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News feature, January 23, 2006

An AV to save the day? UCI prepares for next round in ProTour stoush

By Gerard Knapp in Adelaide

Armed with new marketing collateral produced by a research firm, the International Cycling Union is set to meet in three weeks with representatives of the three Grand Tours in an effort to resolve their differences that threatens to derail the fledgling concept of the ProTour, the UCI's attempt of amalgamating the world's top road races under one umbrella structure.

UCI president Pat McQuaid said on Sunday, January 22, 2006, at a press conference in Adelaide, South Australia, he is hopeful the race organisers will accept their conditions and become part of the ProTour "between now and 2008".

He said the research firm gave a presentation during a meeting held on January 18 in Geneva between the UCI and its supporters, notably the ProTour teams and their sponsors, represented by Patrick Lefevere, president of the AIGCP and director of the Quick.Step squad, as well as Paolo Del Lago from Liguigas.

The research is designed to show the potential of the ProTour and that it has a solid commercial future that could deliver benefits to all parties via increased exposure and television coverage. He said following the presentation, all three reiterated their support for the ProTour concept.

The UCI's ProTour concept was rocked in December 9 last year by the not entirely unexpected withdrawal by the organizers of cycling's three biggest races, the Tour de France, the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana. Further, the organizers also withdrew eight other major races, namely Paris Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico, Milan-San Remo, Paris-Roubaix, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Paris-Tours and the Tour of Lombardy.

The withdrawal virtually gutted the ProTour of its key events, so an agreement with the organizers of these events is seen as critical to the future of the UCI's concept. However, the races are owned by three large European companies - ASO, RCS and Unipublic - that have successfully developed their properties without any kind of umbrella structure. They are firm in their opposition to any form of controlling structure imposed by the UCI.

McQuaid admitted, "I wouldn't disagree that it's at a critical stage".

He said the current conditions will be in place until 2008 but the UCI is prepared to work on whatever changes are necessary for these key events to be brought back into the fold.

ProTour expansion outside of Europe unlikely in short term

McQuaid was in Adelaide to observe the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under, the largest stage race in Australia. But at his press conference, he could not offer a firm commitment that the Australian event could soon become part of the ProTour.

He said the current ProTour rules may need to be changed to facilitate the inclusion of races like the JCTDU that do not have the budget to meet ProTour event guidelines, such as a minimum number of ProTour teams. He said the UCI would need to look at the rules for road races held in January and February, as well as the rules for races held outside of Europe.

Still, McQuaid said there, "is nothing stopping more ProTour teams from coming here" and that he believed the race should grow to have a field of 140 to 150 riders. The larger peloton would help it become more of a spectacle on the road (currently it has 12 teams of eight riders for a field of 96), and that organizers could also continue to build on the race's popularity by hosting related events that drew spectators to the race.

Still, he praised the efforts of the organizers and said it was clear the race's status in both Australia and around the world had increased in the two years since he last visited the race.

Despite the heatwave that hit the race, McQuaid was impressed with the crowds lining the roads. "It is more of a national event, and there seems to be evidently more people (in attendance), even though the temperatures have kept the crowds down a bit."

Kilo and 500m TT are definitely gone

McQuaid also dampened any speculation there was a chance that two popular track racing events - the men's kilo and women's 500m time trials - would be reinstated to the Olympic schedule.

Last June the track cycling fraternity was rocked by the UCI's decision to exclude these two events (see story). But McQuaid said the IOC was aware of the growth of events like the Xtreme Games and wanted to attract a youth audience, so the inclusion of BMX racing forced the UCI to take out two track racing events.

However, McQuaid was unable to clarify the inconsistencies behind the IOC's reasoning, as its rationale appears to change from one sport to another. Nonetheless, he said the UCI had no option but to follow IOC instructions.

But he said the 24 cycling federations that took part in the Athens 2004 Olympics were asked to vote on the track events to be removed to make way for BMX. He also said all opposition to its decision to axe the kilo & 500m TT had come only from two federations, and that no other national cycling body had objected to this decision.

He claimed the majority voted in favour of excluding the kilo and 500m TT, and "it was difficult to reject their opinions".

"Personally, I would prefer to see the events (stay) in there; they're wonderful events," he added.

Related story: Killing the kilo and 500

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

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