While 'worthy', new UCI boss Cookson says Tour Down Under’s role could change
UCI President Brian Cookson wasted little time before addressing media on plans to review the role and status of Australia's only – and most prestigious – cycling road race. Cookson arrived in South Australia on Tuesday evening to kick off the 2014 WorldTour season at the Santos Tour Down Under, now in its 16th year.
The trip marks the first time the former British Cycling head, who was elected in late September, has attended the event.
"I've been to Australia several times," Cookson told Cyclingnews prior to stage two from Prospect to Stirling on Wednesday. "It's the first time I've spent time in this part of Australia and it's great to be here."
Cookson's top priority for 2014 consists of a newly formed, impartial three-member Cycling Independent Reform Commission, for which the UCI has allocated a budget of three million Swiss francs ($3.7m AUD) to formally investigate alleged wrongdoings, as well as doping issues that have plagued the sport and tarnished its credibility in recent years.
However on Thursday morning prior to stage three from Norwood to Campbelltown, Cookson turned his attention toward the future of the Tour Down Under and its role in the WorldTour calendar.
Cookson told media that the review of the calendar was at quite an early stage of the process, but that there have been ideas put forward about the timing of the season and calendar.
"I don't want to pre-empt the final outcome of the calendar review which is a wholesale review of the whole structure of professional men's road cycling," Cookson said. "When the riders that I talk to say they love coming down here, when the teams tell me they like coming here, that it works for them, it's not stressful and on the contrary that it's a really great start to the year for them, those are really positive kind of things to throw into the assessment process that's ongoing."
Simultaneous competition from the lower-ranked (2.1 category) – and government-backed – Tour de San Luis in Argentina, as well as a near-two-month gap between the Tour Down Under and the next UCI WorldTour event Paris-Nice in France from March 9-16, is an issue Cookson would like to see considered in the review process.
"We develop the calendar, develop the sport in a structured, strategic way and not just in an ad-hoc way," he said. "Whilst it's important we let the review take its course, I don't think anyone needs to be too concerned. I think this is a really successful event and we want to try to build on that success.
Tour Down Under race director Mike Turtur was quick to defend South Australia's stake in the race and dismiss any notions of a change in date and venue.
The former UCI Oceania president told Cyclingnews that "for an early season race, six days is perfect, the terrain is okay, and the distance of the stages is 150km which is exactly what is needed. The teams say that and we see good racing everyday, any longer and it would just kill the race. The elements that make our race good are on our doorstep. This is not a race should ever be moved in terms of location or timing."
"So the last thing I would want to do is damage something as successful as the Tour Down Under," Cookson concluded. "It seems to be as far as I can see a great event, it's had a good reputation, it's built incrementally over the years into one of our really strong events."
With the reform commission also intensely focused on cleaning up the sport fresh off the heels of banned-cyclist Danilo Di Luca's claim of it being impossible to finish in the top 10 of the Giro d'Italia without using performance enhancing drugs, when asked about former Orica-GreenEdge rider and self-confessed drug cheat Stuart O'Grady, Cookson said: "I'm not going to comment on an individual if I can avoid it, for obvious reasons. But what I will say is I think people, I would encourage everyone to tell all of the truth, if you tell the partial truth - and I'm not saying that anyone is doing – the thing about the truth is that it comes out in the end."
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