First Edition Cycling News, July 16, 2008
Edited by Greg Johnson and Laura Weislo
Teams to UCI: The ProTour is dead
The four year-old cycling series known as the ProTour received a fatal blow when the seventeen teams with ProTour licenses which are racing the Tour de France announced Tuesday that they would not renew for 2009. The ProTour concept, which is based on having all the top teams in all the biggest events, was effectively gutted by the news.
The meeting was held Tuesday in Pau, during the first rest day of the Tour de France, and was attended by the ProTour team representatives (excluding Astana, who was not invited to this year's Tour) as well as representatives of the three Grand Tour organisers Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO, which runs the Tour), RCS Sport, which runs the Giro d'Italia, and Unipublic (Vuelta a España). The UCI was not present at the meeting.
Saunier Duval-Scott team manager Mauro Gianetti explained the decision of his team to leave the ProTour. "It's clear that the teams have been stuck in between a war of the UCI and the Grand Tour organisers, and we need a new road and a system that functions. There were proposals form the organisation to the UCI which didn't quite agree with the ProTour. There is now an agreement with the organisers that will allow us to work with seriousness and tranquility.
This morning there were representatives from all three Grand Tours, and they made agreements that will be put into place: all the ProTour licensed teams took the initiative to push this forward. In the coming days, there will be a communiqué with all the details. This involves cycling in general - the overall structure of cycling. Anti-doping is already being handled well."
What shape this new organisation will take and which races will be a part of any new calendar has yet to be decided. "It's too early to say, but what is important is that an agreement has been made to move in a specific direction. We have already asked if the UCI wants to be involved in this new project, and we're waiting for a response."
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme mostly refused to comment on the meeting, and would only say, "This is a big occasion to put an end to the disputes. There is a project to involve all the families of cycling. the UCI is most welcome to be a part of this project. We don't want to go outside of the sporting institution."
UCI: "the decision was entirely foreseeable"
The UCI issued a statement following reports of the meeting, and said the "decision was entirely foreseeable". The statement said that the teams have "once again succumbed to pressure from the management of ASO, whose aim for the last four years has been to destroy the UCI ProTour."
Long suspicious that the ASO was looking to create a federation which would compete with the UCI, the statement from the sports' governing body said that it is "looking into the situation and will take the necessary decisions in due course".
The UCI has been seeking to expand the ProTour into non-traditional cycling countries. Its first non-European event was this year's Tour Down Under, and it was recently announced that the Russian GP Sochi would be part of next year's series.
The brainchild of former UCI president Hein Verbruggen, the ProTour was modeled on the Formula One circuit which sees all the top teams competing in the biggest races worldwide. While the idea was responsible for elevating the status of that style of auto racing, the translation of that model never took well with cycling's promoters. (For a more extensive comparison with the auto racing model, see UCI vs. ASO: Doomed to repeat history)
The main objection from the race organisers has been that, with the ProTour, the UCI dictated which races would be in the ProTour and race promoters were bound by rules to invite all licensed ProTour teams if their race was part of the series. That point became especially contentious when the number of licenses given out by the UCI went up to 20 in 2006. This meant that the Grand Tours would only have one spot for their favourite non-ProTour national teams, known as "wild cards".
What the split means for the races which have paid to be a part of the ProTour, and a reaction from the UCI president Pat McQuaid will appear in Cyclingnews shortly.
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split
October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
UCI President hits out at teams' shortsightedness
By Shane Stokes
The UCI has been pushing the ProTour series since its introduction in 2005, but that finally unravelled when all 17 teams said they would not continue with ProTour licences.
It was clear for quite some time that the battle between the UCI and Tour de France organisers ASO - and, to a lesser extend, the other two Grand Tour organisers - was reaching the point of no return. However Tuesday's news came as a shock to many and, according to UCI President Pat McQuaid, sets things up for a very worrying time ahead.
"It is not a particular surprise to us that this has happened, following the meeting we had with the teams in Brussels two weeks ago," he told Cyclingnews. "It proves once again that what we have been saying about ASO's strategy is correct.
"First of all, they take their own races out of the UCI, and now they are encouraging or forcing the teams to go outside the UCI as well," he added. "I think that these teams have a responsibility to the sport and to the future of the sport, and not just themselves at the moment. However they are only thinking purely of their own situation today, and that is a very short-sighted approach."
McQuaid feels that chaos could ensue following the team's decision. "There are big possible ramifications of this," he said. "They [the teams] say that they have done a deal with ASO and the other two big organisers. The thing is, if they pull down the ProTour, they then become Pro Continental teams next year. All the events that are currently in the ProTour will go into the Europe Tour, and they have a responsibility to those events. Some of those events will obviously disappear because their profile will go, those events will disappear off the calendar altogether.
"These teams need to think of the responsibilities they have to those organisers, rather than just thinking of themselves," he added. "They have a responsibility to the rest of the sport, and they are not doing that. The ramifications in a year or two is that ASO will be selecting the teams for the Tour de France out of a possible 30 or 40 Pro Continental teams. So where are half of these teams gone then?"
McQuaid said that it was too soon for the UCI to respond. However, he said that if teams go outside the national federations and ride unsanctioned events, that they could find themselves excluded from all the races on the UCI calendar. This would include World Championships and Olympic Games, although it would not start until 2009 meaning participation in August's Olympic Games in Beijing, China won't be upset.
Sunderland: Sorry Cadel, you'll just have to move over
Team CSC-Saxo Bank sports director Scott Sunderland says patriotism won't be getting in the way of his squad's pursuit of the Tour de France's yellow jersey. The race is currently led by fellow Australian Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto), however Sunderland's CSC-Saxo Bank features one of the Tour's strongest teams and nothing will stop them from taking the yellow jersey when the Tour resumes today.
"Unfortunately, Cadel is in the way of us getting the yellow jersey and we have to find a way to beat him," said Sunderland. "Fränk Schleck and Carlos Sastre will do their job, I'll do mine and Cadel will do his.
"But, sorry Cadel, you'll just have to move over because we need that maillot jaune," he smiled.
Sunderland has been analysing Evans' performance and what he's saying in the media to judge how his condition is unfolding as the Tour progresses. The former rider admitted it's difficult having his team pitted against the first Australian yellow jersey since Robbie McEwen held it in 2004.
"It's pretty hard you know," he added. "The facts are, I've got to look for chinks in his armour. I read what he's saying, listen to interviews and see how he is in the race and after the race and that is part of what I have to do."
Last year's Paris-Roubaix winner Stuart O'Grady is in a similar boat to Sunderland. The Team CSC-Saxo Bank rider will be riding for his team's multiple general classification contenders in the hope of toppling Evans.
"That's just this sport," said O'Grady. "There is no rivalry personally, nothing against Cadel by any means, but we're in different team and striving for the same goal. Good luck to Cadel."
For his part Evans has no qualms about his fellow Australians fighting tooth and nail to dislodge him from the Tour's top spot. "That's bike racing - we're enemies on the road but all good friends off it," said Evans.
O'Grady believes Evans has form that would normally win him the Tour, but that his own squad is a force to be reckoned with. The Danish squad has Fränk Schleck poised a narrow one second behind Evans on general classification while mountains man Carlos Sastre is well within striking distance at 1.28 minutes, in sixth spot.
"I don't even know [about our tactics] yet, you will have to ask the big great Dane for that," laughed O'Grady, referring to team owner Bjarne Riis. "We have a fair idea; basically our team's strength is our best characteristic I guess.
"Cadel is riding superbly and showing unbelievable form, the form that should normally win him the Tour de France but we've got three guys who want to win it also," he added. "It will be a good battle and may the best man win."
American hope aims for Tour podium
Christian Vande Velde (Garmin-Chipotle) believes he can claim a podium finish in his team's first Tour de France, as the race enters its second half. Vande Valde holds third place on general classification, after staying with overall contenders Denis Menchov (Rabobank) and Cadel Evans (Silence-Lotto) on a challenging Stage 10.
"I was really pleased with my ride up Tourmalet and Hautacam," said Vande Velde. "It was a tough day and all the general classification riders were having a go. To still be in there and holding down third place overall well into the Pyrenees gives me confidence for the rest of the Tour."
Asked if he could ride up the the Champs-Élysées in a podium position at the end of July, America's highest ranked Tour rider responded confidently. "Yes, right now I believe I can," he said.
Vande Velde's performance has brought an even bigger than usual smile to Matt White's face. This year's Tour is White's first as a team sports director, having retired from professional riding at the end of 2007.
"Very happy so far, very happy," said White. "Third place in general classification is a good place to be when you are well into the mountains nearing half way in the Tour de France.
In addition to Garmin-Chipotle's experienced Tour riders, it has brought on some first timers for its Tour debut. Australian Trent Lowe is one such rider and has enjoyed being apart of an impressive Tour debut by the squad.
"It's pretty amazing actually," he said. "It is very intimidating because the pressure is always on and the roads are often very narrow and dangerous. Even in the controlled section at the start each day there are really dangerous situations with small roundabouts and poles in the ground and so on.
"But I'm starting to get used to it a bit," he said. "It is an amazing race."
Renamed Tinkoff Credit System squad undergoes major expansion
Katusha team aims to sign potential Grand Tour winners; big drive for Russian cycling
By Shane Stokes
Russian cycling took a huge leap forward on Tuesday when, at a press conference in Pau, France, Oleg Tinkoff announced that his Tinkoff Credit Systems squad would evolve into a far bigger team in 2009. Renamed Katusha, the budget for the squad will be in excess of €15 millon per annum, comprising over half of the €30 million pledged to the new Russian Global Cycling Project foundation.
Although General Manager Stefano Feltrin declined to name the big riders that will compete for the team, he confirmed that they are going after some of the top names in the sport. "We have been talking to many riders, some of whom are Tour de France contenders," he said. "Negotiations are ongoing and nothing will be announced until after the UCI's deadline of September 1st."
Gert Steegmans and Filippo Pozzato are two who have been heavily linked to the squad. More recently, Silence Lotto team-mates Cadel Evans and Robbie McEwen have been tipped as being on the wish-list of the team.
"Basically, our position is that we have been talking to probably all the managers, most of the riders, almost everybody," he stated. "Of course we have signed a few new riders. I can tell you that the core of the existing Tinkoff team, people like [Pavel] Brutt and [Mikhail] Ignatiev will be in the team next year. We have already signed contracts with them, and also with some very important international riders.
"There has been some speculation, some riders confirmed," he added. "But we will abide by the rules that teams won't announce this before September 1, so I will leave it to journalists to come up with the speculation. I will not confirm, I will not deny. You can imagine which riders are available, which riders we took."
The Russian Global Cycling Project foundation will itself be funded by its main sponsors Gazprom, Itera and Rostechnologii, and will have the main aim of supporting the development of the sport of cycling in Russia. Benefiting the sport from the grassroots level right up to the Katusha team, the €30 million budget will also fund a social project dedicated to schools and young athletes, all activities of the Russian Cycling Federation and the new five day Tour of Sochi due to be held next May.
Former top professional Andrei Tchmil will act as the general director and coordinator of the foundation.
The team had been heavily tipped to take out a ProTour licence in 2009, this information being verified on Monday by a high-level official within the UCI. However the team itself played this down on Tuesday, saying that no decision had been taken as yet. The series then collapsed later that day, with all of the current ProTour teams indicating that they would not seek to renew their licences.
Nevertheless, it is clear that Katusha means business. "Of course we are interested in riders like Evans, his contract is going to expire," said Feltrin. "He, [Carlos] Sastre, [Fabian] Cancellara…they are available on the market and we have the budget, so we are interested.
"But one thing I want to make clear is that we are not overpaying anybody, we are very savvy with the money," he added. "I have been managing a team with a very low budget compares to other teams, so I know the value of it."
Cyclingnews will have a full feature on the new-look team shortly.
(All rights reserved/Copyright Future Publishing Limited 2008)