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Responding to Friday’s shock announcement that ASO, the organiser of the Tour de France and many other WorldTour events, would take those races off the WorldTour calendar, the UCI has said that it remains committed to the WorldTour reforms.
“The reform of men’s professional road cycling, which will enable sensible and gradual evolution of this important part of our sport, was approved by the Professional Cycling Council (PCC) in June and ratified by the UCI Management Committee in September,” it said in a statement.
“It has been developed over two years of very detailed and open dialogue and consultation amongst a diverse group of stakeholders, including race organisers, teams and riders. The reform will offer stability for all, and will allow our sport to grow sustainably while protecting the interests of existing stakeholders.”
The reforms have been considerably watered down compared to the widespread restructuring of the sport originally envisioned by the UCI under Pat McQuaid’s tenure.
In what appeared to be a conciliatory gesture to the big organisers, the UCI rowed back on plans to shorten races such as the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España. It also said that it would no longer avoid the overlapping of events.
Part of the final structure would see races and teams given three year licences. This appears to be what ASO is protesting about.
“More than ever, A.S.O. remains committed to the European model and cannot compromise the values it represents: an open system giving first priority to the sporting criterion,” it said in the earlier statement. It added that it considered the UCI’s reforms to be a ‘closed sport system.’
Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said that he wasn’t worried the big riders or teams would not want to attend the Tour.
“This does not affect the sports level of our races,” he told AFP. “Champions always want to participate in major events.
“We reject the closed system. The absolute primacy must be given to the sporting criterion to determine the composition of the elite,” he added.
“The principle of the pyramid of cycling is fundamental. When a champion like Vincenzo Nibali wins the Coppa Bernocchi, which is not a WorldTour race, it’s great for the public and the emotions it brings.”
The rejection of its place on the WorldTour calendar will come into place in 2017, and will create considerable instability within pro cycling. WorldTour teams will no longer have the automatic right to participate in ASO’s events, thus making their season planning and sponsorship negotiations far more difficult.
The UCI is standing firm, perhaps realising that giving in to ASO’s demands will be akin to being held to ransom.
“The UCI remains committed to implementing the reforms which were agreed as part of this extensive consultation process and which the UCI believes properly balances the interests of all those involved in professional cycling.”
Both sides have laid out their positions. Fortunately, with the changes not due to come into effect until 2017, there is time to try to reach a common point that will best serve the sport and its many stakeholders.
Still, the threat of civil war looms and many of those stakeholders will be feeling nervous and frustrated at the latest developments.