International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid accused several team managers of plotting to breakaway from the UCI and set-up an alternative ProTour in his open letter to riders on Friday.
It seems his fears are well founded.
Cyclingnews understands that at least 11 major teams are considering the creation of new, more commercially driven and innovatively managed structure to run men’s professional cycling.
This could result in professional cycling following a similar path to that of Premier League soccer in Britain, the NBA in the United States or Formula 1 motor racing; where the sport is run as a business by a private company rather than under the control of an international governing body recognised by the International Olympic Committee.
The teams are staying tight-lipped on their plans at the moment but any breakaway league would have to include many of the current ProTeams and the major races on the professional calendar for it to succeed.
Cyclingnews spoke to Angelo Zomegnan, the head of RCS Sports Cycling Events Manager. He admitted he had talked to people involved in the breakaway project but was reticent about giving away any details.
“I've drank quite a few coffees with lots of different people in the last few days, but the project hasn't been presented to us yet. Before we can really sit down and discuss it, we need to know what they've got in mind,” he said.
“There is a risk of a breakaway from the UCI, of course there is. But it's early to talk about it and RCS Sport is obliged to stay on the side of the sport that has been created by the national and international federations.”
Cyclingnews contacted several teams but they refused to confirm if they are part of the 11 renegade teams but indicated that the management of professional cycling has to change.
The UCI currently regulates every aspect of the sport, including professional cycling. It controls the race calendar, decides which teams have ProTeam status and even makes the rules on bikes design and anti-doping.
It seems that the teams do not want to completely breakaway from the UCI, but want to decide how the highest level of the sport is run and want to control its long-term development.
The teams believe the UCI should focus on managing the non-professional aspects of cycling, such as track racing and amateur racing, supported by the funding they receive from the International Olympic Committee and from organising the annual world championships.
So far, UCI President Pat McQuaid has refused to concede any ground to the rebel teams on either the use of race radio or the much wider issue of governance of the sport.
He is supported by former UCI President Hein Verbruggen, who is now the President of Sport Accord, the umbrella organisation that helps international federations with expert advice and a wide range of services.
In his open letter to riders published last Friday, McQuaid warned them against joining with the teams in any attempt to seize control of professional cycling from the UCI. However, many of the riders, like the major teams, are tired of the UCI’s dictates.
Tour de France is the key
The Tour de France is by far the biggest and most lucrative event in professional cycling and would have to be part of any new breakaway organisation for it to succeed. The teams know this, Tour de France organiser Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) knows this and so does the UCI.
ASO always vehemently defends its right to own and control the television rights for its races but may be willing to concede a part of their income in return for a role in any possible breakaway ProTour that could generate much bigger income for everyone involved.
Giro d’Italia organiser RCS Sport, the Amgen Tour of California organizer AEG and Flanders Classics NV, which organizes the Tour of Flanders and other Belgian Classics, would also play a key role in the success of any breakaway ProTour.
Vaughters stays pragmatic
Garmin-Cervelo team manager Jonathan Vaughters is the head of the Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels (AIGCP) that represents the leading professional teams. He has tried to talk to the UCI about the race radio issue but has also admitted there is a power struggle going on between the UCI and the teams.
Vaughters pointed out the many difficulties of creating a breakaway ProTour but refused to rule it out.
"I'm from America, and I grew up with the (National Football League) NFL and the (National Basketball Association) NBA. The league model of sports certainly seems better for the athletes and for the teams than what is currently occurring in cycling right now, without a doubt. But the pragmatic intermediate steps (to create an independent league) are many," he told Cyclingnews.
“They (the UCI) are the governing body of the sport. They're the IOC-designated body of international cycling. I think the most productive step for the AIGCP is to continue to push to improve governance, to improve regulations and improve treatment by the UCI.
"But we'd be crazy not to consider it. When you're treated poorly, you've got to consider the relationship, right? Ultimately you've got say 'Is this the best thing for the sport? As of right now, I can't answer of that with any surety."