By Laura Weislo
The UCI's ProTour series opened in Australia this week, and with the start of the contentious calendar comes another round of conflict between the sport's governing body and the Grand Tour organisers. While the races run by Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO, France), RCS Sport (Italy) and Unipublic (Spain) may no longer be part of the ProTour calendar, the change in status has continued to generate tension.
UCI president Pat McQuaid reportedly sent a letter to six European countries' cycling federations who have taken the side of the organisers, threatening to exclude their athletes from the World Championships if the federations were to sanction events promoted by the three Grand Tour organisers.
Agency France Presse reported that the letter, dated January 15, was sent to the federations of Austria, Belgium, Spain, France, Italy and Luxembourg, the same countries which sent a letter to McQuaid in December stating that they would allow the races to take place under their sanctioning as a reaction to the changes to the UCI's calendar.
The federations could be called on to sanction races such as Liège - Bastogne - Liège, Paris-Roubaix, Milan-Sanremo and the Giro di Lombardia among others, on top of the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a España.
If the races were to run under the guise of the national federations, ProTour and Professional Continental riders will not be allowed to compete by the UCI as they are disallowed from entering national races per the governing body's regulations. The new threat of exclusion from the World Championships could affect the Olympic berths of the six countries should their athletes be kept from the competition.
The French and Italian federations criticized the UCI for its decision to change the classification of the races, and called for a round table to discuss the situation with all the involved parties. Jean Pitallier, president of the French Cycling Federation (FFC), told AFP that the UCI did not have the "authority to place the competitions of ASO, RCS and Unipublic into classes on a unilaterally chosen calendar since the Federation had not asked, which is the rule of the UCI."
McQuaid's letter reportedly opened the door to discussion, stating, "The steering committee will make the decisions it deems necessary, including the possibility of convening an extraordinary congress, as has been suggested by some of its members," he wrote.
A long history of conflict
The three organisations which run the events have objected to the UCI's ProTour since its inception in 2004, and have had a long-running battle with the UCI over having their races on the ProTour calendar. They mainly objected to the UCI's rules which forced them to invite all ProTour teams, a particularly contentious rule when the UCI licensed 20 ProTour teams for the 2007 season.
The UCI took the events in question off of the ProTour calendar for 2008 as a concession to the organisers, placing them instead on the European calendar or a new class of European calendar which allows the inclusion of more wild card teams. The organisers saw this move as a 'downgrade' in status, and threatened to remove them from the UCI's calendar altogether.
A similar situation occurred one year ago when the ASO threatened to hold Paris-Nice under the French federation. The UCI responded by prohibiting ProTour teams from participating in the event. The argument threatened the start of the season, and placed riders in the middle of the two warring bodies. Only an emergency meeting and an interim peace deal allowed the racing to go forward, but clearly without solving the underlying issues.
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'