UCI president Pat McQuaid has written to all professional teams to inform them that this year's Paris-Nice will not be regulated by the sport's world governing body, warning that there will be "far reaching consequences" if race organizer Amaury Sports Organization continues on its current course of action. The Irishman's letter comes after the French Cycling Federation agreed to a request from ASO, which also organizes the Tour de France, to run the 75 year-old race as a national calendar event "under the exclusive jurisdiction of French law".
McQuaid was clearly upset with ASO's actions, as the war of words between the sport's international governing body and the Grand Tour organizers enters yet another chapter.
"The current organizers are behaving in a very irrational way," McQuaid told Associated Press. "It's about power and it has nothing to do with sport. We cannot allow this to happen."
Describing ASO's actions as "utterly irregular", the UCI has threatened to have no involvement with the first major European race of 2008. It said that no international or national commissaries would be authorized to work at the event as it will not be governed by the UCI rules if ASO continues to organize the race as a national calendar event.
"The UCI wished it to be known first of all that, under the chosen format (event on the national calendar, under exclusive jurisdiction of French law), the UCI rules do not permit Paris-Nice to be considered an event on the French national calendar," read a release from the UCI. "Consequently, if the FFC insists on maintaining this position, the race will take place entirely outside the regulatory and organisational structure of the UCI.
"Responsibility for this breach of the rules would therefore lie in the first place with the FFC, which would be contributing to the organisation of a purely private event, with no links to organised sport or to the Olympic movement, of which the UCI is the sole organ of reference for all disciplines of cycling
"The UCI therefore wishes to make it clear that it will not be involved in any way in the organisation of Paris-Nice under the above-mentioned conditions," added the release. "This means that, as far as the International Federation is concerned, this event will have no classification and no winner, and no points will be awarded for it. Moreover, no anti-doping controls will be carried out by the UCI, nor will it be involved in the management of any tests which may be carried out under national law."
The latest political situation in the UCI/ASO power play is a reverse of the events that took place just 12 months ago. Then, the UCI was threatening to ban the Paris-Nice race from the ProTour if ASO didn't comply with the rules of the ProTour by inviting all 20 ProTour teams to participate.
During the 2007 saga, ASO approached the FFC about running the event under its governance as the UCI threatened to cut the event lose. While the dispute was said to be over the organiser's inability to invite Unibet.com to participate in any French events due to the nation's gambling laws, it was widely accepted that the new ProTour team became a pawn in the UCI Vs. Grand Tour battle. Despite the political uproar in the lead-up to last year's race, the event went ahead following a 'crisis meeting' - without the Unibet.com team.
While McQuaid hasn't said whether the UCI would move to sanction any teams participating in the event, he has requested that in the interest of the sport they refuse to take part in the March 9-16 race. "The UCI trusts that, recognising the seriousness of the situation, the teams will refuse to take part in Paris-Nice, as, regardless of the sanctions to which they would be subject, such participation would compromise the image and stability of cycling.
"Given that it is the role of an International Federation to safeguard the general interests of its sport from the influence of commercial groups, the UCI invites all the members of its extended family to stand by it in what will most certainly be difficult times ahead, and to oppose the unacceptable insubordination of ASO and its allies," continued the release. "These irresponsible attitudes threaten to undermine the remarkable efforts recently made in cycling, in particular with the biological passport, which the UCI reserves the right to apply as a priority to those of its partners who abide by its rules."
While tensions had seemingly simmered earlier this year when the UCI proposed a special calendar for the events run by the three Grand Tour organizers, the boiling pot's temperature again rose when ASO announced earlier this month Astana wouldn't be invited to contest the Tour de France, or any of its other 2008 races. While ASO said it would consider the team in future years, McQuaid was upset that the organization had singled out Astana, which has been completely rebuilt under new management since last season, and not French squad Cofidis, which was also thrown off last year's Tour after one of its riders registered a positive doping test.
The UCI closed its statement with a plea to the FFC and French Secretary of State for Sport, asking them to reconsider their decision with regards to Paris-Nice.
"The UCI asks the FFC and the Secretary of State for Sport, as a matter of the utmost urgency, to re-examine and reconsider their decision to support a position taken by a private company with the apparent aim of promoting its own commercial interests, with scant regard to the fair, open and universally respected rules defended by the UCI."
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'