By Shane Stokes in Stuttgart, Germany
The first non-European ProTour event status has been awarded to the the Tour Down Under in Adelaide, Australia the UCI announced on Thursday. The South Australian race will kick off the 2008 ProTour calendar on January 22. With the exclusion of the Grand Tours from the ProTour calendar, the UCI will now focus more efforts globally, and the Australian race is the first beneficiary of the new direction for the series.
UCI president Pat McQuaid praised the Australians for growing the race to a state worthy of the ProTour, "The race has had huge support from the cycling community over the past few years. I have been there myself on two occasions, and I know the team of people who are behind it, from South Australian Premier Mike Rann and the race director Mike Turtur and the team.
"They do a wonderful job," said McQuaid to Cyclingnews. "They deserve this, the event deserves this. Australian cycling deserves this and the sport of cycling deserves this."
McQuaid promised the ProTour teams would be there, despite the resources required to support a team traveling to a major Tour in Australia. "That is part of the rules. They follow the rules, and I anticipate they will all be there."
The UCI hinted at other countries that may soon see ProTour events including Russia, China, and Great Britain. A letter of intention has already been signed with the Chinese National Federation for a future Tour of China and discussions are underway with the Russian Federation and government.
South Australia Premier Mike Rann said the announcement the best possible present for the Tour Down Under's 10th birthday next year, calling the news "a massive sporting coup for South Australia."
"Not only will we be the first country outside of Europe to host ProTour, we are the first on the ProTour calendar for next year's series," Rann said. "This is the ultimate reward for a State that has made itself the cycling capital of Australia by truly embracing the sport and turning on a race that is second-to-none."
Tourism Minister Jane Lomax-Smith said the win is the result of more than 12 months of work to expand the Tour Down Under, along with persistent lobbying of the UCI. "The Premier, and Race Director Mike Turtur and I have each been involved in personal meetings, phone calls and repeated approaches to help secure this win for South Australia," Dr Lomax-Smith said.
Race Director Mike Turtur was ready to tackle the challenge of hosting a ProTour event. "ProTour will bring more teams and the world's best cyclists to our doorstep," he said. "The UCI has confidence in our ability to deliver a ProTour event in January next year and we will absolutely make sure that happens."