Some important sticking points yet to be overcome
By Shane Stokes
Following meetings of the working group set up by the ProTour supporters and the organizers of cycling's Grand Tours, it appears that some progress is being made in resolving the issues concerned. Speaking to Cyclingnews, UCI President Pat McQuaid confirmed that things are looking brighter than back in December, when ASO, RCS and Unipublic officially rejected the ProTour and announced they would be instead be introducing a ‘Trophy of the Grand Tours' competition [later blocked by the UCI].
"It is closer to an agreement," confirmed McQuaid in recent days. "There have been a set of proposals which have been put forward by the working group which are now going forward to each of the constituent bodies to study. They will all then come back with suggestions. The UCI is also studying those proposals and we will be putting forward some suggestions of our own. We would hope once all these have been considered, that an agreement could be found in the coming weeks."
Although details are vague about what exactly each side has put forward as a solution, it is thought that these current proposals include the possible reduction of ProTour licences from 20 to 18 teams, in order to facilitate the invitation of two more wild card selections by the Grand Tour organisers, and the issuing of these licences for three years rather than four.
However it is believed that the first of these proposals has been a cause of concern for the ProTour teams, as it means that two of them will lose their place in cycling's Elite. The mechanism for determining which two go would need to be finalised, should this concession to the Grand Tour organisers materialise. The UCI are known to be concerned that this could potentially lead to the loss of those sponsors to cycling.
"It is not like a system of promotion and relegation where they could later come back in," said a source within the UCI, who wished to remain anonymous. "So they are unlikely to settle for being a second division team. They will most likely say ‘that's it, we are out,' and 60 riders will be looking for jobs."
Complicating this is the fact that team licences are up for renewal at different times, with three due to reapply later this year, one next year and the remaining fifteen in 2008. AG2R are the only team who have a ProTour licence until 2009. So working out a precise, and fair mechanism whereby two could be eliminated [presuming all wish to continue] is something which the working group and the major players they represent would have to agree upon before this would be accepted.
A second area which still needs to be resolved is the selection of wildcard teams for major events. Under the system proposed by the Grand Tour organisers, a total of four such teams would be invited to races such as the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a España. It is believed that the UCI's acceptance of this is likely to hinge on some guarantees being made as to the criteria for the selection of these teams, in order to ensure that they are of a similar standard to their ProTour competitors and that a quantifiable and open system of their choosing is in place.
The UCI is also likely to insist this pool of teams bidding for a Grand Tour place is subject to the same extent of out of competition testing as ProTour teams. Under the current rules, Continental Professional teams are not subjected to the same levels of scrutiny, and so this would need to be changed.
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'