By Jean-François Quénet in Adelaide
UCI ProTour manager Alain Rumpf made his way to South Australia to see how the world's top competition can make its globalization concept a reality. "Four months ago it took only 72 hours for the organization of the Tour Down Under to sort out a budget for flying the 18 ProTour teams to Adelaide - it was an even 20 at the time," Rumpf said. "It was an opportunity not to be missed by the UCI in the process of globalization."
In January 2006, being a guest of the Tour Down Under, President Pat McQuaid stated that the ProTour could not go outside Europe and it was impossible to fly 20 teams overseas. "A few things have happened that we couldn't imagine three years ago," Rumpf said in response. "It's not been us at the UCI contacting [Russian president Vladimir] Putin but rather he is saying 'I want a big bike race in Russia and I want to do it via the ProTour.' That means the concept of the Pro Tour isn't too bad."
Although the ProTour doesn't include all the world's biggest races anymore, the Tour Down Under is the first on an agenda that could see the Tour of California and new races in Russia and China being a part of the series as soon as in 2009. The concept guarantees the participation of the 18 Pro Tour teams who are supposed to be the best in the world but it doesn't mean the best cyclists are obliged to do it.
Beside the Australian stars (but not Cadel Evans, Michael Rogers and Bradley McGee), the start list of the Tour Down Under doesn't feature the biggest names of the cycling world. "With only a four month's notice since the inception of the Tour Down Under on the ProTour calendar, the riders who have the Classics and the Grand Tours in mind haven't had time to change their program," said Rumpf.
"We won't draw any conclusion about the participation until after the 2009 Tour Down Under. We think the teams will modify their views in the future. This race is only the first of a four-year deal," he said. "We believe strongly in the capacity of organizers like Mike Turtur to bring new ideas in cycling. It's a logical evolution for the ProTour to go global. We are in a competition against other sports worldwide so we cannot allow cycling to be restricted to the four historical countries (France, Italy, Belgium and Spain)."
Rumpf was enjoying seeing some racing in Adelaide as a break from a few steady months of cycling politics at the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland.