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News feature, February 22, 2007
Paris-Nice plunged into uncertainty
ProTour team participation in NE events against UCI regulations
By Shane Stokes
The planned running of Paris-Nice as a national event and the participation of UCI ProTour teams in the race looks to be in serious question following the news that the UCI has issued a directive to the relevant teams stating that they cannot take part in the event.
It was confirmed earlier this week that following the failure of talks with the UCI, ASO was seeking to sidestep the governing body by joining up with the French Cycling Federation (FFC) and run the race as a national event.
However the UCI circulated a letter to the ProTour teams on Wednesday evening, pointing out that current regulations prohibit NE events from including ProTour teams. According to article 2.1.009 of the UCI regulations, "only the UCI Continental teams of the country, regional and club teams, national teams and mixed teams may participate in national events. Mixed teams may not include riders from a UCI ProTeam [ProTour team]."
The UCI and ASO have been at loggerheads in recent months, with the previous existing tension over the ProTour escalating into all-out battle. Fellow Grand Tour organisers RCS Sport and Unipublic declared their support for the French company, taking on the governing body over the top-ranked series.
The three organisers have directly challenged the UCI by excluding the 19th ProTour team Unibet.com from their races. ASO has suggested that it is doing so in order to comply with French laws regarding gambling, but the team has nevertheless been able to compete on French soil this season by using unbranded jerseys.
RCS Sport and Unipublic have also blocked the team's participation, making it appear that the Swedish-registered outfit has been caught up in the battle between the UCI and the Grand Tour organisers. In contrast, the twentieth ProTour team, Astana, has been assured of an entry by all three.
UCI President Pat McQuaid and ProTour manager Alain Rumpf met with ASO's Patrice Clerc and Gilbert Ysern on Monday in order to try to work out a solution. The talks failed, however, with the UCI accusing ASO of blocking the chance of a resolution to the problem.
In response, an ASO press release said that, "ASO regrets this request was rejected by the president of the UCI, who makes out as if ASO is solely responsible for the current crisis, while back in June 2006, the UCI had reduced to nothing the efforts of a working group, which had reached unanimous agreement."
McQuaid had previously said that the UCI was prepared to go along with the working group's recommendations, saying in an interview with Cyclingnews that the UCI was willing to gradually reduce the number of ProTour teams to 18 and to introduce three year licences. He said talks fell apart as ASO were not prepared to make concessions in return, refusing to get behind the branding of the ProTour.
The ProTour teams were each sent a communication by the UCI on Wednesday evening detailing their stance vis-ā-vis Paris-Nice. Cyclingnews has seen a copy of one of these letters, which reads: "After another attempt by the UCI to reach an amicable solution, ASO persisted in its refusal to apply the UCI Regulations and accept the participation of all of the 20 UCI ProTeams in Paris-Nice.
"The regulations require that all the 20 UCI ProTeams shall compete against each other in all of the races of the UCI ProTour calendar. If that were not to be the case, the participation is irregular and the competition falsified.
"If one or more UCI ProTeam were to remain excluded from an event on the UCI ProTour calendar in breach of the participation rules, that event would be held outside of the applicable regulatory frame.
"It is obvious that the UCI cannot sanction or recognize an event that would not be held in accordance with the rules. Any participation in such event would be irregular and contrary to the rules."
The letter continues by stating that ASO's proposed method of running the race is against UCI rules, as regards the participation of ProTour teams.
"Most recently we learned that ASO has made a private deal with the French Cycling Federation aiming at taking Paris-Nice out of the UCI-governed cycling and making it a 'free' race on the French national calendar. This technique is not acceptable either, but anyway, as you know, UCI ProTeams cannot participate in a race on a national calendar: article 2.1.009 of the UCI regulations.
"As a result of the actions of ASO, it is clear that no UCI ProTeam is allowed to participate in Paris-Nice."
Cyclingnews contacted UCI President Pat McQuaid to get a response from him as to the developments. He was about to take a flight to the Tour of California but said that he felt that while the UCI, as governing body, develops the sport at all levels, it was in effect being held to ransom by a commercial company motivated by profits.
"They are prepared to damage the sport of cycling and also threaten the future of all the ProTour teams and indeed riders who, through the ProTour and the guarantee of participation, have levels of security never before known in the sport," he said.
ASO has yet to issue a response to this latest development. Stay tuned for more news on this, including reactions from some of the ProTour teams.
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