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WorldTour applications and status reportedly used as pressure point
The UCI has denied any wrong doing over suspicions that the sport's governing body threatened a number of WorldTour teams in the build up the Tour of Beijing.
Cyclingnews understands that a number of teams' sponsors were sent letters by the UCI threatening their applications and status among the WorldTour if they carried through with their plan to boycott the race in China.
The boycott stemmed from the argument over race radios. The boycott was eventually scrapped after the UCI and teams found a compromise to uphold the current status on race radios for 2012 while a independent commission was set up to determine the future over the heated issue.
The Tour of Beijing is a race that the UCI has developed and initiated through GCP – its own subsidiary body charged with globalising the sport through new events. The event is a source of income for the UCI and the possibility of high profile teams deciding to shun the event could have seriously jeopardised its future. The event itself got off to a successful start this week, with world time trial champion Tony Martin winning the opening time trial. It is understood that the UCI saw the boycott as a direct threat to its governance and the expansion of cycling.
Cyclingnews has obtained letters that show that the UCI attempted to pressure team sponsors.
In a letter to one team the UCI said: "The UCI World Tour is a very important part of the UCI calendar, your team is a member of that World Tour, and in recent years the UCI have been working on a strategy to globalise the UCI World Tour. This is for obvious reasons, to further develop our sport, bring it to a truly global audience and indeed to give a valuable return on investment for our sponsors."
The letter goes on: "I can also assure you that any team who does not take the start line in Beijing will be brought before the UCI Licence Commission at the end of the year and risks losing its licence and all the associated benefits. UCI doesn't like involving sponsors in the internal affairs of our sport but in this case we felt that as a sponsor of this team, it was felt important that you should be informed."
Finally the UCI also allude to how a sponsor's business may in fact suffer:
"they [the Chinese organisers] will take this as an offence and it could have repercussions of a commercial nature. This event is being promoted by the City of Beijing under the direction of the Mayor of Beijing, Gou Jinlong and the word boycott has a very high resonance in the Chinese culture for different reasons and they will feel that as an insult to the Chinese people."
Cyclingnews contacted the UCI for comment.
In an email a UCI press officer said he had talked to the President Pat McQuaid, who said, "This subject is closed as far as UCI is concerned the UCI does not wish to comment."
The attempt to pressure sponsors appears to a clear and direct attack on a number of team managers who have voiced several concerns with the UCI this year. Earlier this spring a number of team bosses including Johan Bruyneel and Jonathan Vaughters openly discussed the option of a breakaway league competing against the UCI. At one point 11 major teams were said to be considering the project. Although the discussions remained little more than just blue sky ideas, the UCI saw fit to openly condemn the idea.
"It's all very well for the managers of certain teams at the top level to think they can create a different league or a series amongst themselves for their own personal gain and ambitions and think they can go in a different direction but it's not as simple as that," McQuaid said at the time.
Bruyneel fired back: "You know, we don't care anymore about the threats of McQuaid. If he goes on the way he has been going, maybe we will stop with everything or maybe something else will happen."