News feature, December 19, 2005
ASO president Patrice Clerc has been one of the main figures in the ongoing stand-off between the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the three organising companies of the Grand Tours, who recently declared their independence from next year's UCI ProTour, and a desire to create a series of their own, named "Trophy of the Grand Tours".
Yet to be approved by the UCI, this project would involve a total prize fund of €2 million, with €600,000 for the winning team, and an extra €100,000 for those teams participating in all three races. Cyclingnews' Hedwig Kröner got hold of Patrice Clerc one week after the announcement, asking him the reasons behind the split, as well as the details of the trophy.
Cyclingnews: Can you reveal any details about the points system of the planned Trophy of the Grand Tours?
Patrice Clerc: We are currently very busy working on it, with our technical staff of the three companies. We have also created an expert panel to validate the classification, to make sure it really corresponds to the specific nature of our three competitions. As you know, these are very special because of their length and the different classifications, and we want the trophy to award the teams that animate our competitions.
Let me explain the idea: in the Grand Tours, there are stage winners and classification leaders every day, as well as teams who have defended the overall lead of one of their team mates during several days. And these teams contribute greatly to the animation of our competitions, which is why we want to reward them. I can remember teams in each of the past Grand Tours who have made considerable efforts to defend their leader's jersey throughout the race, but ended up winning very few or no points at all. So the aim of trophy is to reward the teams that contributed to the race's animation, which leads to public interest and ultimately to distribution. We are convinced that this is good for our competitions, of course, but also for the entire sport of cycling, as the trophy will give the fans and the media an additional motivation to be interested.
CN: And the other eight races you organise will not be part of the trophy?
PC: No, as we think that you cannot compare one-day races to Grand Tours. This is also why we criticised the inertia of the 2005 ProTour classification, where the winning team of a Grand Tour gets the same amount of points as the winning team of a one-day event. For our other races, we will examine a system which will certainly be comparable to the trophy, but based on the specificity of these events. Please give us some time to do that.
CN: How do you respond to the statements made by the UCI, according to which you want to buy the participation of the teams?
PC: In principle, had the statements not been so violent, one could smile at them. Because, as far as I know, the notion of buying the participation of the teams is the very principle of the ProTour: the UCI sells licences to the teams, which purchase the right to participate in the races. This is done for a certain number of years - four - which is too long from our point of view - and in a definite way, as there is very little chance of any change. I was rather perplexed to find out this year that the UCI or its license commission did not comment on what happened in certain teams this year.
'Buying' means that there is a contract and an obligation, and that's the principle of the ProTour. What we have in mind is not a contract at all: we want to increase the teams' incentives based on a trophy that rewards those who animated our races, thus those who made them more interesting. So it's not a purchase: there is no contract, and no obligation. Nobody is obliged to take part in all of the three Grand Tours, to fight for this trophy.
Now, in professional cycling, there is money involved - that's the difference to the amateur level. And some teams' representatives have asked for greater revenue out of the longer races for years, so it appears to me that our project would partly answer that call. And the ProTour was conceived like an instrument with an economic goal. In a certain number of documents known to all of us, which were produced at the end of last year and communicated when the ProTour started, the UCI clearly explains the creation of a marketing tool, made of a brand named UCI ProTour, a brand environment involving its races and the commercialisation of this brand.
I repeat, there has to be some consistency. Even before the project of the ProTour was started, as far back as 2003, we have made known our explicit reservations about it. We denounced its dangers since the beginning; we denounced some of its principles which we regard as being dangerous for the sport - everybody has his own opinion, and that was ours. So at one point we said that we didn't want to participate in this project, and the repeated answers that were made to us in a number of statements, interviews etc. was that the ProTour existed, and would continue to exist with or without our organisations. So that's fine by us! All of this has led to the situation where the UCI ProTour wants to continue without us, so that's fine. I don't know why there has to be such polemics.
CN: To be perfectly clear: was it the UCI who broke off the talks in the last of its letters to you?
PC: You have our press release - it is a fairly complete document. Let me remind you that we had always said that it was legitimate and normal to try and find a consensus. Let me also remind you that before the start of the ProTour - during the 2004 summer and autumn - we tried to find a solution and didn't succeed.
The ProTour was launched in Verona without our approval. In December, we made arrangements to preserve the commitments of the so-called ProTeams, by accepting all these teams - finally 20 instead of 18 - in our 2005 competitions; but we had express conditions: that a working party would be created, and that this party would find solutions for the future. But the party was interrupted after two meetings by the [previous] UCI president, who said that there were no grounds for discussion. We nevertheless continued our discussions after the Tour de France in July, and even found an agreement, but it was again refused - even though, to us, it seemed like it took into account the majority of the UCI and the ProTour's preoccupations.
We still gave the talks another try in September and October, and during the presentation of the 2006 Tour de France, I made myself very clear: I said that the presence of the new UCI president was a good sign, that the talks could be re-opened and that we're sincerely hoping to continue the talks as soon as possible to find an agreement. And the very next day, I received a letter, and a second one saying that all discussions were interrupted, and that the matter would now be managed by the CUPT [the ProTour council - ed.]. Then, we received another letter dated November 15, and another dated November 24, which said that because we refused to join the ProTour as it is, we were in a separated world calendar. That was very clear!
And, yes! Of course we refuse the ProTour as it is - that's not new! Since 2003, we said that this system doesn't appear to us to be good for cycling, and that it doesn't seem to be compatible with some principles which are very important to us. We even said that it seemed dangerous to us, because of its closed aspect. So there's nothing new here...
The UCI has communicated its final decision to us - and it wasn't an appeal for negotiation. The UCI told us: 'There's no grounds for negotiation anymore, we have taken the following decision: you are in the world calendar, and you are free to negotiate the participation of the teams.' Voilà - we noted it. And because we are responsible organisations, we made our own arrangements to try and give the teams the greatest possible incentive to participate in our competitions, without any obligation whatsoever. That corresponds to our principles, so it's really quite simple. There are no reasons for polemics.
CN: So have you received any news from the UCI since the proposal of your project?
PC: I only know what I've read in the media: the UCI repeated that it has the regulative power, which we have never denied. But the UCI can't tell us, on one hand, that we are free to negotiate the participation of the teams, and then say that it is them who determine the rules of participation. They can't write something and then say the opposite the next day. Again: there must be a minimum of coherence here!
CN: What will be your strategy if the UCI opposes the trophy?
PC: I don't know why it would oppose an participation incentive for the teams, which will be good for the teams, good for the animation of the races, good for public interest and thus good for cycling in general. The greater the passion of the public, and thus the media, the bigger and stronger cycling will be.
CN: But don't you think that this evolution doesn't really contribute to the transparency of cycling in the eyes of the public?
PC: I think that 27 events, 157 racing days and a classification that considers the Tour de France to be on the same level as a newly-created one-day race does not contribute to the transparency of cycling. I don't think that the public really understands that system. In most sports, there are great events, and in cycling, most of these have close to - or even more than - 100 years of history. The public knows this, and feels it. The public is very lucid about this.
CN: So your decision not be part of the ProTour is final? Pat McQuaid told us that he always wanted you in...
PC: Yes, I know that the UCI always wanted us to be part of the ProTour; for this reason, it has always talked about this with a great ambiguity, saying that our races were part of it - which has never been the case! I repeat: the ProTour, as it was conceived by the UCI, is a system that is not in accordance with our principles. To us, it is completely in opposition to the very nature of sport as such, even as defined by the European Union! According to the EU, high level sports are based on merit! So nobody can accuse us of not adhering to this system, and to think that it is not good.
The UCI said: either you adhere to the ProTour as it is conceived, or you are in the world calendar on a separate basis. But why should we adhere to a system that we find not adapted, and which the majority of observers criticise? I'm also very astounded to read all of these communiqués where it is said that the UCI ProTour is a system which has proven its worth, that it is a success.
I would really like to know on what the UCI bases this kind of affirmation? The AIOCC [International Association of Race Organisers - ed.], which includes more than 140 race organisers in the world, says that the ProTour must be modified. It appears to me that a number of media representatives, which are neutral observers, noticed many flaws in the ProTour, which should be amended. Many riders and many former pros have criticised the ProTour - I'm thinking of the recent statements of Eddy Merckx, for example. So I'm perplexed to hear that the ProTour is a success, when on the other hand, the doubts that we have expressed for nearly two years seem to be verified for a great part.
CN: So for you there is no possibility to negotiate once again?
PC: I don't know. I can't say that. Of course, discussion is always useful - I don't like the word 'negotiation'. Now, we have made arrangements and we are determined to go the way the UCI has imposed on us. I don't see what the word 'negotiation' has to do with it; as an example, if you're supposed to enter a room, but the door is closed on you once, twice, three times, four times, and that you're told, 'you can't enter this room, you must go into another house' - you're not going to scratch the door forever.
And that's very important to me. After our press conference on Friday, I read in several papers that we have decided to leave the ProTour. That's not true! It wasn't our decision! In the letters dated November 15 and 24, they tell us that either we join the ProTour as it is - and the people writing these letters know very well that we will not join it as it is - or you are in the world calendar, and may 'negotiate' the participation of the teams. All we did was respect that decision!
Let me make something clear: we are organisers of cycling races, and all we ask for is to be able to do just that. We respect the sporting authorities, and we ask that the sporting authorities respect us. We are, moreover, responsible companies and take the decisions which we deem the right ones.
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'
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