Top teams still considering boycott over radio issue
The UCI announced this week that its licensing commission has awarded the Tour of Beijing a WorldTour license for the next four years, but despite a requirement of the top ProTeams to compete in all WorldTour events, AIGCP president Jonathan Vaughters indicated that the top squads might not be present on the start line come October 5th.
Earlier this year, the teams organisation threatened to boycott the race unless the UCI backed down on its plan to fully ban radio communications between teams and riders during races.
In order to leverage their point, the teams targeted the Tour of Beijing, a race which is fully supported by UCI president Pat McQuaid as a step toward globalizing the sport.
After months of warring with words, the UCI set forth a compromise in June, offering to keep the current regulations, which disallow radios in all but WorldTour races, in effect until the end of 2012, and to create an independent group "to study this regulation and its effects, advantages and disadvantages". In exchange, the AIGCP would renounce the proposed boycott.
Vaughters told Cyclingnews that the deal has yet to go through because the AIGCP would have no say in who would be appointed to the study group.
"The AIGCP has not reached an agreement with the UCI regarding radios or participation in Beijing, and since the race was not in the WorldTour when our agreements to be WorldTour teams were signed, we are not under any obligation to race.
"That said, we would like to get an agreement in place regarding both Beijing and the radios. The conversations with the UCI have been very productive and positive. I hope it continues that way."
The UCI confirmed that negotiations were ongoing, but refused further comment because, "despite pressure put on us, we don't believe a public debate via the media would be constructive at this point".
Conflicts of interest?
The Tour of Beijing is a project that is not only close to the heart of McQuaid, it is a race which is owned, albeit somewhat indirectly, by the UCI itself.
The UCI created Global Cycling Promotions SA, a wholly owned subsidiary of the UCI, in 2009 to further the objective of globalizing the sport.
McQuaid serves as the president of GCP, with former ProTour director Alain Rumpf as its director. From the start, McQuaid promoted the Tour of Beijing, even going so far as suggesting it would enter the WorldTour before the licensing commission even made its decision.
The fact that the UCI, which is in charge of licensing and regulating races, is now the owner of a top-level event, raised the eyebrows of pundits across the globe. Vaughters refused to call the association unethical, but said, "to me cycling should be avoiding as many conflicts of interest as possible in this day and age".
The UCI's spokesman Enrico Carpani denied there was any conflict of interest. "The License Commission, which granted the license to the Tour of Beijing, is a body which has consistently proved its independence over the last couple of years and [Vaughters] should know this very well as he has been called in front of this commission on several occasions.
"Therefore the commission’s credibility and the quality of its work is of an unquestionably high standard."
Rumpf agreed, stating that the licensing process was "not an easy ride" for the Tour of Beijing.
"We followed the same rules and procedures as, say, the Tour Down Under," he explained, adding that the recommendation that the race be included in the WorldTour calendar was made by the UCI Professional Cycling Council (PCC), which contains representatives of the teams, riders and race organisers.
"The race was brought into the UCI WorldTour calendar out of the wish of all members of the professional cycling family."
Rumpf explained the relationship between GCP and the UCI to Cyclingnews, saying "after the contract was signed between the UCI and the City of Beijing, the UCI transferred its rights and obligations to Global Cycling Promotion to organize the race in cooperation with Beijing."
GCP took ownership of the race, but organises it with the local organising committee (LOC) which was set up by the City of Beijing. It also takes care of technical aspects such as logistics and communication, and has inked a deal with the Amaury Sport Organisation, owners of the Tour de France, for technical direction, with Jean-François Pescheux acting as the race director.
"We are working hard to deliver not only an event worthy of the UCI WorldTour licence delivered by the independent licence commission, but also a platform that will benefit the whole sport by giving access to a new key market to teams, sponsors, bike manufacturers, riders and service providers, helping the sustainable development of the UCI WorldTour and facilitating the development of athletes and officials in China and Asia," Rumpf said.