First Edition Cycling News, March 5, 2008
Edited by Greg Johnson and Paul Verkuylen
UCI threatens teams, riders with bans and fines
UCI president Pat McQuaid has directly threatened riders and teams with suspensions and fines if they side with the Paris-Nice organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and participate in the upcoming race, which is to be sanctioned under the French national federation. In an e-mail sent Tuesday, McQuaid expressed his sympathy with the riders' situations, but said he was prepared to take action against them.
According to the letter, riders who participate in Paris-Nice face 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 were 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.
"Our riders received this letter by e-mail today [Tuesday]," Rabobank's sports director Eric Breukink told AFP. "Our riders are frightened."
The move follows more than a week of silence from the ASO, who announced on February 26, 2008 that they would hold Paris-Nice outside the aegis of the UCI and had recruited the French Cycling Federation (FFC) to sanction the event. The ASO then appointed the French anti-doping agency, AFLD, to be in charge of the doping controls for the event.
Since that time, the ASO has steered clear of making statements to the press, declining to be interviewed by Cyclingnews, and only chimed in today to declare that the threats of the UCI are "totally disproportionate". In a statement to AFP, the ASO spokesperson said, "The UCI launches totally disproportionate threats against riders and teams (such as fines, suspension, exclusion)," and reiterated the organisation's stance that sanctioning Paris-Nice under the FFC is in accordance with French law.
The ASO statement said that it "has the support of the Ministry of Sports and the French Anti-doping Agency (AFLD) for the organisation of the event."
The tensions are expected to rise ahead of the event which begins Sunday. The ASO spokesperson said that six of the 20 teams invited to the race had not returned their entry forms, and must do so by 1700 Saturday, and added that the ASO will make no further comments until then.
Belgian newspaper Gazet van Antwerpen released a copy of the letter sent to riders, which can be viewed here.
Teams: Our choice is either being quartered or hanged
With all the political wrangling going on between the ASO and the UCI, the teams and riders have been forced into a 'catch-22' situation where they face unhappy sponsors, a missed opportunity to gain form and win races, and more importantly, risk angering the ASO and possibly losing their invitation to the Tour de France if they refuse to participate in Paris-Nice on one hand, and on the other risk suspension from racing by the UCI.
Gerolsteiner team manager Hans-Michael Holczer said that the team managers would meet in Paris on Thursday to discuss the situation, and he hoped they could come together to push for resolution to the conflict. "As a group we are stronger," he told sport1.de. "This isn't a few bullets around our ears, now they are throwing bombs," he said.
Holczer refused to say whether or not his team would ride on Sunday, but noted, "If we don't start in Paris-Nice, then you can be sure that we can forget our start in the Tour de France. If we do start, then our riders are threatened by the UCI with a ban and non-participation in the world championships and Olympics. We have our choice of being either quartered or hanged." Gerolsteiner was supposed to send such riders as Davide Rebellin, Bernhard Kohl, Stefan Schumacher and Andrea Moletta to Paris-Nice.
Patrick Lefevere was for many years the president of the council of the pro teams and in that role, spent much time trying to iron out differences between the various parties. The head of Team Quick Step told belga, "I stood for three years in the desert and shouted. It has produced nothing. Apparently the UCI now wants to suspend the 160 riders? It is not longer up to me to carry the load. The riders are in panic. Racing is their source of income."
He still hoped that a solution could be reached, but knew it wouldn't be easy. "I think that the problem has become so large that it is difficult to reach a solution, because both parties feel they can no longer step through the same door. Maybe they need a third party to help them out. I am thinking of the Court of Arbitration for Sport."
Herman Frison of Silence-Lotto, said that "I hope that both parties will use their healthy understanding and reach a sound solution. I have had numerous phone calls from worried riders with questions as to what they must do. They hope for one thing, and that is to be able to do their job on Sunday."
Quick Step's Wilfried Peeters didn't anticipate a quick solution, calling it "an impossible matter. The riders sit between two fires. The only thing they want to do is to ride. And our sponsors want to see them ride. That is what they have paid for. They want a return on their investment."
Erik Breukink of Rabobank confirmed that the UCI had threatened to withdraw the ProTour license of teams who ride in Paris-Nice, which the team had been planning to ride. "We have just seen the e-mails," Breukink told telesport.nl. "We have not yet adopted an official position. We are still discussing it among ourselves and will consult with the other teams."
Jonathan Vaughters, Team Slipstream manager, had succeeded in scoring an invitation to one of the season's biggest races, and wants his young team to be able to experience participating in an event of Paris-Nice's caliber. "This is just another case of how cycling's problems always fall on the riders. Its a really sad situation," Vaughters told Cyclingnews. "We don't have any sponsor interests in France or Europe, but as a new team, we want to race Paris-Nice just because its Paris-Nice."
"The riders want to do it, heck, its David Millar's primary goal for the year, so it's absolutely heartbreaking that I have to tell them they might face consequences for doing a race they have been dreaming about. You have to remember how many young kids we have on our team that have never done these races before. They are excited to get out there and show themselves in the races that they have posters of in their bedroom."
"Telling them they might be prevented from doing that is hurtful."
More rider reactions to UCI letter:
"The riders seem to be the victims of the game between the cycling federations and the French organiser. Maybe we should stop racing until a solution is reached. Establishing two federations is not a good solution either. Which program do we ride?
"In fact, it is bad that we have our backs to the wall, because it is the riders who make the racing after all? I hope that the big bosses think about the future of the sport."
Frederik Willems (Liquigas): "We are the victims in the war between the two parties. We have a contract with our teams which we should respect. We get a program from our sports directors; should we just leave that lying now?
"In addition all the ProTour teams pay the UCI to be able to race, it looks like now they [the teams] are being boycotted by their own boss. For many riders Paris-Nice is a very important race. Not only to win, but also to build a base for the rest of the season. Now, they are taking our right to ride the race away from us.
"There is a riders union but what can we achieve? The big bosses from the teams have to, for once, sit down together with the other parties. Cycling in general is in danger because what are sponsors going to say in the future if they have no security in which program their team will ride? We urgently need a solution. "
Gorik Gardeyn (Silence-Lotto): "The whole issue continues to escalate. Last year there was the issues with Unibet.com. Fact is it was just the beginning of the misery that now prevails. A power struggle between the big players, a true war, but there are never winners.
"History has taught us that several times, but apparently they always forget that. This power game should have been put behind us last winter.
"We, the riders will again draw the short straw. I hope that water is added to the wine for both parties in order to achieve a proper solution. And it is early days since Paris-Nice departs Sunday. Whether there really is any solidarity in the pack? Honestly I don't count on it, as regrettable as that may sound."
McQuaid refuses French federation, sports minister meeting
UCI president Pat McQuaid is believed to have turned down a request to meet with French Cycling Federation president Jean Pitallier and French sports minister Bernard Laporte. The UCI released a statement stating it wouldn't meet with the parties unless the Paris-Nice race agrees to operate under its rules and regulations.
"Under these circumstances, the UCI president is not going to say yes to the invitation by the FFC unless the Paris-Nice race agrees to come under the normal rules and regulations," it said in a statement. "It therefore believes that it is not an opportune time to meet the president of FFC, even in the presence of the Sports Minister Bernard Laporte."
The UCI's announcement quashes hopes of a cease-fire between the world governing body and the Grand Tour organiser ASO in the lead up to next week's Paris-Nice.
Pitallier had told AFP prior to the UCI's announcement that Laporte would meet with McQuaid this week and would likely ask the UCI to be more flexible. "He was going to study the proposition and going to make an approach to the president of the UCI," Pitallier said.
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split
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ASO accept AIGCP changes to Nice contract
ASO has accepted the changes to team's contracts to contest next weeks Paris-Nice, the Association Internationale Des Groupes Cyclistes Professionnels (AIGCP) has announced. Teams studied the contract after being offered contracts to contest the French race outside of the governance of the sport's world body, the UCI.
The AIGCP asked for some changes to be made to the contract on behalf of some of the participating teams, which ASO has accepted. "My role was to present the 20 team principals (three are not ProTour outfits) with two questions," AIGCP chairman Eric Boyer told AFP.
"First, do you intend to participate in the Paris-Nice? The reply was unanimously 'yes'. Then, do you accept the contractual conditions? There, it was a question of 'yes, but…'. So we asked for some amendments to the contract."
Once such change accepted by ASO is that the French Olympic conciliation body (CNOSF) will step in as arbiter in the event of disagreements.
"The decision of the teams to participate in the Paris-Nice is linked to their wish to guarantee the interests of their sponsors as well as their sporting interests and those of their riders," a AIGCP statement read.
Despite the teams organisation supporting participation in the Paris-Nice, it stressed emphasis on the need for "structured dialogue" between the involved parties to avoid a repeat of the issue. Several team directors have labeled the events of the last fortnight as a demonstration of what could occur in the Tour de France lead up.
Track hopefuls skip Paris-Nice
Team High Road's Bradley Wiggins and Mark Cavendish will skip Paris-Nice after the UCI threatened suspensions for any rider who participates in Paris-Nice. The pair are scheduled to race the UCI World Track Championships in Manchester at the end of March, and need the opportunity to earn points toward qualification for the Olympic Games. Wiggins, the reigning pursuit Olympic and World Champion, could also face exclusion from the Olympic Games if the UCI's threats are borne out.
Cavendish told the Guardian, "I'm a little bit disappointed, but it's not our fault. We are innocent people trying to do a job and are losing out because of a controversy that is going on," he said. The 22 year-old will now ride in Tirreno-Adriatico as preparation for the track worlds, while Wiggins will look for another major race. Brian Cookson, president of the British cycling federation, said he hoped the matter could be resolved, "otherwise our sport will break apart."
Cavendish's team-mate Linus Gerdemann told the dpa that he wasn't
directly affected by the UCI's threats of sanctions over
Ronde van Vlaanderen gives wild-cards
The Ronde van Vlaanderen has announced the seven teams to which it has issued wild-card invitations to its April 6 race. The invitations have gone to Landbouwkrediet-Tönissteiner, Topsport Vlaanderen, Mitsubishi-Jartazi, Skil-Shimano, Team Barloworld, Slipstream-Chipotle, and Cycle-Collstrop. They will join the 18 ProTour teams to create a field of 200 riders.
The invitation to Cycle-Collstrop is dependent on whether the Continental team gets UCI permission to ride in ProTour races, which is expected. However, if the UCI does not allow it, the invitation will go to team Tinkoff.
Rás Mumhan confirms route
One of the biggest races on the Irish race calendar, Rás Mumhan (Tour of Munster), has confirmed its route for 2008. The four day stage race takes place over the Easter weekend (March 21-24) and the route travels over some of Ireland's best scenic areas. Previous winners include top Irish riders Paul Healion and John Dempsey alongside British riders Kevin Dawson and former British road race champion Russell Downing.
There may be even more British teams heading to Ireland hoping to take home over 1,000 Euro in primes on offer for the Saturday and Sunday stages. All the stages start at or near the town of Killorglin famous for the annual Puck Fair festival. Local man Paul Griffin (Giant Asia) from Tralee will know the route intimately and will be one of the pre-race favourites. Brian Keneally has also confirmed his return to defend the title he won last year which helped him gain Irish team selection for the Tour of Ireland later in the year.
2008 Rás Mumhan route:
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