UCI president Pat McQuaid has directly threatened riders and teams with suspensions and fines if they side with the Paris-Nice organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and participate in the upcoming race, which is to be sanctioned under the French national federation. In an e-mail sent Tuesday, McQuaid expressed his sympathy with the riders' situations, but said he was prepared to take action against them.
According to the letter, riders who participate in Paris-Nice face up to six months suspension, a fine of up to 10,000 Swiss francs, the loss of UCI points and "exclusion from participation in UCI World Championships and other events". Teams were threatened with the suspension of their UCI registration, a fine of up to 10,000 Swiss francs and withdrawal of the UCI ProTour licence or Wild Card label.
"Our riders received this letter by e-mail today [Tuesday]," Rabobank's sports director Eric Breukink told AFP. "Our riders are frightened."
The move follows more than a week of silence from the ASO, who announced on February 26, 2008 that they would hold Paris-Nice outside the aegis of the UCI and had recruited the French Cycling Federation (FFC) to sanction the event. The ASO then appointed the French anti-doping agency, AFLD, to be in charge of the doping controls for the event.
Since that time, the ASO has steered clear of making statements to the press, declining to be interviewed by Cyclingnews, and only chimed in today to declare that the threats of the UCI are "totally disproportionate". In a statement to AFP, the ASO spokesperson said, "The UCI launches totally disproportionate threats against riders and teams (such as fines, suspension, exclusion)," and reiterated the organisation's stance that sanctioning Paris-Nice under the FFC is in accordance with French law.
The ASO statement said that it "has the support of the Ministry of Sports and the French Anti-doping Agency (AFLD) for the organisation of the event."
The tensions are expected to rise ahead of the event which begins Sunday. The ASO spokesperson said that six of the 20 teams invited to the race had not returned their entry forms, and must do so by 1700 Saturday, and added that the ASO will make no further comments until then.
Belgian newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen released a copy of the letter sent to riders, which can be viewed here.