The cycling scene in South Africa was set to grow alongside its first Professional Continental team, MTN-Qhubeka, but UCI rules on sponsorship have prevented road races from being sanctioned by the sport's international governing body.
The Tour de Richelieu, a series of one-day races culminating in the South African road championships in February, were planned to be ranked UCI 1.2 and broadcast on television. However, there was one snag: Richelieu is a brandy made by the event's sponsor Distell, and the UCI rule 1.2.030 prohibits sponsorships which promote cigarettes, pornography, beverages with an alcohol-by-volume percentage over 15, "or any other products that might damage the image of the UCI or the sport of cycling in general".
Last month, Cycling SA issued a press release regarding the issue, stating, "At this point in time the original agreement has been suspended due to these global sponsorship rules pertaining to the UCI regulations surrounding alcohol advertising."
Cycling SA's Mylene Loumeau confirmed to Cyclingnews that the events will still be held, each under its own existing title sponsor, but will not be under the Tour de Richlieu banner or as UCI-ranked events.
"These events were existing, well-run and functioning races on our local calendar in which Cycling SA were attempting to add UCI 1.2 status to four of them, also giving these events a television broadcast package, under the 'Tour de Richelieu' umbrella," Loumeau said.
In the earlier press release, Cycling SA stated its intent to continue to work with Distell. "It certainly is disappointing for us not to have been able to make this partnership work immediately. However, with Distell’s continued commitment to our sport we are hopeful that opportunities will present themselves in the not too distant future for them to be formally involved with Cycling South Africa. It is not often that one gets such a committed world class partner who shares in our vision of world class achievements, so we sincerely look forward to Distell being involved soon."
The lack of UCI sanctioning means that, by UCI rules, the Pro Continental MTN-Qhubeka team is not allowed to participate in national-level races other than the national championships. Team manager Douglas Ryder expressed his disappointment to Cyclingnews.
"The UCI one day races were all going to be in February which would have been perfect for our team as we would have been able to race them and prepare for the South African National Championships at the end of February," Ryder said. "Now with the sponsor concerns we have no races that we can ride which is not good for our sponsor nor our visibility in South Africa.
"We are fortunate in that our feeder team in partnership with the World Cycling Centre will be able to race so we will have sponsor visibility in South Africa but not with the Pro Conti Team. It is a big drive of ours to get Cycling South Africa and the event organisers to register UCI races so that the sport can be uplifted more in country."
While almost every Belgian cyclo-cross race displays big banners advertising for beer, the percentage of alcohol of Richelieu was the sticking point in the regulations.
UCI spokesman Enrico Carpani told Cyclingnews, "Although it may be difficult at the moment to secure sponsorship deals for cycling, that in no way means that we are ready to lower our standards or shift our principles. It would simply not be appropriate to link certain products, such as tobacco, spirits and pornographic products with the sport of cycling, which we wish to promote as a healthy activity for all members of the world’s population."