Working agreement formulated; long term solution to be developed
By Shane Stokes with assistance from Cara McCauley Applegate
With just five days to the start of Paris-Nice, the prospect of open civil war in cycling appears to have been overcome by a last-chance meeting held between the UCI, the organisers of the three Grand Tours and the IPCT in Brussels.
While it is a temporary solution and some points from the meeting need to be further clarified, it appears that all of the teams listed as part of the UCI's ProTour series should now be able to take part in the 11 races organised by ASO, RCS Sport and Unipublic this year, bringing the sport back from the brink of chaos.
Under the accord forged by the UCI's Pat McQuaid and Alain Rumpf, Patrice Clerc (ASO), Angelo Zomegnan (RCS Sport) and Victor Cordero (Unipublic), as well as the crucial input of IPCT representatives Patrick Lefevere and his lawyer Jean-Louis Dupont, the 18 ProTour teams accepted by the Grand Tour organisers will have automatic entry. Wildcards Astana and Unibet.com are also likely to get a green light.
However clarification is needed with regard to the following long clause mentioned in the release: "Without prejudicing their right to grant wild cards to all other teams of their choice, for the duration of this agreement ASO, RCS and Unipublic will examine in a positive spirit the granting of wild cards to the teams Astana and Unibet, in particular insofar as such decisions are not likely to expose or be likely to expose the organisers to legal consequences, of whatever nature they might be."
Unibet.com has faced problems competing in France due to legislation restricting advertising for gambling. The wording of the clause means that it remains to be seen if this law could still compromise their participation in races such as the Tour de France, or if the wearing of non-branded jerseys will satisfy ASO vis-à-vis their taking part. The team competed in several races on French soil this season wearing clothing with a distinctive question mark rather than the Unibet.com logo.
Today's meeting in Brussels international airport was seen as a last chance opportunity to resolve the crisis, with participation in events such as Paris-Nice remaining under threat. The parties concerned sat down at 2 pm and were still holding talks late in the evening, with final word of an agreement not coming through until a full nine hours after discussions began.
According to the joint release, those in attendance: "finalised an agreement which guarantees an out of courts solution for the whole of the 2007 season, also providing a mechanism to look for a long term-solution, by partnering all the third parties concerned."
It states that in the interests of complete transparency, the full details have been disclosed of what was formulated. "The present agreement has the aim of amicably settling the disagreement which is affecting professional cycling, in line with the methods and in the ways defined below," stated the release, "with the agreement that this ruling is of a purely provisional nature and thus does not prejudice anything as regards the respective rights and obligations of the parties, nor of the bases of their respective positions, regarding the aforesaid disagreement."
"In other words, this settlement is similar to that in which an emergency interim ruling would be returned on the same matter."
In order to work towards a long term solution, the sides concerned undertake to meet at least once a month. The goal of the talks is to find a long-term solution to the ProTour issue by September 21st at the latest.
While there is clearly a lot of work ahead, the outcome of the meeting and the positive tone of the joint release means that things are looking a whole lot healthier now for professional cycling than they did just 24 hours ago.
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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'