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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

Cycling News Flash for September 25, 2004

Edited by Jeff Jones

Grand Tours say no to Pro Tour

By Jeff Jones

There has been a dramatic development in the UCI's proposed superleague - the Pro Tour - which is due to come into being next season. The organisers of the three grand Tours: the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta Espaņa, apparently want no part of it, which would seriously jeopardize its status.

Cyclingnews' Martin Hardie spoke to a number of the Spanish team directors at the start of the Vuelta's 20th stage this morning in La Vega de Alcobendas, who all independently confirmed that the organisers of the three tours and several one day classics (A.S.O., RCS Sport and Unipublic) sent a letter to the UCI last week stating that they not want their races to be on the Pro Tour calendar. Unipublic has also confirmed it on its website.

Given that the three major tours net most of cycling's media coverage, this would effectively end the Pro Tour unless the organisers can come to a last minute agreement with the UCI when they meet next week in Verona.

The Pro Tour's aim is to take professional cycling to another level, with a select number of teams (18 next year) with big budgets and big rosters being made to ride all of cycling's major events. This would provide guarantees to the team sponsors, who would know in advance what kind of return they can get for their money. The idea has been criticised from the start, but it seemed that the UCI was pressing ahead regardless. However, with much of cycling's power in the hands of three major organisers, it's clear that they had to give their stamp of approval as well for the Pro Tour to fly.

Belda takes aim

By Martin Hardie

"Che" Belda?
Photo ©: CN
Click for larger image

Comunidad Valenciana-Kelme director Vicente Belda was a happy man when Cyclingnews spoke to him before the Vuelta's 20th stage, and it wasn't to do with the performance of his team in the race. Belda, one of the longest serving directors in the sport, had learned of the news that the three major tours do not want to be part of the UCI's Pro Tour, which will effectively kill the idea unless a miraculous turnaround happens at the UCI's meeting in Verona next week. Belda's team has not been invited to the Pro Tour, but even the teams that have, have had reservations about it.

"The news is that this morning I have been told that the three Grand Tours will not enter into the Pro Tour," Belda told Cyclingnews. "So without the Grand Tours there will be no Pro Tour. I think that right that now if the organisers of the Grand Tours say that none of their races will be a part of the Pro Tour, the UCI will have to come back again and talk to the race organisers and the teams, who for the greater part are against the Pro Tour and re-evaluate their position.

Belda explained that the Pro Tour's high budgetary requirements would kill many teams that still contribute a lot to the enjoyment of the sport. "I have said That the Pro Tour would create a cycling world that resembled a third world country, we can say that there would be a small group of rich and another much larger group of poor. We go to races and logically the rich teams and people will win races but the problem is for those that would be left out of the Pro Tour, both race organisers and teams. There would be a tendency for them to disappear."

Belda's own team has been run for 25 years on a shoestring budget compared to some of the bigger teams in cycling. "The costs of being in the Pro Tour would be very high, things like social security, salaries, transfers, hotels," he said. "Thus for a team not in the Pro Tour, well it won't appear much on television, it won't get invited to certain races and therefore it won't have a sponsor and in the end it will just disappear. Cycling has to be have to see that this year I couldn't get the support, next year I could have a great team to ride the Tour de France, but it wouldn't happen in the Pro Tour system because unless you are in for the four year period, you won't be able to race there."

Belda summarised his point: "The Pro Tour is a grand hype, it is a private hunting ground for members only, 18 teams and that's it."

Explaining further, Belda emphasised the importance of the "little teams" in cycling, of which Kelme has always been one. "Here is a thing, look at the Vuelta a Espaņa. I belive that here there are six teams that are doing well at the moment. Liberty, Phonak, Illes Baleares, all from the Pro Tour, but if you look at it, it is Paternina, Cafes Baque and ourselves that are making the show. We are the ones who are always on the attack. None of us are invited to the Pro Tour. Where is Quick Step, Rabobank, CSC, where are they? So think about it - who makes the Vuelta great? At least fifty percent are the small teams, they are the ones making the Vuelta great and exciting, because we are attacking, flying, climbing, descending, it is us the small teams.

"If the small teams are not in the Vuelta, if we were not here, if Baque or Paternina wasn't here - what is there? Not much...look at the Giro, only two tams from the Giro are in the Pro Tour, the other ten or whatever, the small teams what happens to them? Teams like Selle Italia that liven up the race - they are dead.

"Think about it. How many riders have been born in Kelme? Nobody knew Roberto Heras, nobody knew Oscar Sevilla, nobody knew Aitor Gonzalez. If this team doesn't exist these young riders wouldn't come up through the ranks. Juniors, teenagers, these teams would be dead.

"So the news is today if the Grand Tours are not in the Pro Tour the Pro Tour is dead, dead before it was born. And it has been the case that always nearly everybody has been against it. For us it is good news, it is now possible for the team to live, for Alejandro Valverde to stay with us. So for us we will keep fighting our battles, here in the Vuelta and in the future."

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