By Hedwig Kröner
At the end of last week, the International Cycling Union made a new proposal to the organisers of the Grand Tours with respect to their ongoing feud over the ProTour. In the media, it was reported that the UCI offered to let the races of the three organisers leave the calendar that replaced the World Cup - to be placed within various other calendars, some of which would have to be created.
Now, what exactly was proposed by the UCI? The current ProTour races would be part of the 'world calendar' together with the Tour de France. Nevertheless, the greatest of the Grand Tours would still have to accept all ProTour teams in the race, which is one of the biggest problems ASO has with the proposition. "The Tour de France would be forced to follow the participation rules of the ProTour and forced to use this closed system the ASO is not in agreement with," a communiqué issued on September 22 stated, referring to the fact that access to the ProTour is granted on financial rather than sporting grounds, and that shifting from Professional Continental to the ProTour calendar is not possible by sporting merit.
Also, the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a España would be 'downgraded' into a new category of the European calendar, together with Milano-Sanremo, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and the Giro di Lombardia. These events could then control their team participation themselves and choose between ProTour, Professional Continental and Continental teams, as long as the squads competing in those last two categories have been issued a wild-card label by the UCI (based on ethical criteria amongst others).
As to the remaining races organised by ASO, RCS Sport and Unipublic (Flèche Wallonne, Paris-Nice, Tirreno Adriatico, Paris-Tours), they would be placed on the European calendar and could invite 'only' 50 percent of the current ProTour teams - which could become a problem for the teams in their season planning. "ASO deems these proposals to be harmful and unacceptable for the concerned events and, more in general, for the interest of cycling," the communiqué continued.
Besides ASO's will to hand-pick the participating teams for the Tour de France to avoid more doping affairs in the future, the French organising company does not want to be separated from the organisers of the Giro and the Vuelta. The three groups have been united against the UCI from the very beginning of the conflict three years ago. Moreover, seeing their other prestigious events like Paris-Roubaix or Milano-Sanremo downgraded on the European calendar, suddenly becoming inferior to newer races like the Tour of Poland, also challenges the organisers' pride.
This week, the UCI wants to introduce the changes to its calendar at the Congress of its Management Committee and the meeting of the ProTour Council. But what will be the reaction of the teams? With the announcement of the new "Tour of America" (see below) and the possibility of the Tour Down Under and the Tour of California integrating the ProTour next year, effectively globalising the sport more and more, a schism between the historical monuments of cycling and its internationalisation seems inevitable. Maybe some answers to the raised questions will become public at the World Championships in Stuttgart, which start today.
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