UCI stands behind ProTour, but will consider modifications

Pat McQuaid wasn't invited to the Tour by organiser ASO

Pat McQuaid wasn't invited to the Tour by organiser ASO (Image credit: AFP)

The UCI committed to supporting the ProTour, but said it was open to changes including, for example, the number of racers and teams involved.

"We're prepared to discuss any aspect of the ProTour, always have been," McQuaid told the Associated Press. "We're prepared to renegotiate a number of technical aspects. But we're not prepared to discuss the basic principle of the ProTour. We won't do away with it."

McQuaid emphasized the importance of structure within a sport, especially for the most elite competition.

From its inception, the ProTour has attracted controversy, with some in favor and some opposed. In general, teams have supported it, in part because it helps get the best riders and teams to the highest profile events. Many riders have benefited, too, with rules like salary guarantees that reduce of the risk of racer being left unpaid should a team collapse part-way through the season.

Among the criticisms are too-large fields and simultaneous, conflicting events that limit opportunities for top pros to compete against each other.

The ProTour was drawn into the ongoing battle between the UCI and organizers of major races, like the Grand Tours. Contentious topics have included methods for anti-doping testing and the selection of ProTour and non-ProTour teams for events such as the Tour de France. The UCI directs that all ProTour teams start major events, but some organizers have invited top national-level teams in the place of certain ProTour teams.

Unibet was among the teams caught in the political battle. The squad was denied entry into all three Grand Tours even after a compromise agreement between the UCI and Grand Tour organizers decided the original 18 ProTour teams would be guaranteed entry while the remaining two ProTour squads (including Unibet) would be reasonably considered for wildcard spots. However, throughout the season, organizers often cited laws against foreign betting companies as a reason to exclude Unibet. After being denied entry in many major races, the team recently announced Unibet would not continue sponsorship, and the team would not continue in 2008.

McQuaid had harsh words for the AP about the conduct of the Grand Tour organizers. "In UCI's opinion, the organizers have not stuck to their word. They acted like a cartel in excluding Unibet. There were no legal restrictions in Italy, but they were left out of the Giro. The organizers didn't treat the agreement in an honorable way."

Astana, a team that was granted a ProTour license late last year, is facing a questionable future, and its ProTour license may be in jeopardy. The team has had several doping positives lately including Alexander Vinokourov and Andrej Kashechkin, both for (for blood doping), and Matthias Kessler (for testosterone) in the past three months. Astana withdrew from the Tour de France and was denied entry to the Vuelta a España.

Another ProTour team, Discovery Channel, which was not caught up in the power struggle, announced it would disband at the end of 2007 after it could not find a replacement for its title sponsor.

The swell of recent ProTour team news may provide just the impetus for the technical changes McQuaid mentioned.

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