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Cyclingnews Exclusive: The fight between ASO, UCI and teams for the future of pro cycling

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UCI World Tour

UCI World Tour (Image credit: UCI)
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UCI president Brian Cookson

UCI president Brian Cookson (Image credit: briancookson.org)
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Race director Christian Prudhomme presents the 2015 Tour de France route

Race director Christian Prudhomme presents the 2015 Tour de France route (Image credit: AFP)
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102nd Tour de France 2015 Presentation Christian Prudhomme TDF Director and Jan van Zanen (Ned) Mayor departure city Utrecht

102nd Tour de France 2015 Presentation Christian Prudhomme TDF Director and Jan van Zanen (Ned) Mayor departure city Utrecht (Image credit: Tim de Waele/TDWSport.com)
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The Velon logo

The Velon logo (Image credit: Velon)

The fight for the control of professional cycling's political and governmental landscape has intensified with the UCI and the Amaury Sport Organisation (organisers of the Tour de France) at loggerheads over the governing body's latest set of WorldTour reforms.

The stakes are high, with ASO determined not to relinquish the power and influence on the sport they have built up over the years, while the UCI and the teams in the WorldTour are looking to push through reforms and extend the power and authority that they already have.

Last Friday a leaked letter from ASO to the UCI's Professional Cycling Council (PCC) and the UCI Management Committee, indicated that the ASO was threatening remove their races from the 2016 WorldTour calendar if the reforms, in their current format, are approved.

This threat came after an important presentation of the planned WorldTour reforms on June 10 in Geneva, where those appointed to draw up the reform for 2017-2020 revealed their updated vision for the future of men's professional cycling. The PCC approved the reform document and its proposals in a vote during a meeting on June 16 but only with a majority. Cyclingnews understands that six members of the PCC voted in favour, two abstained and three voted against. Among those that apparently voted against the reforms were ASO's Christian Prudhomme, and David Lappartient, the vice-president of the UCI. Cyclingnews reached out to ASO but have yet to receive an official response. David Lappartient agreed to be interviewed but has yet to speak to Cyclingnews. 

The figures relating to the vote have been reported differently in other news outlets but Cyclingnews has confirmed the 6:3:2 results via two independent sources. The score would have been 7:3:2 had Team Sky's Bernhard Eisel been present and voted. The Austrian is a UCI riders' representative but was racing the Tour de Suisse when the vote took place and despite submitting written support for the reforms he was not eligible to vote due to his non-attendance.

Cyclingnews has obtained both the letter sent by Yann Le Moenner, the Marketing, Strategy and Business Development Director at A.S.O, to the PPC and UCI, and the 15-page WorldTour reform proposal document. We have spoken to several sources close to the reform process.

While reports on Friday indicated that ASO would consider removing events from the WorldTour if progress was not made with the reforms, Cyclingnews understands that the current situation is far more complex with the UCI's stance currently being undermined from elements high up within their own Management Committee. These can be traced to a potential presidential rival for Brian Cookson, extensive round of reforms that would see the number WorldTour events increased and the scrapping of the relegation and promotion scheme that was originally lobbied for. It is this latter element that has in part angered ASO but as one source told Cyclingnews the real battle is over the control and power that runs directly through races, sponsorship and essentially the other main revenue streams within the sport.

There had been a huge amount of early resistance to the first set of reforms when they were presented at last year's WorldTour Seminar in Montreux (Switzerland). However under the latest versions the reforms would look to bring in new races to the WorldTour level (those currently at HC level would be eligible to apply). This aspect came about after lengthy and productive consultation between the stakeholders with Cyclingnews informed by one key source that Brian Cookson was a leader in the discussion. One key aspect in the new version of the reform would mean that teams would not have to mandatorily race in new WorldTour events.

The teams' argument, which has been reported several times in the past, is that they don't wish to touch ASO's existing rights but that they simply want to the opportunity to collaborate with other organisers and to set up their own revenue streams.

The relegation dilemma

After ASO's leaked letter appeared, several reports followed, some of which insinuated that the teams wanted to establish a closed system, in which WorldTour licences were guaranteed. However the WorldTour reform document illustrates that the stakeholders have advocated for a more open system for teams, enabling new teams to enter the top tier of the sport.

It is understood that during the stakeholders process it was agreed that this system should tie in with the economical model and security of teams rather than annual risk of relegation which would place added pressure on the sporting results.

And what of Brian Cookson and his position? He came in on a mandate of trying to restore credibility to cycling and to improve globalization and the commercial prospects of the sport. There have been some wins in both the men's and women's fields but there have been blows too, most notably over the Astana and Roman Kreuziger Biological Passport cases in which Cookson's office has taken the brunt of the hits.