In the conflict opposing the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the Tour de France organiser ASO, which has reached a new peak of hostilities these days with the departure of Paris-Nice taking place on Sunday, the UCI seems to be bending to the wishes of the Grand Tour organiser ASO as concerns the participation rules to the Tour de France.
On Wednesday evening, UCI president Pat McQuaid sent a letter to Patrick Lefevere, president of the International Professional Cycling Teams (IPCT), asking the ProTour teams to tell him if they wanted the automatic entry to the Tour de France to be changed. "This rule was introduced in September 2007 at the request of the International Association of Professional Cycling Groups (AIGCP). The UCI adopted this rule, which is justified and protects the legitimate right of the concerned teams and their sponsors. If, however, the concerned teams themselves renounce to their right of participation (...), they have to express this clearly to the UCI," the letter read according to French news agency AFP.
"If the AIGCP sends the UCI a request from the teams to revise this rule, the UCI is ready to proceed to a revision on the basis of the proposals that will be made."
The ProTour teams' association and the sponsors of the squads will thus play a major role in the conflict, while the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has been asked by IPCT president Lefevere to rule on whether or not the ProTour teams can participate in Paris-Nice without its riders getting punished by the UCI.
According to various sources, the IPCT also sent an e-mail to both UCI and ASO on Wednesday morning, proposing a compromise: ASO concedes that Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Tours remain on the international calendar, while the UCI gives up on the automatic entry for the ProTour teams to the Tour de France.
But ASO does not want another interim solution. President Patrice Clerc explained to L'Equipe that, "I'm surprised at this late awakening of the IPCT, even more so because this same move had been tried last year with the success that we know [a last-minute peace deal was signed five days prior to the 2007 Paris-Nice, which foresaw a long-term agreement to be found within six months - ed.]. We were supposed to find solutions of good will, and there never were any. So, I don't get the impression that this [attempt] is based on a true will of finding a solution. I want an agreement that lasts. If they tell me OK for this race and we'll see about the rest in a month or two, that's not serious at all!"
Meetings of the IPCT and the AIGCP will be held in Paris today to discuss the situation. Tomorrow – Friday – the Tour de France organiser will meet with the teams. Meanwhile, a decision by CAS may take longer than expected. "Of course we were asked to rule before the departure of the race, but it's not certain that we will be able to honour this request," said Matthieu Reeb, CAS secretary general.
ASO insists that a real mediation has already been put forward to the UCI by France's state secretary for sport, Bernard Laporte, but that UCI president McQuaid refused to meet with Laporte to consider it. "Even if some points don't satisfy me, I'm ready to accept [the proposal]. The minister proposes solutions to carry out the 2008 season while finding a long-term solution. I just hope that the UCI president will accept the meeting that he just refused! If he doesn't, then he's just doing the same manoeuvres than the ones we have been victims of for the last four years, in my view."