By Shane Stokes and Hedwig Kröner
The UCI’s ProTour project looks to be under big pressure following the news that the organisers of the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España have pulled out of the series with immediate effect. Speaking at a press conference today, the organisers announced that they are also withdrawing the eight other races organised by them, namely Paris Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Paris-Tours and the Tour of Lombardy.
The three Grand Tour organisers and the UCI had been at loggerheads in recent weeks, their long-running disagreement about the direction of the ProTour escalating after the launch of the 2006 Tour de France.
UCI President Pat McQuaid stated this week that remarks made there by ASO’s Patrice Clerc rejecting the ProTour in its current format had led to a hardening of the UCI’s stance. The Irishman said that “unless the organisers come down off their fence and are willing to make some compromises, no progress can be made.“ However, today’s announcement shows that the Grand Tour organisers have decided to go it alone, removing 11 historic races from the ProTour and taking much of the lustre from the competition.
For 2006, the 20 ProTour teams will still have the right to participate in each of these events, with two wild-card teams likely to be invited. Should any ProTour team elect not to participate, the number of wildcard teams would presumably rise to ensure a full field.
In 2007, the 14 best teams of a yet to be established point system, plus a maximum number of eight wildcards for the Grand Tours will be eligible to take part. The statement said that, "a points system , which will value the performances of the teams in the different classifications of each of the Grand Tours, will be established soon with the help of experts. The ethical requirements on the teams will also be defined and considered."
In order to encourage participation in the three major stage races, the organisers are to introduce a Grand Tour trophy competition, with an overall prizefund of 2 million Euro. €600,000 of this will go to the winner, with seven teams in total being rewarded. As an additional enticement for cycling’s major squads to take part, each of those that participate in all three Grand Tours will be paid the sum of 100, 000 Euro.
In today’s statement, the GT organisers stated that the UCI ProTour series was "not credible on a sports level, because all the 2005 ProTour events - be it one-day or three-week races - are awarded the same number of points.” The statement siad that it was also "unjust, because the teams like Comunidad Valenciana, who won the Vuelta [teams classification - ed.], or Panaria who won Tirreno Adriatico, were deprived of their points because they had no ProTour licence."
More on this will follow on Cyclingnews.
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split
October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
September 26, 2008 - UCI declares peace, appoints new VP
August 30, 2008 - UCI re-signs five ProTour races
August 22, 2008 - ProTour: Bouncing back or lame duck?
August 19, 2008 - Stapleton analyses 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - Feedback on 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'
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