By Shane Stokes
With less than three weeks remaining before the start of Paris-Nice, the first race listed on the ProTour calendar, hopes of a resolution to the controversy surrounding the exclusion of Unibet.com are fading. The UCI and ASO, organiser of the race plus other events such as the Tour de France, met today in Lyon, where UCI president Pat McQuaid and ProTour manager Alain Rumpf represented the governing body while ASO president Patrice Clerc and Gilbert Ysern spoke on behalf of the French company.
McQuaid had requested the meeting but any possibility that the current uncertainty and conflict could be resolved was lost when the talks broke down.
The UCI issued a press release on Monday evening about the matter. Entitled 'ASO's Stance Blocks Any Discussion With The UCI,' it lays the blame for what happened squarely at the door of Clerc and Ysern.
"During this meeting, requested by the UCI President, ASO maintained its position rejecting the UCI's function and legitimacy as an international federation, which it seems to want to take control of through its strategy to destabilize. ASO is in fact refusing the UCI the right to set participation rules for races entered on the UCI ProTour calendar.
"On this basis, which is totally unacceptable to the UCI, no agreement or compromise could be reached. Talks between the parties were therefore unsuccessful." ASO has yet to issue its own take in relation to what occured at the meeting.
What happens next remains to be seen. The UCI had previously threatened to impose unspecified sanctions and this now appears to be increasingly likely. The matter is further complicated by Italian organiser RCS' announcement last week that it would also prevent Unibet.com from participating in Milan-San Remo, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Giro d'Italia.
Midway through December, Unibet.com succeeded in acquiring a ProTour licence, having met the financial, ethical and sporting obligations to do so. However, despite this, the team has been locked out of many of the ProTour events after declarations by ASO, RCS and the Spanish organiser Unipublic that they would stand united against the ProTour's selection criteria. McQuaid has said that their intention is to destroy the top division series, which has the stated aim of furthering the development of the sport in Europe and worldwide.
"The UCI will soon decide what action to take due to the deadlock created by ASO's attitude, which has decided to put itself in an illegal position vis-à-vis the sport's movement as a whole," concluded the UCI release. "[It] can only regret the irresponsible behaviour of its partners, which will seriously harm the general interests of all those involved in cycling."
The response of the professional teams will also be of interest to many. At the end of last month the CPA rider's council backed the UCI on the ProTour issue, It is uncertain if the teams will now unite behind Unibet and threaten to boycott any of the races organised by ASO, RCS or Unipublic. Discovery Channel's Sean Yates told Cyclingnews in recent days that such a show of group solidarity may be necessary if teams are to have any say in this issue.