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Mont Ventoux
Photo ©: Sirotti

First Edition Cycling News, March 6, 2008

Edited by Sue George

IPCT calls for peace through arbitration

In response to increasing tensions and threats leading up to the Paris-Nice race set to begin March 9, the International Professional Cycling Teams (IPCT) association called for arbitration to resolve the escalating immediate conflict between the UCI and ASO organizers. The IPCT confirmed Wednesday that it had appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to intervene in the well-known confrontation, which most recently centered on the French Paris-Nice event.

"In this affair, the teams and their riders are caught between a rock and a hard place," read IPCT's statement which added that the organization "did not want to take part in this conflict, but must protect the interests of members." The IPCT is asking CAS to decide if the teams and their riders have a right to take part in Paris-Nice without being exposed to a risk of sanctions from the UCI.

On Tuesday, UCI president Pat McQuaid directly threatened riders and teams with suspensions and fines if they side with the organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and participate in the upcoming race, which is to be sanctioned under the French national federation. Described in a letter, sanctions may include up to six months suspension, a fine of up to 10,000 Swiss francs, the loss of UCI points and "exclusion from participation in UCI World Championships and other events". Teams have also been threatened with the suspension of their UCI registration, a fine of up to 10,000 Swiss francs and withdrawal of the UCI ProTour licence or Wild Card label.

The IPCT said non-participation of its teams in Paris - Nice and other ASO events would have serious consequences for the teams' sporting and economic interests and would set off chain reactions, including potential loss of sponsors that could put a squad's existence in jeopardy. At the same time, it noted that ASO has asked teams to sign a contract of participation that would have them racing under a framework other than the UCI's – thereby leaving them open to the threatened sanctions by the UCI.

French upset by threatened consequences for Paris-Nice participation

By Hedwig Kröner

FFC's Jean Pitallier
Photo ©: AFP

The French cycling community is outraged. Since receiving the letter from the UCI, telling them of strong sanctions if they choose to participate in the upcoming Paris-Nice, riders of all cycling disciplines are frightened they might not be able to race their respective World Championships or Olympic event. The consequences of the French cycling federation sanctioning the race could lead to track, mountain bike and BMX riders getting sidelined from the prestigious international competitions.

"For French riders the position of the French Federation (FFC) will also be relevant," UCI president Pat McQuaid stated in his e-mail to the riders. "Proceedings will be opened against the FFC for its collusion in the affair and if the FFC is suspended this may also have ramifications for French rider's participation in events."

Currently preparing for the Track Worlds in Manchester, which will be held from March 26-30, French sprinters could not believe the fight between the UCI and Grand Tour organiser ASO would also take them hostage. "It's crazy to think that the UCI can imagine stopping athletes from competition to obtain what it wants. If that was the case, it would be very grave. We would be very far away from the principles of the sport," said French team coach Florian Rousseau to L'Equipe on Wednesday. The Olympic Gold medallist knows very well that the Manchester Worlds also count for Olympic qualification, and both events could now be held without the French trackies.

"If they want to prohibit us from going to the Olympics, it will become a state affair. But being an optimist by nature, I tell myself that it's not possible. Maybe I'm wrong..." Rousseau added.

Absalon stretching out
Photo ©: Frank Bodenmuller
(Click for larger image)

Sprinter Grégory Baugé was also astounded at the news. "The UCI might have the means to do what it says it will, but we will have to wait for the reaction of the IOC (International Olympic Committee). They're trying to disturb us, it's not good. For the moment, I try not to worry too much. We have nothing to do with this, there are other ways to solve these problems," he commented.

Four time mountain bike World Champion and Olympic medallist Julien Absalon received the news while at his Orbea team's presentation in San Sebastian, Spain. "Personally, it's inconceivable not to go to the Worlds and the Olympics," Absalon said. "We're talking about months, years of preparation that they want to sacrifice for their personal interests. It's another stupid reaction of the UCI – this whole story is getting more and more stupid! One more time, the riders are being held hostage; it's enough! The core of the problem is not a sporting one, it's political."

Meanwhile, the president of the French federation Jean Pitallier also seems to be caught between the two opposed parties, and said he could not stop the race from taking place, even if he wanted to. "I can't change the position I am in," Pitallier said. "I have to conform to the texts of the sports code which oblige me to give ASO an authorisation [to take place], since the event is in line with sporting and technical criteria. I don't have any elements on hand to prohibit the race, or else ASO can sue me. I just hope that common sense will take over again. It's madness to suspend 160 riders. And to extend this onto other disciplines is not tolerable. It's playing with the nerves of the athletes."

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
September 26, 2008 - UCI declares peace, appoints new VP
August 30, 2008 - UCI re-signs five ProTour races
August 22, 2008 - ProTour: Bouncing back or lame duck?
August 19, 2008 - Stapleton analyses 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - Feedback on 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

Women's North American racing improves for 2008

By Mark Zalewski, North American Editor

The Liberty Classic was one of just two UCI events in the US for women in 2007
Photo ©: Jon Devich
(Click for larger image)

North American UCI races are one of the more volatile aspects of the racing calendar; every year some are added and some disappear. UCI races are more complicated to put on and have significantly higher costs due to more regulations, bigger prize lists and a host of other differences. Despite this fact, the 2008 calendar for women is looking healthier than ever. Cyclingnews already looked at the gentlemen's side of the 2008 calendar, and now turns equal attention to the ladies.

Women road racers historically have had fewer opportunities for the high caliber racing a UCI event provides than their male counterparts, and recently this has been even more the case on the North American continent. But after several years of stagnation, the 2008 calendar finally shows an increase top notch races on this side of the pond. Joining races such as the Liberty Classic and Le Tour du Grand Montréal in early June is the Mt. Hood Cycling Classic, which upgraded only its pro women category to UCI status. Race director Chad Sperry, has also successfully directed the other Oregon race, the Cascade Classic. That race ran into problems with the women's category last year when it fell on the same weekend as the U.S. national championships.

Sperry said that he hopes the Mt. Hood upgrade will help promote women's cycling in general, as well as the Oregon races. "Frankly, we'll never be a Tour of California, but the core group here has always wanted to help women's cycling. And there are so few UCI opportunities in the U.S. compared to the men. We had a huge UCI stage race in the women's challenge in Idaho [from 1984-2002 -ed.] and we wanted to get something similar to that. It's been a model for us, except we have kept the pro men's field intact, partly for the media and financial backing."

"We are increasing the prize list by more than double, but the big thing is being on the UCI calendar," said Sperry. "It was a big leap for us." The race is also increasing its potential spectator and viewership, moving two stages to downtown Portland. "The prologue will be right downtown along the Willamette River starting around 4:00 p.m. on the Tuesday," said Trey Smith, director of public relations.

"Then we are doing a crit on Wednesday during the day about a mile outside of downtown, about 1.5 miles with a nice little elevation gain in it. It should be a good, fun course. The city of Portland has been hugely supportive of us in this endeavor. We are going to be televised on Comcast regional, and I just read we will be on the Verizon network."

Sperry said that the biggest challenge in upgrading to UCI status would be competing with races in Europe. "The one thing I think we will struggle with in terms of Europe is we are in competition with Tour de l'Aude. So we are probably going to see more Oceania and Canadian teams, and of course all the U.S. teams. I think some European teams will wait to see if they get the invite for Tour de l'Aude."

Nobody puts Baby in the corner

Riders like Kristin Armstrong have had to get UCI points overseas
Photo ©: CJ Farquharson
(Click for larger image)

Starting the year off in mid-March is the Sequoia Cycling Classic, which is not going UCI in 2008 but is highlighting the ladies by only being on the National Racing Calendar for women. Race director Sheri Clark said that the impetus behind the decision was a combination of adhering to NRC minimum prize requirements while still offering equal opportunities for women. When the race could not afford to do both, it erred on the side of keeping the women as the featured race in lieu of the usual mentality by promoters to give the men top honors.

"The increase in minimum prize requirements forced us to make a decision," said Clark. "Last year we had equal payout for men and women and we wanted to maintain that equity. The main issue is that we have an early race, so when we put our bid applications in the fall, we have to think about if we can raise the extra funds. And we didn't want to make a commitment that we wouldn't be able to fulfill."

"We want the women to understand that we see them as just as important to cycling in North American as the men. Last year we were well appreciated for having equal prize pay out, and the last thing we wanted to do was the common decision to push the women aside. We will still have pro men, but it will be half the prize list."

Read the complete feature.

London calling the Tour again?

By Rob Lampard and Rosee Woodland,

Mayor of London Ken Livingstone
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)
Eight months after the Director of the Tour de France, Christian Prudhomme, dropped the flag for the historic Grand Depart in London, he was back to discuss its return. At a press conference held in City Hall he met with London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, to talk about doing it all again ahead of the 2012 Olympics.

On a sunny day, just like the Tour's visit last year, Livingstone began by saying, "You see, God must be a cyclist."

On a more serious note, Livingstone explained that organizing a Grand Depart was "complicated," and that last year's spectacle had taken four years to organise. Instead of starting the Tour in London, he said, the most likely scenario was "just doing a stage through London," adding, "No, I'm not going to give you a date."

Livingstone made it clear that Prudhomme was here to discuss future plans, but no decisions were being made. "We won't be making an immediate statement," he said.

Another Grand Depart in the next four years seems very unlikely as such a sudden return to the Capital would be met with resentment from the many other hopefuls that include Scotland, Portugal, Bilbao and Tokyo, where the planned prologue would be around the Imperial Palace.

Listening to Prudhomme speak about last year's Grand Depart, you got the impression that he would return in a flash, describing it as, "The best we have ever had, it was magnificent ... The riders could not believe the crowds."

What impressed Prudhomme most about the Transport for London-backed weekend was its grass roots approach to the Tour's visit. "London is the first city to have hosted the Tour de France to boost cycling – that is why we were so keen to come to London last year and that is one of the reasons we are so keen to discuss a return visit," said the Tour director.

Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme (R) with the Mayor of London Ken Livingstone
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)
While Prudhomme and, indeed, Livingstone might be happy to simply reflect on that brilliant weekend last year, professional cycling is presently not so straightforward, and Prudhomme was questioned by the press about the ongoing punch-up between ASO (organizers of the Tour and many other races) and the UCI (cycling's governing body.)

To the question, "Will riders boycott the Tour de France?" for fear of reprisals from the UCI, Prudhomme answered, confidently, "I can't believe that will happen."

But questioned as to whether there is an end in sight to the dispute, Prudhomme replied with a shrug, "This problem has been around for four years."

The press conference didn't provide any real details about a return of Le Tour to London and Christian Prudhomme didn't wave a magic wand to make the dispute with the UCI go away. But there was some good news for cyclists. Livingstone announced that all the money from the £25 per day congestion charge for "gas guzzling cars" would be "ring-fenced for expanding cycling" in the Capital – that's £30-50million a year.

He went on to announce that the London Freewheel bike ride will become an annual event, with this year's ride taking place on September 21. The inaugural event last year attracted over 38,000 people, who enjoyed riding in a car-free Capital.

The Tour de France Grand Depart won an award last week for the increase in cycling it triggered in the capital – with bike journeys up 10 per cent in six months. Last summer's event brought in £88million from tourism over the three days of the Grand Depart and Prologue, which saw three million people descend on the capital and the Kent countryside. In a survey during the Grand Depart 50 per cent of spectators had said they would cycle more as a result of the Tour's visit to London.

Prudhomme optimistic about cycling's anti-doping movement

Director of the Tour de France Christian Prudhomme
Photo ©: AFP
(Click for larger image)

While in London, Christian Prudhomme commented on doping problems within competitive sports, but was optimistic about their eventual resolution within cycling. He called for help from cycling's fans and media, asking both to look forward to a drug-free cycling future.

"People take drugs for the glory and the money – but doping and drugs are our enemy, they are the enemy of cycling," said Prudhomme to Reuters. The Tour de France leader reminded fans that doping is a problem in other sports, too. "Ben Johnson took drugs to run 100 metres, so it's not the race or design of the course. If you staged a sack race, I'm sure some people would take drugs to be the best in a sack race."

Prudhomme commended the many parties who are fighting doping and acknowledged that change will take time. His own race has suffered due to doping with then yellow-jersey wearer Michael Rasmussen ejected from the 2007 Tour and Floyd Landis denied the 2006 Tour de France overall win due to positive tests. The 2007 Tour de France saw positive tests for Alexander Vinokourov, Iban Mayo and Christian Moreni, and Patrik Sinkewitz also withdrew during the race after a positive test result was returned from a test conducted at a training camp prior to the race.

"There has been a complete change of attitude amongst people who love cycling, and I am convinced that we will beat this," said an optimistic Prudhomme.

Lampre, Tinkoff & Gerolsteiner for Eroica

Team Gerolsteiner will start in the Monte Paschi Eroica Saturday. The UCI 1.1 race runs 181 km from Gaiole in Chainti to Siena, and seven different stretches of the course go over unpaved roads. German national champion Fabian Wegmann will lead the German ProTour team.

Tinkoff Credit Systems will be relying on young talent Mihkail Ignatyev and the experience of Daniel Contrini while Alberto Loddo will return to racing after his crash in Malaysia.

"The main part of the season is coming," said Team Lampre director Fabrizio Bontempi who is looking to Alessandro Ballan and Fabio Baldato for his team's success. "Last year, the cyclists welcomed this race with enthusiasm, even if it was tougher than what was thought. The 57km of dirt roads will be crucial, this year they could be tougher because of the possible bad weather."

Gerolsteiner for Monte Paschi Eroica: Thomas Fothen, Johannes Fröhlinger, Oscar Gatto, Heinrich Haussler, Volker Ordowski, Ronny Scholz, Fabian Wegmann and Carlo Westphal.

Lampre for Monte Paschi Eroica: Alessandro Ballan, Fabio Baldato, Emanuele Bindi, Paolo Fornaciari, Roberto Longo, Christian Murro, Daniele Righi and Mauro Santambrogio under director Fabrizio Bontempi.

Tinkoff Credit Systems for Monte Paschi Eroica: Bernardo Riccio, Alexander Gottfried, Mihkail Ignatyev, Yuahen Sobal, Nikita Eskov, Ilya Chernetsky, Alberto Loddo, Pavel Brutt, Ivan Rovny and Daniel Contrini.

USAC Pro Tour sees some changes

USAC Cycling announced two changes to its Professional Tour calendar for the season. The US Open, which was set for April 13 in Richmond, Virginia, has been removed from both the UCI calendar and the USAC Pro Tour calendar. Organizers are looking at other date and location options. In addition, the Tour de Leelanau in Traverse City, Michigan, has moved from its scheduled Saturday, May 24 to Sunday, May 25 after occupying a September slot in 2007.

The next event on the calendar is the Tour de Georgia from April 21-27.

US Air Force Classic to benefit Raisin Hope Foundation

The US Air Force Cycling Classic, set for May 4, in Crystal City, Virginia, will donate portions of proceeds from the event to the Raisin Hope Foundation which helps individuals who have suffered Traumatic Brain Injuries, including providing funds for research and medical care facilities. The event will also help members of the United States military who have sustained traumatic brain injuries while serving the US military.

Complimenting the elite race program, amateur riders are invited to take part in the Inaugural Crystal Ride, beginning and ending at the US Air Force Memorial. The ride will utilize a 12.5 kilometer circuit in Arlington that riders can complete for up to eight laps (100km).

Last year's race was won by Kyle Wamsley and Laura Van Guilder.

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