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Etoile de Bessèges amongst French races facing cancellation

Borut Bozic (Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team) is two-for-two at Etoile de Bessèges.

Borut Bozic (Vacansoleil Pro Cycling Team) is two-for-two at Etoile de Bessèges. (Image credit: Isabelle Duchesne)

Two months before the start of 2011 season in Europe, professional and amateur French races are in jeopardy because of an increase in safety costs. In some cases the increases are 800 per cent on previous years.

On October 28 the Home Office and Treasury Minister announced a new decree over the  payment of gendarmes and police support.

The new tariffs are due to a wage alignment for gendarmes, who work in the countryside and police most of the races in France. In 2011 organisers must pay each gendarme €12.33 per hour (it was €2.40 until now) and more for gendarmes on motorbikes (€152), the cars (€305), fuel, food and accommodation. These costs will increase until July 2014 which constitutes an overall increase of 1,500 per cent.

French Cycling Federation (FFC) President David Lappartient wrote to the Home Office on December 2 to call for the measure to be lifted; however, the delay in the government’s reaction could mean that races at the start of the year may face the axe.

Because of the new law, Etoile de Bessèges (February 2-6) faces a €38,000 increase in its budget. "If we really must pay, the race won't happen," race organiser Patrick Herse told Cyclingnews.

The event in south-eastern event is hoping for a positive reaction before its general meeting on December 15.

Meanwhile the Tour Méditerranéen (February 9-13) faces an estimated 1,000 per cent increase in its security budget. "But if the decree is still in force in 2012 it would mean the French government wants cycling to die and I'll go fishing!" said race organiser and former Tour de France winner Lucien Aimar.

All the French races must face high costs: €80,000 for the Tour du Limousin, which will jump to the Hors Categorie calendar; €70,000 for the 4 Jours de Dunkerque; €30,000 for the Tour of Normandy at the 2.2 level; €15,000 for the Route du Sud and €13,500 for the Tour de Poitou-Charentes, both in the 2.1 level.

It's understood even the ASO's events like the Tour de France will be impacted, with an estimated 500-600 per cent increase, although the costs will be easier to carry out for them than for the other races.

Financially, only some one-day races can handle the increase in costs. The GP Ouest-France in Plouay, a ProTour event in August, only needs 31 gendarmes, including five motorcyclists. Francis Aurillac, Route du Sud co-organiser and vice-president of the French cycling races organisers association (ROCC), says the volunteers use in races security is a potential resolution but he point the lack of the latest and logistic problems.

This year FFC tried to convince the Home Office to give more power to the civilians who ensure the safety of the roads. On February 28, in GP de Rocheville, an amateur race close to Cannes, Dutch talent Jelle Lugten (AVC Aix-en-Provence) was seriously injured by a car driver who refused to stop despite a civilian safety agent's order. The rider went into a coma and lost 20 kilos in hospital.

Ten months after that accident the law hasn’t changed and policemen or gendarmes' authority is still the best safety guarantee at a cycling race. Moreover, organisers can't do without them because in each territorial division, prefects impose an agent's quota in the event's safety.

The FFC also blamed ASO for the drop in amateur races; in 2011 they cancelled the Classique des Alpes Juniors and stopped supporting the U23 Ronde de l'Isard or Junior National Challenge. The Tour de France's owners responded by announcing they'll help U23 Paris-Roubaix, which was going to be called off because of the gendarme tariff increase. ASO event director Jean-François Pescheux told Cyclingnews: "The new price list is a problem for all the races, even for us. We're behind all the organisers and we'll defend them."

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