The French ProTour teams AG2R, Francaise des Jeux, Bouygues Telecom and Cofidis have received a letter from UCI president Pat McQuaid yesterday, urging then not to take part in Paris-Nice, organised by Tour de France management company ASO. After a long dispute over the ProTour, the world governing body of cycling and the three Grand Tour organisers have reached a dead end of negotiations. The French stage race has been taken out of the UCI calendar and placed under the supervision of the French cycling federation, which will also carry out doping controls at the event. The same is expected to happen to Italian stage race Tirreno-Adriatico, organised by RCS.
In his letter, McQuaid reminds the four French teams (except Crédit Agricole) that the UCI will sanction them in case they participate in the race, threatening them with "very hard sanctions." Under article 2.1.009 of UCI rules, ProTour teams cannot take part in national events.
But the directors of the French teams, to which Paris-Nice is even more important than to the other European ProTour teams, do not want to back down. "I don't want to be taken a hostage," Francaise des Jeux team manager Marc Madiot told L'Equipe on Wednesday. "I don't accept threats. I have a contract with my sponsor, with my riders, but also with the UCI ProTour, and Paris-Nice is still in that calendar. I have fulfilled a list of requirements to obtain a license, and I honour my commitments. I can't imagine that I will be sanctioned. According to what could you prevent people from doing their honest jobs?"
Jean-René Bernaudeau of Bouygues Telecom agreed. "I have three problems," he explained plainly. "On one hand, the UCI that asks me to respect the rules, and on the other, my riders and my sponsor, who want us to race. Whichever side I choose, I will have at least one problem yet to solve."
And there are legal conditions which need to be taken into account. "If we can't race, we are forbidden to carry out our profession," he said. "Will the riders thus be technically on the dole? That would create a nice legal mess, and it wouldn't be wise of the UCI. Moreover, the UCI would not be very thankful of the fact that we have been paying a license for three years, without getting in return what it was supposed to bring. We have always encouraged the UCI to dialogue and to be constructive, but in this instance, it shows that it is rather totalitarian."
Last Sunday, Pat McQuaid met with other ProTour team managers at the Tour of California (amongst which Crédit Agricole), to convince them of taking the UCI's side in the conflict. The interest group of the ProTour teams, the International Professional Cycling Teams (IPCT), will meet in Brussels on Friday, March 2 to find a common stance in the power play.