Team to hold press conference on Wednesday
By Shane Stokes, with assistance from Susan Westemeyer
While Monday's press release was somewhat vague about Unibet.com's chance of making the lineup for races such as the Tour de France, all indications since the meeting are that the Swedish-registered squad is still not guaranteed selection for events run by the Grand Tour organisers.
A line in the joint communiqué had initially given the impression that the squad's odds of participation had improved, raising the possibility that their exclusion could be over. "Without prejudicing their right to grant wild cards to all other teams of their choice, for the duration of this agreement ASO, RCS and Unipublic will examine in a positive spirit the granting of wild cards to the teams Astana and Unibet, in particular insofar as such decisions are not likely to expose or be likely to expose the organisers to legal consequences, of whatever nature they might be."
Although optimistic in tone, the phrase 'examine in a positive spirit,' is short of a firm commitment and so Cyclingnews sought to get clarification from the UCI on Tuesday as to what this meant. While the governing body said that it would not comment on Monday's meeting until later in the week, Patrice Clerc's quotes to AFP (see below) show that the team is still not assured of a start in its races.
The ASO chairman spoke of difficulties with the French law prohibiting gambling, suggesting that this bound their hands. While the team used non-branded jerseys while winning the GP d'Ouverture La Marseillaise and a stage of the Etoile de Bessèges, Clerc did not propose this as a way around the difficulty.
Unibet.com general manager Koen Terryn had told Het Laatste Niews that he was adopting a wait-and-see approach. "At this point we still don't know whether our not we can start Sunday in the first ProTour race of the season, Paris-Nice. If we cannot, then we will take legal steps, that is one of the possibilities.
"First I will wait for our meeting [on this issue] before I come to a decision. We do not want to react prematurely in this very complex situation. We have maintained close contact with ASO, the organisers of Paris-Nice and the Tour de France, among other races."
Team manager Jacques Hanegraaf seemed to be less convinced that there could be a satisfactory outcome. "Nothing has changed in our situation," he told Sporza.be. "Did they really have to negotiate nine hours for this agreement? They could have decided that in half an hour. We have invested 32 million euro in order to join the ProTour. We have a right to start in all races, but they are trying to take that right away from us. We will not leave it at that and will take legal steps to try to enforce our right to start."
Unibet.com has called a press conference for Wednesday afternoon, to take place at 2 PM in the Hotel Drongen in the Belgian town of the same name. Though restrained, a statement on its website further underlined that the team are not satisfied with the current uncertainty.
"The ProTour cycling team Unibet, managed by Green Cycle Associates AB, has learned from the agreement between ASO, RCS, Unipublic, the IPCT and the UCI, that it is still up to the Grand Tour organisers to decide if the team would be granted a wild card to participate in races part of the international calendar.
"Today we will not further comment on the issue as we, the team management, investigate our legal and regulatory position and options."
The release concluded by saying that the team will clarify its position at the press conference. Koen Terryn, Jacques Hanegraaf and legal counsellor Christophe Depretere will be in attendance for Unibet.com.