battle. French L'Equipe, in its Friday edition, gathered reactions on the latest turn of events, which saw the UCI threaten action against French spring stage race Paris-Nice, owned by Tour de France-organiser ASO.
The UCI holds fast to its stance that the organisers of UCI events must follow the UCI rules. In refusing to invite the ProTour team Unibet.com to Paris-Nice, the ASO has, in the mind of the UCI, violated the rules. "The UCI will not budge on a matter of rules and the legitimate rights of teams and riders," McQuaid told AFP. "I hope the Paris-Nice will take place in the right conditions, but the organizers are violating international cycling rules. It is ASO and not the UCI who are putting the race at risk."
ASO director Christian Prudhomme followed the party line of the Grand Tour organisers in denouncing the ProTour, saying "The ProTour system is a closed system, an economic system we have denounced since our departure." Earlier this month, in an interview with Cyclingnews ASO president Patrice Clerc also called the ProTour a closed system, and added "Even before the ProTour was officially launched, since 2004, we have always said that we would not adhere to this system."
Prudhomme declared his organisation's intention to run the race regardless of what the UCI says. "I want to reassure the teams. We are always going to organize Paris-Nice. We are organizing Paris Nice with respect for sporting and technical rules as well as French law. Our work, our calling is to organize races for athletes. I find it a paradox that the UCI puts so much energy into preventing us from doing this."
The disagreement puts riders and teams in the middle of an uncomfortable situation, and the frustration shows in the comments made to L'Equipe below.
Tom Boonen (QuickStep-Innergetic):
"It's not possible to cancel a race like Paris-Nice! If these races did not take place, the beginning of the season is over! This quarrel has lasted for months - they're behaving just like children."
Alexandre Vinokourov (Astana):
"Cycling already suffers from an image problem, because of repeated doping affairs. If we add other conflicts, nobody will follow us anymore. I know that the exclusion of Unibet.com from Paris-Nice irritated the UCI, but we can't allow these problems to taint our sport anymore. The one who will make the first step will really be the most intelligent."
Filippo Pozzato (Liquigas):
"The Grand Tours can't decide on everything. I would even be ready to boycott Milano-Sanremo [which he won last year - ed.], even if it's not a popular position which will be difficult to hold. We riders have to respect tradition and not ruin the great races that have made the history of our sport, but still, I repeat, I'm ready to do it if I have to."
Florent Brard (Caisse d'Epargne):
"We're sick of it! Once again, the riders are just the pawns in the game between the UCI, the Grand Tours and the media, like laboratory rats. To threaten to prohibit Paris-Nice, that's just pathetic. It's a mythical event that ASO saved [in 2002, ASO took over the race which was first held in 1933 - ed.]! Without them, where would cycling be today? Let's not forget that they organise the most beautiful race in the world, the Tour de France."
Samuel Dumoulin (Ag2r):
"The riders should be the main actors in cycling, but again in this affair, we are just subject to the system. I don't feel a real solidarity within the peloton. Everybody shoots in a different direction. We need strong and concerted actions to build up cycling again."
Vincent Lavenu (Ag2r):
"It's up to the UCI to make their rules followed. The groupes sportifs (teams) don't have to take a stand. One thing is certain: we bought a license which includes a certain number of benefits and we want to the be fulfilled. Would we take the risk to compete in Paris-Nice if it were organised outside of the framework of the UCI? I can't reply to that today. We would have to follow a common attitude between all teams."
Roberto Amadio (Liquigas):
"All the protagonists have to respect the rules of cycling. I agree with the philosophy of the ProTour regulations. The UCI has the power to say that it can prohibit a race that doesn't respect the regulations."
Gianluigi Stanga (Milram):
"The ProTour is fundamental to the survival of cycling, as the sponsors have never been so committed to our sport, with the will to work on a long-term basis - but all of these political problems make the situation preoccupying."
Roger Legeay (Crédit Agricole):
"I'm a legalist, so I think that we have to apply the rules. I don't see any other solutions. A complaint has been brought to the European Commission, now it's up to them to decide who directs cycling, and how. Let common sense prevail!"
Eric Boyer (Cofidis):
"The UCI is taking us as hostages, even if it was them who sold us a label which comprised this or that organiser. But a sponsor like Cofidis invested in cycling to be part of these kind of events! Clearly, I don't see what would prevent us from being at the start (of Paris-Nice), and we will be there. Obviously, the ProTour doesn't work but it's up to the UCI to solve this conflict. You can't ask the teams to choose a side."
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'