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Cycling’s behind-the-scenes war blast into clear view Friday when ASO announced it would pull the Tour de France and its other racing properties out of the UCI WorldTour starting in 2017.
In what’s a clear rejection of proposed reforms spelled out for 2017, the Paris-based Amaury Sports Organization dropped a bombshell Friday, announcing it’s yanking its races out of the WorldTour calendar and slotting them into the European calendar instead.
That will give ASO much more flexibility and power to decide which teams will be allowed to race in its events. The 18 teams in the WorldTour are guaranteed a start in every event that is part of the season-long elite calendar. The European-calendar designation would give ASO almost all power in deciding which teams would start its stable of racing properties.
“We refuse the closed system,” Tour director Christian Prudhomme told AFP. “This will not affect the sporting level of our races. The champions will always want to participate in the best races.”
In addition to the Tour, ASO’s other WorldTour properties include the Vuelta a España, Paris-Nice, Critérium du Dauphiné, Flèche Wallonne, Paris-Roubaix, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège.
Following meetings in Barcelona last week, the UCI announced what appeared to be a compromise outline of what are largely watered-down reforms that assured 18 WorldTeams teams three-year racing licenses starting in 2017 as well as an expansion of the international WorldTour calendar.
ASO was oddly quiet in the wake of the UCI announcement, and Friday it decided to play its hand. With two grand tours and a large share of the French calendar, ASO decided to wield its power in dramatic fashion. In an interview with VeloNews earlier this month, Prudhomme confirmed his doubts about the reforms and outlined his idea of reducing the size of teams for grand tours and other major races.
“The absolute priority must be given to sporting criteria to determine the composition to the elite,” Prudhomme told AFP. “The principal of the ‘pyramid of cycling’ is fundamental. When a rider like Vincenzo Nibali wins a race like Coppa Bernocchi [not part of the WorldTour -Ed.], it’s great for the public and the emotion it can arouse.”
It remains to be seen if this latest play is a ploy to alter the ongoing reform negotiations or if it marks a permanent departure. In 2007, ASO similarly threatened to pull Paris-Nice out of an earlier version of the WorldTour, only to reach a final-hour compromise with the UCI to save the racing calendar that season. There is plenty of time for compromise, but ASO is clearly saying it does not believe in the current form of the UCI’s plan.
The impact of Friday’s decision cannot be underestimated. A place in the WorldTour is paramount to teams’ financial underpinning, especially securing a spot in the Tour de France, the only cycling event that truly engages the general public worldwide. Without an assured spot in the Tour, teams will be completely at the mercy of ASO, a reality that teams have been trying to alter for the better part of the past two decades.
Later that morning, the UCI issued a statement acknowledging the ASO’s decision but offering few clues as to what will come next.
“The UCI remains committed to implementing the [WorldTour] 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,” the statement read.
Here is the full text of ASO’s announcement:
Amaury Sport Organisation has informed this day Union Cycliste Internationale it has opted for the registration of its events on the Hors Classe calendar for season 2017.
UCI has actually recently adopted, from season 2017, a Reform of the World Tour calendar characterized by a closed sport system.
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 is therefore in this new context and within its historical events that A.S.O. will continue to keep these values alive.