Unibet.com posted an open letter to the three organizers of the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia, and the Vuelta a España Wednesday. The team has been caught amidst an ongoing battle between ASO, RCS Sport, and Unipublic and the UCI in recent months, and they pleaded publicly for a resolution with a more than 1800 word letter published on their website www.unibetcycling.com.
"In the name of all those who are passionate about cycling and who live for this sport, we invite the organizers of the major tours and the International Union of Cycling to bury the hatchet. Stop this arbitrary decision which threatens cycling," said the letter.
The three organizers of the major Tours, Paris-Nice, the Giro, and the Vuelta have declined to participate in the UCI ProTour. Recently, Paris-Nice organizers refused to allow entry for all twenty ProTour teams, and as a result, it lost UCI sanctioning and then converted to a French national calendar event. ASO formally denied participation of Unibet.com in favor of other "wild card" teams that they nominated. Unibet.com pointed out in its release that four ProTour teams will be excluded from the 2008 Tour de France and said that cash and favors friends determine the four wild card invitations.
Unibet.com, which holds its ProTour license through 2010, warned that the decisions not to play along with the UCI "will have deplorable consequences" for the athletes and their teams. "Even the most exacting training does no longer guarantee a place in the major cycling races in France, Italy and Spain, the best cyclists will be threatened by the lack of security." They predict the subsequent withdrawal of sponsors who won't want to risk sponsoring a team "which, at the discretion of the organizers, may be prevented from racing at any time." What are the consequences for cycling fans? Unibet said, "They will find themselves deprived of a genuine competition in which the best compete against one another under transparent regulations." They also wonder if the media will maintain interest if the best teams are replaced by teams of a lower level.
One simple solution is diplomatically proposed. "For example, it would suffice to reduce the number of cyclists per team for the coming races. This would give more teams the opportunity to participate without overburdening the peloton. This reasonable compromise should be acceptable to everyone: UCI [International Cycling Union], teams, athletes and organizers," said the letter.
It is not until later in the letter that Unibet specifically laments its own situation and warns other teams. In a section titled "Why the discrimination of the ProTour Cycling Team Unibet.com is very unfair," they remind readers that they passed "a rigorous and objective selection procedure to obtain its UCI ProTour Licence." Calling the invitation of Pro "Cash" Continental teams in place of UCI ProTour teams discriminatory, Unibet.com wrote, "We feel strongly victimized by the cartel ASO, RCS Sport and Unipublic... The economic damage to our team and our partners, suppliers & staff of not participating in all ProTour Races would be tremendous. The cartel wants to exclude Unibet... Whose turn will it be next?"
Unibet.com considers its team a long-term project which supports the Swedish Cycling Federation in order to develop a top pro cycling team based in a country not traditionally known for cycling... "We want to become better and better every year, by building up a whole structure and strengthening the squad." They also boast well-known riders like sprinter Baden Cooke, former green jersey in the Tour de France, and climber Jose Rujano. "Are the organizers of the Tour, Giro and Vuelta afraid of Jose Rujano, our Venezuelan top climber ready to take the mountain jersey or a podium in a Grand Tour (as he did in the Giro of 2005)?" Finally, the team calls attention to two other initiatives: it supports its own Professional Continental Team with 13 young cyclists and has implemented stringent anti-doping policies.
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'