By Shane Stokes in Huy
Unibet.com has indicated that it will pursue damages of five million Euros against ASO, the organisers of Flèche Wallonne, after its riders were refused a start in the race on Wednesday.
Speaking to journalists before the start of the ProTour event, directeur sportif Hilaire Van Der Schueren confirmed that the team's entry had been blocked, despite a court order issued earlier this week by a court in Liège directing ASO to allow the Swedish-registered squad to ride.
The team's holding company Green Cycle Associates AB also issued a statement confirming this fact. "Green Cycle has itself initiated proceedings before the Liège courts against ASO on the basis of breach of competition and unfair trade practices law. A court order was issued ordering ASO to allow Green Cycle to participate in the races Flèche Wallonne and Liège Bastogne Liège under penalty of payment of EUR 5 million per infringement of the court order."
According to Van Der Schueren, the courts ruled that the team was entitled under European law to race in Belgium, and to use their regular Unibet.com team kit. However, when the management tried to gain accreditation for the race on Tuesday evening, they were denied, and the team car was also denied access to the start area this morning.
"It's not about the money," Van Der Schueren said. "We want to race. Our riders are sitting in the hotel rather than riding today."
UCI loses court case
Both Van Der Schueren and the press release also clarified some confusion relating to earlier reports that ASO had won a court action on the matter. The UCI had taken a separate legal action against the organisers in a court in Brussels, but this was over-ruled on the grounds that the court considered the March 5th 'peace deal' between them to be non-binding. The UCI had pursued legal action against ASO, saying that by excluding Unibet.com from its races, it violated the settlement that had been concluded prior to Paris-Nice.
Two court cases differ
The Liège proceeding was one taken directly by Green Cycle against ASO is the one which resulted in a favourable judgment.
"Since these two court cases concern different parties and are based on a different legal ground, the defeat of UCI before the Brussels courts has in no way altered the validity and existence of the Liège court order," stated the release. "Green Cycle has therefore presented itself at the team directors' meeting at the Flèche Wallonne together with a bailiff, who has officially established that Green Cycle was refused participation. In other words, ASO has chosen to neglect the Liège court order. Green Cycle will now pursue payment of the EUR 5 million penalty that was ordered by the Liège court."
The communiqué denied rumours that the Brussels court decision would have annulled the Liège court order. "On the contrary, these proceedings do not affect each other," it continued. "Therefore, Green Cycle is of opinion that ASO has willfully refused to obey the Liège court order and will take all necessary measures in order to make ASO accountable for this refusal to respect a Belgian judgment."