By Gerard Knapp in Aigle, Switzerland
The next meeting between the working group of ProTour supporters and the organizers of cycling's Grand Tours is set for this Monday, March 6, where discussions will continue towards settling the public row over the direction of professional road racing's future.
UCI president Pat McQuaid told Cyclingnews that the major players, including representatives of the UCI, the cycling team sponsors and the Grand Tour organizers, are meeting this Monday where "hopefully (they) will make more progress. There's certainly been no breakdown and hopefully we can reach a resolution in the long term.
"But in the short term, the ProTour is the same in 2006 as it was in 2005, and it's after 2008 we can look at changing the requirements," he said. "The rules and regulations are set until the end of 2008."
The International Cycling Union's 'ProTour' concept of 20 teams competing in a defined series of 'ProTour' races had been rejected by organizers of cycling's major Grand Tours - the Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta España, not to mention several one-day monuments of the sport, such as Paris-Roubaix - in a public statement last December. This comes after they were somewhat reluctantly on-board for the inaugural 2005 season.
However, despite their concerns, these organisers' races remain on the UCI's 2006 ProTour calendar, and the UCI will continue to award points on performances in these races, even if the organizers of these races are unwilling to accept the terms set down by the UCI.
One major point of contention is that they are yet to agree on how to present all ProTour events as a combined calendar to the world's TV broadcasters, similar say to the F1 or Moto Grands Prix.
On December 9 last year, the organizers of cycling Grand Tours, RCS (Giro), ASO (TdF) and Unipublic (Vuelta) publicly announced they wanted to withdraw from the ProTour, citing concerns about its overall direction.
In their joint statement of December 9, the organizers also claimed 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 said 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."
No love-in on V-Day
The meeting this Monday follows on from an earlier meeting held on - perhaps inappropriately - Valentine's Day, February 14. This is where the UCI's ProTour 'working group of stakeholders' first met with the GT organizers to discuss their concerns raised in their December statement.
At this meeting, the Swiss sports marketing company, TEAM (Television Event and Media Marketing) gave a presentation claiming to show the potential to cycling if the ProTour could be presented as a series of races to the world's media, and the possible sponsorship benefits that could result.
The ProTour working group was formed after the UCI called a major meeting on January 18 in Geneva in an effort to address the concerns of the GT organizers. Here, the UCI met with its key ProTour supporters, notably the ProTour teams and their sponsors, represented by Patrick Lefevere, president of the AIGCP and director of the Quick.Step squad, as well as Paolo Del Lago from Liquigas.
Since that meeting, other team directors such as Discovery Channel's Johan Bruyneel have also spoken out in support of the ProTour concept.
While the discussions continue, the UCI seemingly remains firm on the ProTour. McQuaid said, "the calendar is the same as in 2005; it's the UCI's role and responsibility."
He said there's "not a lot" that can change this approach. "They (GT organizers) can protest as they do. If they wish to hinder it and if this was to continue, the sport will suffer.
"I don't think it's in anyone's interests as at the end of the day it is cycling competing against all sports at the highest level. We all need to be singing off the same hymn sheet."
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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