The four year-old cycling series known as the ProTour received a fatal blow when the seventeen teams with ProTour licenses which are racing the Tour de France announced Tuesday that they would not renew for 2009. The ProTour concept, which is based on having all the top teams in all the biggest events, was effectively gutted by the news.
The meeting was held Tuesday in Pau, during the first rest day of the Tour de France, and was attended by the ProTour team representatives (excluding Astana, who was not invited to this year's Tour) as well as representatives of the three Grand Tour organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO, which runs the Tour), RCS Sport, which runs the Giro d'Italia, and Unipublic (Vuelta a España). The UCI was not present at the meeting.
Saunier Duval-Scott team manager Mauro Gianetti explained the decision of his team to leave the ProTour. "It's clear that the teams have been stuck in between a war of the UCI and the Grand Tour organisers, and we need a new road and a system that functions. There were proposals form the organisation to the UCI which didn't quite agree with the ProTour. There is now an agreement with the organisers that will allow us to work with seriousness and tranquility.
This morning there were representatives from all three Grand Tours, and they made agreements that will be put into place: all the ProTour licensed teams took the initiative to push this forward. In the coming days, there will be a communiqué with all the details. This involves cycling in general - the overall structure of cycling. Anti-doping is already being handled well."
What shape this new organisation will take and which races will be a part of any new calendar has yet to be decided. "It's too early to say, but what is important is that an agreement has been made to move in a specific direction. We have already asked if the UCI wants to be involved in this new project, and we're waiting for a response."
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme mostly refused to comment on the meeting, and would only say, "This is a big occasion to put an end to the disputes. There is a project to involve all the families of cycling. the UCI is most welcome to be a part of this project. We don't want to go outside of the sporting institution."
UCI: "the decision was entirely foreseeable"
The UCI issued a statement following reports of the meeting, and said the "decision was entirely foreseeable". The statement said that the teams have "once again succumbed to pressure from the management of ASO, whose aim for the last four years has been to destroy the UCI ProTour."
Long suspicious that the ASO was looking to create a federation which would compete with the UCI, the statement from the sports' governing body said that it is "looking into the situation and will take the necessary decisions in due course".
The UCI has been seeking to expand the ProTour into non-traditional cycling countries. Its first non-European event was this year's Tour Down Under, and it was recently announced that the Russian GP Sochi would be part of next year's series.
The brainchild of former UCI president Hein Verbruggen, the ProTour was modeled on the Formula One circuit which sees all the top teams competing in the biggest races worldwide. While the idea was responsible for elevating the status of that style of auto racing, the translation of that model never took well with cycling's promoters. (For a more extensive comparison with the auto racing model, see UCI vs. ASO: Doomed to repeat history)
The main objection from the race organisers has been that, with the ProTour, the UCI dictated which races would be in the ProTour and race promoters were bound by rules to invite all licensed ProTour teams if their race was part of the series. That point became especially contentious when the number of licenses given out by the UCI went up to 20 in 2006. This meant that the Grand Tours would only have one spot for their favourite non-ProTour national teams, known as "wild cards".
What the split means for the races which have paid to be a part of the ProTour, and a reaction from the UCI president Pat McQuaid will appear in Cyclingnews shortly.
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'