By Shane Stokes
Whatever about suggestions that French laws regarding online betting had some part to play in Unibet.com’s exclusion from Paris-Nice, the speculation that the Swedish-registered team is being discriminated against by the Grand Tour organisers became much stronger on Friday.
RCS announced its wildcard selections for Tirreno-Adriatico, Milano-San Remo and the Giro d’Italia and, despite the fact that several smaller Professional Continental teams got the nod, there was no place in any of those three races for the 19th ProTour squad.
Unibet.com campaigned for a couple of seasons and made a big investment in order to secure the licence last autumn but it now faces being left on the sidelines for cycling’s biggest races after ASO and Unipublic both previously said that the team is unwelcome in their events.
UCI President Pat McQuaid told Cyclingnews that he was unimpressed with what had happened. "For the UCI, it is completely unacceptable that a company like RCS, which has a long and a very strong tradition in sport in Italy should allow itself to, firstly, go outside the regulations of the UCI, and secondly, that it would exclude a team such as Unibet which was second in the Europe Tour last year in preference to a team which has riders such as Hamilton and Hondo.
"Hamilton has already been proven guilty of doping offences and Hondo is currently under suspension for doping. In the situation that cycling finds itself in today, this is completely unacceptable and it is amazing to the UCI that RCS would do such a thing. It is by no means sending the correct message to the cycling world."
Given that Hamilton's name also came up in the Puerto affair, RCS’ endorsement of his team for all three of the races appears to be in contrast with the tougher stance supposedly being considered by ASO regarding Ivan Basso and Jan Ullrich. While the French organiser has not stated that it will block these two riders from taking part in the Tour de France, there have been several suggestions that this could be the case. Tour directeur Christian Prudhomme has done nothing to play down such talk; indeed he has hinted that this could happen.
"Unibet has strict ethical guidelines in place, they had to have that in order to get a UCI ProTour license," said McQuaid. "Hamilton has served his time but he is also implicated in Operación Puerto, and Hondo is currently under suspension. It amazes me that the company like RCS, which has a huge reputation in Italy as both a publisher and also an organiser of sports events, would do something like this."