By Andrew Hood
T-Mobile general manager Bob Stapleton is taking a “wait and see” attitude toward the ongoing power struggle between the UCI and the organizers of the three grand tours.
Last week, the UCI announced a restructured 2008 ProTour calendar that excludes the Tour de France, Giro d’Italia, Vuelta a España and major one-day classics associated with the big three race organizers.
Stapleton said the news of a watered-down ProTour calendar caught teams by surprise, but added this likely won’t be the last row in the ongoing battle over the controversial ProTour.
“I think this is round one of what’s going to be a several round fight that we’ll see over the next several months,” Stapleton told VeloNews last week. “We’re very much in ‘wait and see’ mode. This is positioning and there’s a little bashing going on that will continue for several months. This fight sets back the sport. I don’t think it’s going to get it resolved any time soon.”
So far, the major race organizations have been fairly quiet of the UCI’s latest plans to push the rebel races out of the ProTour and onto a newly expanded European calendar.
Stapleton said he expects fireworks when the Amaury Sports Organization, owner of the Tour, unveils the route of the 2008 Tour on October 25 in Paris.
“There’s another milestone with the announcement of the route of the Tour. That’s another bully pulpit for another broadside,” he said. “The Tour presentation will see an attack on the UCI. I think there will be a lot of tension between these two organizations maybe most of the year.”
Race organizers and the UCI have been at loggerheads since the UCI introduced the 20-team ProTour league in the fall of 2004.
Ongoing resistance from the major races finally prompted the UCI to forge ahead with the ProTour without the presence of some of Europe’s most important and prestigious races.
Stapleton said the ongoing rift only damages cycling’s ability to overcome doping scandals and put the sport back on a positive footing.
“The thing that hurts the sport right now is the lack of unity. ASO would like to see a weakened UCI and they would like to control who comes to their events, and that’s where the UCI draws the line. You have a real flashpoint there that is going to remain contentious,” he said. “We have good relations with everybody and we’re going to try to steer this back together. I’m not super-optimistic about that right now. I think we’re going to see the sport divided for months. I would hope that people would say, ‘we’re stronger together.’ I don’t understand why people would be content to fight over their share of a shrinking pie rather than try to stabilize and grow the sport to the benefit of all.”
Part of the UCI’s restructuring of the ProTour calendar includes the addition of a ProTour series final in October as well as the elevation to ProTour status of the Tour Down Under in late January. UCI president Pat McQuaid also hinted that national tours in Russia and China could come as early as 2009.
The designation of the Tour Down Under also caught teams by surprise. Now all remaining 18 ProTour teams will be required to travel to Australia to attend the race.
“We’re just trying to digest it. It throws a big monkey wrench into our plans for next season. You’re talking about a race on January 22 that wasn’t anticipated. We didn’t build our plans around that. It’s right in the middle of our training camp and we have guys coming from three different continents and that just changes our whole game plan,” Stapleton said. “I’m sure (the UCI) will push races into that calendar. The UCI is very bullish on other events and I don’t know if that’s possible. I think that’s one of the ways to balance power, to try to build the strength of the calendar anyway they can.”
Di Luca keeps racing
Cycling’s bizarre double-standard keeps rolling along.
Danilo Di Luca – who didn’t race the world championship in Stuttgart last week because he’s facing a possible four-month ban for working with controversial Italian doctor Carlo Santuccione – is part of the Liquigas lineup for Saturday’s GP Cimurri.
Whether he’ll be able to race in the season-closer at the Giro di Lombardia on October 20 remains to be seen.
The Giro d’Italia champ is scheduled to attend a CONI hearing on October 16 over alleged relations with Santuccione, who is facing charges of allegedly prescribing doping products to athletes as part of the so-called “Oil for Drugs” investigation.
Di Luca, who has denied all charges, could be banned for four months, according to demands from CONI prosecutors. If he is banned, Di Luca might be kept out of Lombardia.
Lombardia is technically part of the ProTour calendar and any rider under suspicion for doping allegations shouldn’t be allowed to compete under ProTour rules.
Di Luca, who pulled out of the world’s under pressure from Stuttgart organizers, says he plans on racing in the season finale and win what would be his second ProTour title in three years.
Di Luca leads the season-long ProTour series by 15 points to second-place Cadel Evans, with 242 to 227. Neither are expected to be a factor in the sprint friendly Paris-Tours in the ProTour’s penultimate event October 14.
Evans promises to be at the start line in one last chance to move ahead of Di Luca. Stay tuned on whether or not Di Luca will be.