Michele Acquarone – the director of the Giro d'Italia - has told Cyclingnews that he was surprised to hear about Zdenek Balaka's plans to radically shake up professional cycling, but revealed that Giro organiser RCS Sport would be willing to discuss a new structure for the sport if it benefits everyone involved.
On Friday, Bakala, the majority stake holder of the Omega Pharma-QuickStep team, revealed his three-point plan to revolutionize professional cycling to a group of select media. He wants to share TV and sponsor revenue across the sport to offer stability to teams, allow an independent body to control anti-doping and create a closed 18-team structure. The UCI confirmed it has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bakala, but insisted it will retain control of cycling.
Acquarone spoke to Cyclingnews about Bakala's proposal while in Miami after seeing over a 1000 people take part in the first edition of the Gran Fondo Giro d'Italia Miami.
"We've spoken to people who want to try and change cycling last year and we made it clear that we're interested in any idea, in any proposal, that can help professional cycling grow and make it better for the fans and everyone involved," Acquarone told Cyclingnews.
"We're not interested in being part of a total breakaway. We believe that professional cycling should stay under the control of the UCI and under the auspices of the International Olympic Committee."
Bakala compared his project to the Champion's League football series held in Europe. The competition is run by UEFA – the governing body for football in Europe, but the clubs receive significant financial payments based on results.
Acquarone prefers a slightly more open structure, based on how professional tennis is organised.
"The Champions League is a huge success in Europe because its been well organised and is liked by the fans," he said. "But cycling isn't football, it has different traditions. I prefer to compare it to tennis, where there are the Grand Slam tournaments, the Masters and a whole series of other tournaments."
The UCI has always controlled the sport and Acquarone makes he clear he is happy to respect the role of the UCI, and has no qualms about dealing with Pat McQuaid or Hein Verbruggen.
"I hope the UCI understands that we're on their side. I believe that you always have to trust the institutions that govern sport and everyday life," he said.
"I've only been in cycling for a year or so but I've got on well with everyone I've spoken to and worked with, they've always wanted to act for the good of the sport."
Acquarone was in Paris the day before the Tour de France presentation to meet with the team managers attending the AIGCP teams association meeting. RCS Sport has teamed up with IMG to negotiate television rights for the Giro d'Italia and its other races.
He confirmed he is willing to share some of the television rights income with teams if it helps raise the profile of the Giro d'Italia and so raise the overall value of the race.
"We've talked to the teams because we want everyone to be involved in making cycling bigger and more successful," he said.
"We're willing the share the cake so that everyone is happy. We've got to do everything we can to make the sport better and more appealing to the fans. Some people thought the sport was going to explode last week. But we want to make it grow, for everyone's benefit."
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