UCI and Teams align against Grand Tour organisers
By Tim Maloney, European Editor
After a recent communiqué by the International Pro Cycling Teams Organisation declaring their solidarity with the UCI, and requesting an international calendar that includes the Grand Tours, but doesn't oblige ProTour teams to participate in them, outgoing UCI President Hein Verbruggen weighed in with his comments. After Stage 3 of the Eneco Benelux Tour in Landgraaf, The Netherlands, Verbruggen told Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf, "There is no way back any more. If we satisfy the requirements of the Grand Tour organisers completely, then they will take all the power in the sport of cycling. That is totally unacceptable."
Regarding the possibility that the three Grand Tour organisers could create their own race circuit, Verbruggen scoffed at that possibility, saying, "It's an impossible option for them. You have to have race commissaires and anti-doping rules. Besides, the (UCI licensed) riders aren't allowed to start in another series or league. That is completely ruled out."
As for the current situation, Verbruggen declared, "ASO is going around getting support. They think that they can make the organisers of cycling great. But without the riders, without Coppi and Merckx, for example, the Tour would never have grown to be such a big event." Once again blasting his bête noir Amaury Sport Organisation, Verbruggen said, "ASO will cooperate with nobody, but wants the ProTour to be organised according to its wishes. They want to dictate everything in cycling and completely work over the UCI. If we give any more, then we have nothing left. The UCI is a democratic institution, the legal power in the sport of cycling. So with this stance, we have made an end to the blackmail of ASO. I'm sick to death of the arrogance of the French."
According to Verbruggen, the three Grand Tour organisers also want to take away the classics and smaller stage races they organize from the ProTour. "The ProTour stands like a house. The teams are just as important as the organisers. We have the 20 best racing teams and the 600 best riders in the world. Besides that, there are still enough important races on the ProTour calendar. We'll upgrade the other races, so that they get more worth. The Eneco Tour is an example of that. And of the other races of the three grand tour [organisers], I only find Liege-Bastogne-Liege interesting." However, the technical snafus in the first ever Eneco Tour of Benelux may illustrate that Verbruggen may be fooling himself with the strategy to upgrade smaller races to the level of the monuments of cycling like Milano-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix and others.
Pro team association leader Patrick Lefevere explained that "the Grand Tours must bear the consequences now. The teams have made enough concessions. As teams, we feel strong enough to get into a power struggle with the Grand Tours. After all, without riders, there is no racing. So we don't feel we are obliged to start in all three Grand Tours any more. There will now be a new ProTour made with strong races opposed to the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta d'España. As long as the teams form a block, no-one can do anything against us. Then we can also demand a start in the Tour."
No comments yet from the Grand Tour organizers on what could become a definitive breach between them and the UCI, something that may change the face of pro cycling forever.
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'