By Andrew Hood
Contrary to reports of its early demise, the UCI’s grand experiment, the new ProTour seems to be catching on.
Despite the continuing howls of protest from Tour de France organizer ASO and the other grand tours, it seems everyone else in the cycling world is taking the ProTour format to heart.
It’s still too early for a complete appraisal on the UCI’s re-jigging of the racing calendar, but the early verdict suggests the series has promise to live up to its billing.
Look no further than Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, two early season races that typically were little more than race-speed training sessions ahead of more important dates.
Both saw torrid and blistering racing. Why? Because everyone was gunning for the honor of winning the inaugural ProTour event.
That privilege went to Paris-Nice winner Bobby Julich, who donned the leader’s jersey before ceding it to Oscar Freire, who was racing in Italy at Tirreno-Adriatico.
Everyone agreed the competition was harder and more intense with Paris-Nice part of the ProTour. That sentiment was echoed at Tirreno-Adriatico, where Freire and Alessandro Petacchi duked it out for stages and the GC. Good stuff.
It will be interesting to see how teams react following the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France, when August and September are chock-full of required racing at a time when most star riders who don’t have a Spanish surname are already making vacation plans.
One of the goals of the ProTour is to lift the importance of smaller races against the monuments of the sport. While Paris-Nice will never be on par with Paris-Roubaix or the Tour de France, the ProTour is already pumping new energy into the season.
The major glitch so far has been the uneven scoring system that’s heavily titled toward GC results at the expense of individual triumph.
Going into Ghent-Wevelgem, Petacchi held a solid lead of 93 points to Freire’s 78. Petacchi, of course, won Milan-San Remo and three stages in Tirreno-Adriatico while Freire won three stages and the T-A overall as well as top 10 at Milan-San Remo. So far, so good.
But look at third-place Danilo Hondo, the German sprinter whose cycling future is in doubt after failing anti-doping tests taken at the Tour of Murcia for a still-undisclosed banned substance.
Hondo sits third with 70 points despite not having won a ProTour race, yet scored significant points after finishing a distant second to the superior Petacchi at Milan-San Remo and fourth overall at T-A.
Gilberto Simoni, meanwhile, took an inspiring stage victory atop the arduous Mont Faron in Paris-Nice and scored exactly one point.
Leon Van Bon, on the other hand, scored 10 points after finishing eighth in Flanders. Not a bad ride, but hardly worthy of 10 times the value of actually winning a race.
UCI officials admit that the scoring system will likely see some tinkering ahead of next season.
The ProTour still faces an unresolved conflict with the Tour and the other grand tours despite a short-term cease-fire, but its position will only grow stronger if the racing continues at full-gas.
The ProTour’s biggest boosters say the “real” version won’t be seen for another year or two as the kinks are worked out. The opening act has already exceeded expectations.
TheProTour Points System ExplainedUCI ProTour Standings, after four events
1. Alessandro Petacchi (I), Fassa Bortolo – 93 pts
2. Oscar Freire Gomez (Sp), Rabobank – 78
3. Danilo Hondo (G), Gerolsteiner – 70
4. Tom Boonen (B), QuickStep – 62
5. Bobby Julich (USA), CSC – 50
6. Andreas Klier (G), T-Mobile – 41
7. Alejandro Valverde Belmonte (Sp), Illes Balears – 41
8. Peter Van Petegem (B), Davitamon-Lotto – 35
9. George Hincapie (USA), Discovery Channel – 35
10. Fabrizio Guidi (I), Phonak – 35
11. Constantino Zaballa Gutierrez (Sp), Saunier Duval – 35
12. Thor Hushovd (Nor), Credit Agricole – 35
13. Jens Voigt (G), CSC – 31
14. Erik Zabel (G), T-Mobile – 30
15. Stuart O’grady (Aus), Cofidis – 30
16. Roberto Petito (I), Fassa Bortolo – 25
17. Jörg Jaksche (G), Liberty Seguros – 25
18. Franco Pellizotti (I), Liquigas-Bianchi – 25
19. Laurent Brochard (F), Bouygues Telecom – 25
20. Alessandro Ballan (I), Lampre-Caffita – 20