By Shane Stokes and Gerard Knapp
Following an unsuccessful meeting on Monday of this week, the ongoing battle between the UCI and ASO has heated up considerably. In a letter sent to all UCI ProTour teams on Wednesday, the UCI has pointed out that under its regulations, they cannot participate in a race held within a national calendar status and therefore such teams are not eligible to take part in Paris-Nice.
ASO has entered into an agreement with the French Cycling Federation (FFC) to run the race as a "NE" event, lacking UCI world-ranking points.
The UCI is strongly opposed to ASO's plans to exclude ProTour team Unibet.com from its races, believing that if one or more of the teams are unable to take part in an event on its ProTour calendar, it invalidates that round of the competition. ASO has cited French law as one reason for their stance, with those rules currently banning gambling and lottery advertising from all but a handful of companies.
However, Italian and Spanish race organizers RCS Sport and Unipublic, who have stood with ASO against the ProTour, have also said that they will block the Swedish-registered team from competing in their events. Unibet.com has thus appeared to have become a casualty in the ongoing battle between the UCI and the Grand Tour organizers.
While the Association of Professional Cyclists' (CPA) council last month declared its support for the ProTour, the teams themselves have not yet made an official pronouncement as to whether or not they will back Unibet.com and the ProTour concept in the UCI/Grand Tour standoff. This latest development is sure to elicit a clearer response from them on the matter, while also putting the 2007 Paris-Nice under serious doubt.
The UCI's strong stance could lead to further action by the Grand Tour organisers, who may retaliate along similar lines. Indeed, a source close to one of the organisers claims they may insist that the top teams enter certain races to be eligible for entry into their respective Grand Tours, a decision that could lead to a dual calendar or circuit of cycling races.
More details to follow 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'