By Tim Maloney, European Editor in Paris
Some of the top names in the sport of cycling are lending their support to the UCI ProTour and at an elegant reception Saturday evening, six-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong made an appearance along with World Time Trial champion Mick Rogers (Quick.Step) and others. After a welcoming speech from UCI President Hein Verbruggen, the UCI debuted a new ProTour promotional video with segments from multiple World Cup champion Paolo Bettini, World Road Champ Oscar Freire, evergreen Erik Zabel and rising star Damiano Cunego. Armstrong also stars in the clip, where he explains that, "In cycling, tradition is our value, our belief and the UCI ProTour is the future of cycling" - unequivocal support for the UCI's new initiative.
After the clip, UCI media man and the evening's emcee Enrico Carpani held a round-robin chat with the top bike riders present to ask their opinion of the ProTour and ambitions for the first ProTour season. World champ Rogers was quite positive, saying, "The ProTour is a new era in cycling and I'm happy to be here. I hope to have a good result here at Paris-Nice to start the ProTour off right." Lance Armstrong commented, "the ProTour will enable cycling to present a more unified front and that will elevate cycling on a global level." When Carpani asked Armstrong his goal for the inaugural year of the ProTour, the Texan cracked wise, saying "to not finish last", a quip that brought howls of surprised laughter from the audience.
Despite any issues that may currently exist between the UCI ProTour and the Grand Tour organisers, Saturday's festivities with the stars of cycling certainly helped launch the ProTour on a positive note.