SEALINE BEACH, Qatar (VN) — Tour de France organizer ASO threw a curveball Friday, saying it must sort out controls for motorized cheating before any negotiations to rejoin the UCI WorldTour can take place.
The ASO said in December it will pull the Tour, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, and its other races out of the WorldTour and register them as HC events for 2017. Such a move would allow the French organizer to invite the teams it wishes, as opposed to the 18 WorldTour teams who receive automatic entries to World Tour races and a handful of Pro Continental squads who are invited by race organizers. ASO said at the time the UCI’s reforms for 2017 created a “closed system.”
The priority has changed, however, says Tour director Christian Prudhomme, after a rider was caught with a motor in her bike at the cyclocross world championships last month.
“If that problem is not sorted out, then what is the point of talking about anything else? That’s the priority, to have systematic checks on motors,” Prudhomme told select media, including VeloNews, at the Tour of Qatar.
“Fifteen days ago, I wouldn’t have talked about those checks, but things have radically changed in cycling because now it’s no longer a rumor with a motor being discovered. This has become our priority, and cycling has to understand that. We have to get rid of the cheating and the suspicion before talking about any other subject. We have to sort this problem out.”
The governing body’s disciplinary commission is investigating the case of Belgian Femke Van den Driessche after her spare bike was found with a motor in its seat tube during the under 23 women’s race at the ’cross worlds in Zolder, Belgium, on January 30. If the often-feuding French organizer and the UCI have found any common ground, it is regarding beefed-up controls for hidden motors.
“Room for negotiations on the WorldTour? I don’t know,” Prudhomme said. “I want to insist that we have to have systematic controls for motors first. [UCI president] Brian Cookson said that, and that’s a good thing. That’s the main issue facing us now. Do I think the UCI is going about the controls in the right way? Yes. It’s easy to check bikes and it doesn’t cost a lot of money.”
Prudhomme was rushed ahead of the Tour of Qatar’s final stage Friday into Doha’s center. Instead of speaking about the roadblock separating the ASO from rejoining the WorldTour for 2017, he focused on motors and missed opportunities to meet Cookson face to face for the first time since the ASO dropped its bomb in December.
Cookson traveled to Australia for the Santos Tour Down Under, where Prudhomme was due to visit before canceling his trip. The Brit arrived in Qatar for stage 2, around the same time Prudhomme arrived.
“Of course, I’m not doing this on purpose,” Prudhomme said of the missed encounters between the pair. “I had a problem with my flight for Australia, there wasn’t a flight for me, and I stayed in Paris. Anyway, it never happened. Brian probably doesn’t know my schedule, and I don’t know his schedule. It’s not deliberate.”
If ASO keeps its seven races out of the WorldTour, it would seriously devalue the top-level racing series. Cookson said in Australia, “It’s not impossible to run the WorldTour without ASO’s events, but they are some of the biggest events. We do want them to be a part of it.”
Before leaving Qatar, Cookson said, “I haven’t spoken to [ASO] since earlier last year and the UCI met at the Management Committee last week and we reconfirmed our position on the 2017 reforms.
“I’m sure we can come to an agreement with the ASO without the outbreak of war again. The Tour is the biggest and best bike race in the world. I’m sure they will want to continue to be a part of the WorldTour. I do want to say our door is open and I’m always ready to talk with anyone from ASO, from Madame Amaury downwards.”
Prudhomme tried to play down the brewing conflict between ASO and the UCI.
“After the Paris attacks two months ago, I’d never use the word war,” he said. “There are differences, yes, but this is not a war.”