UCI president Brian Cookson says he is confident of finding an agreement with Tour de France organiser ASO despite their refusals to accept changes to the WorldTour and their threats to register their races on the lower Europe Tour calendar.
ASO has stood firm against the reforms to the WorldTour that have been approved by the UCI Management Committee and that are due to come into force in January, claiming the changes compromise the traditional European model based on an open system with priority given to sporting ability. The WorldTour reforms would give teams and organisers a three-year licence with the possible introduction of other new rules such as allowing appearance fees.
Cookson has spent the last three days in Italy, first at the para-cycling track world championships in Montechiari, then at Milan-San Remo and finally at the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, which is part of the new Women's WorldTour. He even squeezed in a visit to see the work to restore the legendary Vigorelli velodrome in Milan and spent time with Italian cycling federation president and UCI vice-president Renato di Rocco and race organiser RCS Sport, who has generally supported his reforms to the WorldTour.
ASO's position has widely been seen as a declaration of war as part of a power struggle for ultimate control of the sport but Cookson has always preferred a more diplomatic approach. He revealed to Gazzetta dello Sport that secret negotiations are ongoing with senior management at ASO, but also seemed to accept that ASO's races could leave the WorldTour.
“Everything is possible. There are at least 20 other races that are knocking on the door of the WorldTour, with great potential for growth,” Cookson told Gazzetta dello Sport during a wide reaching interview.
“I thinks it would perhaps be an error. I'm talking with the managers at ASO. I prefer not go into detail about them but I'm hopeful. I think we'll find a solution in the end.”
Last week Cookson confirmed he will stand for a second four-year term as UCI Preisdent in 2017, despite not always enjoying the constant stream of problems and polemics.
“Sometimes it may seem an easy job but often it is very frustrating. I face people who only want to defend their own interests or who want jump on board and change everything. I think cycling is a kind of ecosystem. Changes has to be introduced gradually and with balance. Those who want to rush make mistakes, putting the harmony of the ecosystem at risk.”
“Cycling is refinding its credibility and has to define the shape of its ecosystem to ensure a great future. I think I've got the passion and energy to complete my work.”
While talking to Gazzetta dello Sport, Cookson revealed that he believes the reforms of the WorldTour and the growth of other races could perhaps eventually lead to the Vuelta a Espana being reduced to just two weeks. He sees it as part of a 'natural evolution' of cycling.
“I personally believe that the Tour and the Giro should remain three weeks, but it wouldn't surprise me to see a two-week Vuelta,” Cookson told Gazzetta dello Sport.
Cookson revealed he is also in favour of reducing the size of the peloton, as so perhaps as a consequence the number of crashes, by having eight-rider teams in the Grand Tours but is happy to leave any decision to race organisers.
“I am favourable in decreasing the total number of race starters, but I think it should be the organisers and teams to determine what is best,” he said.