The project of a breakaway league in pro cycling, possibly led by 11 teams, as Cyclingnews revealed on Monday, is the latest round in the seemingly never-ending power struggle. The best way to understand the dispute between the teams, organisers and the UCI is study the previous battle between 2004 and 2008.
April 22, 2004: The ProTour is launched
The UCI's Professionnal Cycling Council (PCC) announced the rules of a new "ProTour" in Liege. It would be a new cycling organisation which would start in 2005: the 18 best teams in the world ride the 28 best races, including the three Grand Tours. Among the 12 PCC members were Jean-Marie Leblanc (Tour de France director), Carmine Castellano (former Giro organiser), Manolo Saiz (ONCE general manager) and Jim Ochowicz (current Team BMC general manager).
June 2004: The first problems
Three teams announced they would refuse to apply for a four-year licence: Lotto-Domo (which disappeared that winter), Fassa Bortolo and Saeco (both of which later reversed their decision). In Italy, Germany and France, national federations said the UCI's project was questionable.
September 2004: ASO accepts 'test' status
During the world championships in Verona, Jean-Marie Leblanc signed a ProTour agreement with the UCI but Patrice Clerc, the ASO president, refused ASO's involvement for four years. He accepted, however, his events would be part of the 2005 ProTour, as "a test".
On September 28, Christian Prudhomme, told Cyclismag: "Hein Verbruggen [UCI president] copied the American closed system principle, like the NBA in basketball, the NHL in hockey and the NFL in American Football. He also copied the licenses concept. And he forces organisers and teams to pay for a license - which is very expensive."
December 1, 2005: Verbruggen threatens the Tour de France
In the Swiss newspaper 24 Heures, Verbruggen said: "The Tour de France should be careful about the consequences of it behaviour because without our pro teams they could organise next year's Tour for junior teams".
August 7, 2005: War breaks out
Although the Grand Tour organisers had said on July 31 that they accepted to be "associated members" of the 2006 ProTour, Verbruggen announced on August 7 to Belgian newspaper La Derniere Heure that he was fed up with ASO's hesitations and refused to negotiate further.
The teams association (AIGCP) headed by Quick Step's Patrick Lefevere said it confirmed its support of the UCI on the August 5, but also asked them to change some rules like the non-obligation to ride every ProTour race.
October 27, 2005: Still no agreement
New UCI president, Pat McQuaid met with ASO twice after his election in late September and was hoping for a compromise, but he spoke of his "indignation" at Patrice Clerc's speech during the Tour presentation in Paris. The ASO president reiterated his fight against doping and criticised the UCI for its laxity.
January 5, 2006: The Grand Tours want their own rules
The Giro, Tour and Vuelta organisers proposed an alternative selection criteria for the teams: 14 of them should be automatically invited to their races and would receive special prize money. On January 5, the AIGCP declined this offer.
September 22, 2006: UCI blames ASO monopoly
After attempts to find a compromise failed in February and April following the Operacion Puerto doping scandal. In a statement the ProTour Council noted that the ASO "has only one goal: protect its position of superiority in the distribution of the marketing and TV incomes from organisers (around 70 percent)". ASO refused to have its events included in the 2007 ProTour calendar but the UCI added them anyway.
March 5, 2007: The UCI makes concessions
Five days before Paris-Nice, the UCI, the Grand Tour organisers and several team managers held a meeting in Brussels to discuss the participation of every ProTour squad in all three Grand Tours. The riders backaway from a conflict after the UCI had hinted they wouldn't be allowed to race Paris-Nice.
July 2007: Fight for power
At the Grand Depart of the Tour de France, the teams signed the "London agreement" which ensured they rode the subsequent editions of the Tour de France. In the book "Sauvons le Tour!" former race director Xavier Louis suggested the UCI has always wanted to control the Tour de France.
October 22-23, 2007: The sacred union against doping
In September, the UCI offered the Grand Tour organisers a return to the 2008 calendar, but not with ProTour status. The French Ministry of Sports helped broker a peace deal between McQuaid and Clerc at the Anti-doping Summit in Paris, where the new biological passport programme was unveiled.
March 2008: ASO ignore the UCI
The crisis reached a peak when ASO announced that Paris-Nice would be organised under the French Cycling Federation (FFC) rules and outside the UCI control. As a "national event," the race was not supposed to host ProTour teams but it did.
The UCI suspended the FFC and threatened the teams, who backed the Grand Tour organisers thabks to new AIGCP president Eric Boyer.
On March 7, McQuaid wrote an open letter in the French Le Monde newspaper pointing out: "We must warn those who love cycling that accepting the demands of ASO means turning professional cycling in a private league governed by the organizer, not by a body that represents the collective interests of the sport."
April 4, 2008: No parallel federation says ASO
In Le Monde, Patrice Clerc said: "ASO has no ambition to transform itself into a new world cycling federation". However, two months later, in a book called "Tempêtes sur le Tour", ASO sources admitted to Pierre Ballester (the co-author of "LA Confidential") that they studued details of a breakaway.
Clerc himself described his ideal ProTour: "It'd have 15 teams, a clear ranking, no obligation to ride every race, and would build a system attractive enough to attract [people and sponsors], and have great TV coverage because we know how to do that in France."
July 15, 2008: The teams refuse to extend their licenses
When the Tour de France was organised outside of the UCI's jurisdiction, the 17 ProTour teams invited (Astana, the 18th, was refused a ride) agreed not to renew their four-year UCI ProTour licenses. The headlines of many newspapers read: "The ProTour is dead".
25 September 2008: Official end of the conflict
When Lance Armstrong announced his comeback, the UCI and Grand Tour organisers signed an agreement at the world championships in Varese. The Grand Tour events would be included in a world ranking alongside the ProTour races.
The talks were brokered by Jean-Claude Killy, both a former ASO president and International Olympic Committee member. Hein Verbruggen announced he that he had left the UCI Management Committee and so after Patrick Clerc was sacked by ASO.
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