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Only 16 ProTour teams? Quality is the priority

By Jean-François Quénet in Plouay

As for now, 15 teams have secured their ProTour status for next year. Out of 20 currently, 19 licenses are still valid for 2008, Lampre's license is the only one to come to its end this year but the Italian squad is bidding for a new four-year term (until 2011) despite the loss of co-sponsor Fondital.

Four license holders are doubtful: Marc Biver might lose his because of too many doping cases inside his Astana team this year, Gianluigi Stanga is looking for a new sponsor since it's no longer a love affair with his German sponsor Milram, Jacques Hanegraaf has lost his sponsor but he's in discussion with Dutch manager Gerry van Gerwen to attract the Milram sponsorship and Johan Bruyneel has announced the end of the Discovery Channel but he's rumoured to take over the management of Astana.

"Our priority isn't the number of teams but their quality in terms of financial solidity, medical approach, administration and the level of their riders," UCI ProTour manager Alain Rumpf said to Cyclingnews in Plouay.

Not only the budget of the teams will be taken into consideration. It's rumoured that the UCI isn't too keen to trust the people linked to Doctor Michele Ferrari anymore after the Astana fiasco at the 2007 Tour de France. Before the start and before he got caught for blood transfusion, Alexander Vinokourov had clarified that he was coached by Ferrari, who was the man behind Tony Rominger in the early 1990s and Lance Armstrong after that. Rominger was Vinokourov's agent until the Kazakh got busted. He's now in charge of the career of Alberto Contador, among others.

The plan of forming a team backed by a Kazakh connection, managed by Bruyneel with Contador as a leader is not very likely to please the license commission of the UCI ProTour, since the credibility of cycling seems to be its priority now. "It's possible that the license commission will take Astana's license back," Rumpf explained.

Australia and the USA ready for ProTour events

After the first four-years term of the UCI ProTour (2005-2008), the second version of the competition should begin in 2009. It's been an all-European event so far but the UCI is ready for a change, Alain Rumpf continued. "There is a big interest from Australia and the USA for hosting a ProTour race. Our first priority is the quality and the fight against doping; our second priority is to develop the concept of the ProTour on other continents.

"Cycling needs something new but it's also important not to cut the sport from its roots. Look at Plouay: Brittany is the hot bed of French cycling, it's fantastic to see organizers putting together an event of three or four days, for all the categories, including a women's world cup race and a popular fun ride. It's also necessary to have a vision for the sport to be global because cycling is in competition with many other sports in the world. We're closely watched out by the IOC [International Olympic Committee]." The Tour Down Under in Adelaide is expected to become the first non-European event to enter the ProTour.

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