With all the political wrangling going on between the ASO and the UCI, the teams and riders have been forced into a 'catch-22' situation where they face unhappy sponsors, a missed opportunity to gain form and win races, and more importantly, risk angering the ASO and possibly losing their invitation to the Tour de France if they refuse to participate in Paris-Nice on one hand, and on the other risk suspension from racing by the UCI.
Gerolsteiner team manager Hans-Michael Holczer said that the team managers would meet in Paris on Thursday to discuss the situation, and he hoped they could come together to push for resolution to the conflict. "As a group we are stronger," he told sport1.de. "This isn't a few bullets around our ears, now they are throwing bombs," he said.
Holczer refused to say whether or not his team would ride on Sunday, but noted, "If we don't start in Paris-Nice, then you can be sure that we can forget our start in the Tour de France. If we do start, then our riders are threatened by the UCI with a ban and non-participation in the world championships and Olympics. We have our choice of being either quartered or hanged." Gerolsteiner was supposed to send such riders as Davide Rebellin, Bernhard Kohl, Stefan Schumacher and Andrea Moletta to Paris-Nice.
Patrick Lefevere was for many years the president of the council of the pro teams and in that role, spent much time trying to iron out differences between the various parties. The head of Team Quick Step told belga, "I stood for three years in the desert and shouted. It has produced nothing. Apparently the UCI now wants to suspend the 160 riders? It is not longer up to me to carry the load. The riders are in panic. Racing is their source of income."
He still hoped that a solution could be reached, but knew it wouldn't be easy. "I think that the problem has become so large that it is difficult to reach a solution, because both parties feel they can no longer step through the same door. Maybe they need a third party to help them out. I am thinking of the Court of Arbitration for Sport."
Herman Frison of Silence-Lotto, said that "I hope that both parties will use their healthy understanding and reach a sound solution. I have had numerous phone calls from worried riders with questions as to what they must do. They hope for one thing, and that is to be able to do their job on Sunday."
Quick Step's Wilfried Peeters didn't anticipate a quick solution, calling it "an impossible matter. The riders sit between two fires. The only thing they want to do is to ride. And our sponsors want to see them ride. That is what they have paid for. They want a return on their investment."
Erik Breukink of Rabobank confirmed that the UCI had threatened to withdraw the ProTour license of teams who ride in Paris-Nice, which the team had been planning to ride. "We have just seen the e-mails," Breukink told telesport.nl. "We have not yet adopted an official position. We are still discussing it among ourselves and will consult with the other teams."
Jonathan Vaughters, Team Slipstream manager, had succeeded in scoring an invitation to one of the season's biggest races, and wants his young team to be able to experience participating in an event of Paris-Nice's caliber. "This is just another case of how cycling's problems always fall on the riders. Its a really sad situation," Vaughters told Cyclingnews. "We don't have any sponsor interests in France or Europe, but as a new team, we want to race Paris-Nice just because its Paris-Nice."
"The riders want to do it, heck, its David Millar's primary goal for the year, so it's absolutely heartbreaking that I have to tell them they might face consequences for doing a race they have been dreaming about. You have to remember how many young kids we have on our team that have never done these races before. They are excited to get out there and show themselves in the races that they have posters of in their bedroom."
"Telling them they might be prevented from doing that is hurtful."
More rider reactions to UCI letter:
Nick Nuyens (Cofidis - Le Crédit par Téléphone): "[There needs to be a solution] and preferably as soon as possible. It is difficult to react to the letter from the UCI. Actually, both the ASO and the UCI are right in certain areas, but apparently they can't come to an agreement.
"The riders seem to be the victims of the game between the cycling federations and the French organiser. Maybe we should stop racing until a solution is reached. Establishing two federations is not a good solution either. Which program do we ride?
"In fact, it is bad that we have our backs to the wall, because it is the riders who make the racing after all? I hope that the big bosses think about the future of the sport."
Frederik Willems (Liquigas): "We are the victims in the war between the two parties. We have a contract with our teams which we should respect. We get a program from our sports directors; should we just leave that lying now?
"In addition all the ProTour teams pay the UCI to be able to race, it looks like now they [the teams] are being boycotted by their own boss. For many riders Paris-Nice is a very important race. Not only to win, but also to build a base for the rest of the season. Now, they are taking our right to ride the race away from us.
"There is a riders union but what can we achieve? The big bosses from the teams have to, for once, sit down together with the other parties. Cycling in general is in danger because what are sponsors going to say in the future if they have no security in which program their team will ride? We urgently need a solution. "
Gorik Gardeyn (Silence-Lotto): "The whole issue continues to escalate. Last year there was the issues with Unibet.com. Fact is it was just the beginning of the misery that now prevails. A power struggle between the big players, a true war, but there are never winners.
"History has taught us that several times, but apparently they always forget that. This power game should have been put behind us last winter.
"We, the riders will again draw the short straw. I hope that water is added to the wine for both parties in order to achieve a proper solution. And it is early days since Paris-Nice departs Sunday. Whether there really is any solidarity in the pack? Honestly I don't count on it, as regrettable as that may sound."