Everyone back to their seats

News feature, December 12, 2005

In Paris last Friday, organisers of the Giro d'Italia, Vuelta a España and Tour de France expressed their complete disagreement and abandonment from the UCI ProTour. This is a serious issue inside elite road cycling that will certainly create new chapters in the coming days. Cyclingnews' Hernan Alvarez contacted Vuelta a España director Victor Cordero for his personal view of the argument.

Cyclingnews: After this meeting, how are things right now?

Victor Cordero: There has been no news these last 48 hours. The main topic now is to set up a vision of the three Grand Tours in terms of how things should go for 2006 and the coming years. Let's not forget that we took into account a letter from the UCI which we received around 12 days ago, telling us that there was no chance of negotiating, there were no more discussions, that they agreed to establish the same system in 2006 as in 2005, and in which they already announced to put us into a, let's say, separate calendar in 2007.

So, the situation today [Sunday, December 11, 2005] is that the organisers of the Giro, Vuelta and Tour have decided to set up this basis in 2006, that will be put into practice in 2007 when [the UCI intended to] create the separated calendar. And the fundamental basis is: the chance for the 20 ProTour teams to ride the races freely, not compulsorily in 2006. If the 20 teams want to, they will be welcome. If some of them don't want to, it doesn't matter. In 2007, the 14 best teams will be invited on the grounds of a classification that will award points from these three races. The rest, up to eight possible wildcards, will be given by invitation.

CN: Apart from the Grand Tours, there are other important races that would also be out of the ProTour.

VC: Yes, we have Milan-San Remo, Giro di Lombardia, Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico; they are important races indeed. Since the World Championships in Verona in October 2004, we have been saying that the ProTour as it is built is not the reform that cycling needed. We tried to convince the other parties involved that it wasn't the correct reform and we suggested our ProTour change proposal for the good of cycling in general. They [the UCI] didn't want to hear, they couldn't hear. I'd like to think that there was good will, but that they didn't understand us.

What nobody can expect us to believe that they enforce some rules upon us in 2006, and then for 2007 they say "it's all up to you"; that's what they said in the letter. They enforce this from an institution that excluded us, because we were sent off the UCI ProTour council. We assume our historical responsibility; we have the commitment to organise the three greatest races in the world. From the very beginning, these races were in hands of companies that have achieved so much with this commitment. We, who currently manage them, will keep on fulfilling it. We want cycling to be a single sport and managed [the Grand Tours] with a business view.

CN: What do you think the UCI will do, considering your position?

VC: A press release subsequent to our meeting has already been issued, saying many things, including some we don't know why they need to remind us. It says that it [the UCI] is the one that is in charge of creating the rules, etc. Of course it is. We keep on being members of the Union Cycliste Internationale. We are as part of the UCI as the ones who manage it.

And there's one absolute mistake in that release. They said that we considered the economic over the sporting aspects. That's precisely what we criticized with regard to the ProTour! The ProTour was conceived like a business, like a marketing project and not like a sporting project. We believe that cycling needs a total reform of the sporting project! Later, the sponsors will be considered.

I think it's not a question of press releases. Here, we took steps and there's no way back. We think that we had to take these steps with responsibility; we think our races' history demanded us to take them. From now on, we are open to everyone's opinion but there's no way back.

CN: Do you expect Pat McQuaid's presence in the Grand Tours? Can you imagine it?

VC: Actually, I can't imagine it. I don't imagine it because we will do the Vuelta a España launch next Wednesday where our Giro and Tour friends will visit us and they [the UCI] told us in a letter that Mr. McQuaid will not come, that Alain Rumpf and Mr. [Vittorio] Adorni [members of the ProTour council] won't come. We should have said "welcome", but instead it will be "well, absent". It doesn't matter, it's not a problem if they don't attend. They told us this in a letter with the same text [apparently the same words were used in two different letters - ed.], something which is pitiful. That means they don't even think of the letters they write.

It's true that there are quotes said by McQuaid [to L'Equipe] yesterday [Saturday, December 10] where he opens the chance for discussion and understanding for the good of cycling. I honestly believe McQuaid is a much more open person to discuss than his predecessor [Hein Verbruggen], we can deal with him better, and this truly relieves the tension for a while at this time - but I don't see a way [forward with the UCI]. I mean, I can not imagine cycling without the Tour de France. They wanted to suffocate it, where [in the UCI offices] they should have protected this race's huge richness; it represents a lot for all of us. The UCI exists because of the Tour de France.

It's true that few changes will be noticed in 2006 [even though] the 20 ProTour teams will be able to choose whether they ride [the Grand Tours]. On December 10, with all the teams already in training camps, we couldn't tell them that they won't ride this race or that race if they [already] had it scheduled. We care about the teams' worries and we assume this worry as ours. The doors are open [to ride] the three Grand Tours for all ProTour teams in 2006.

In 2007, they will have to win this right based on a classification. This was another basic problem that we saw with the ProTour. It was a kind of privilege for four years; it doesn't fit in our conception of sport in Europe where there are ins and outs, upgrades and relegations which are achieved on the road. And not because someone decides that a team gets to "play the [football] Champions League" for four years [for example].

CN: If the UCI rethinks its position and you, as I think, have the willingness to discuss, there's a chance of reunification in the future. Do you think a deal that benefits everyone could be possible in 2007 or in 2008?

VC: The easy thing for us would have been total separation. We didn't break completely because we obviously feel we are cycling, because we think the UCI has its part in cycling. Of course, we leave sporting and ruling terms in the UCI's hands. It's a break from the ProTour, but not from the worldwide federative structure that is the UCI, not at all.

From that point of view, anything is possible. But it won't be possible if someone puts the consideration of a marketing project above a sporting project again. What we all have in common is a sporting project and that's what we have to develop. The sporting project should consider that cycling has a huge pyramidal basis! From the children's categories up to the elite, what shouldn't have been done is create a divide in cycling, which we think the ProTour is. It's four years in a bubble that comes down to earth every four years; it opens for a moment and then closes again. There's no way back to that. We have definitely discarded that.

Of course, we need a sporting authority, which we recognize in the UCI. If everyone comes back to his seat, if the UCI is judge and referee, mediator and reference point between all the parties; if the organisational companies organise; if the teams ride - then the problem will probably solve itself.

We are not gentlemen whom history assigned to put fences along Italy, France and Spain's roads, and then have other gentlemen tell us how we should do the races or who should ride them. This never happened and we think it shouldn't happen now.

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'

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

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