In a last-minute compromise in the ongoing legal battle between the promoters of Sunday’s Wachovia USPRO Championship and Health Net’s Canadian sprint ace, Gord Fraser, Threshold Sports has extended an invitation to the team’s American riders.
The Health Net squad had been formally uninvited to the Philadelphia race, as well as to other races promoted by Threshold Sport, six weeks ago when team officials objected to a request that they not bring Fraser to any of the Threshold races. Fraser is currently embroiled in a breach-of-contract lawsuit against Threshold resulting from a canceled race series in 2000. (see “WhyGord Fraser and Health Net won’t be in Philly” June 2, 2003)
Under normal circumstances, a promoter could not ban American professionals from an American national championship. But the Philadelphia event has, since its inception, had something of a split personality in that it is both a UCI invitational and the American professional cycling championship. Under USPRO rules, a promoter is only obligated to invite the country’s top three pro squads to an invitational event.
But since news of the Health Net ban became public early this week, Threshold and its CEO, David Chauner, have been criticized for a blanket exclusion that affected not only Fraser, but his American teammates, who found themselves denied entry to their own national championships. On Thursday, Threshold officials contacted the team’s managers and offered a compromise.
“They called our office this morning,” said Greg Raifman, CEO of Momentum Sports Group, the management company in charge of the team. “They were quite gracious and offered at least to admit the Americans on the team. Needless to say, we took them up on it. We want to give our sponsor the opportunity to appear at the race, and we wanted our American riders to race in their national championship.”
The agreement means that Fraser and the team’s other non-American riders -Byelorussians Alex Ivanov, Alex Koslov and Eugini Seniushkin – will not be racing in Philadelphia.
Fraser said he was pleased with the news. “I’m obviously disappointed that I won’t be riding, but I’m thrilled that my teammates will get a chance to be there,” Fraser told VeloNews. “Obviously, this is a step in the right direction. The fact the team is there, that our sponsor gets to participate in one of the biggest races of the season, is great. That’s the first half. Me racing … that’s the second half.”
In a brief statement released Thursday afternoon, Threshold and USA Cycling announced that an agreement had been reached and that the team would be represented by its American riders: Michael Sayers, Rusty Beall, Chris McGovern, Jason Lokkesmoe, Todd Herriott, John Hunt, Skyler Bishop, and Devon Vigus.
USA Cycling CEO Gerard Bisceglia told VeloNews that the arrangement “is great news for the young men on the team. We’re pleased that Health Net, a new sponsor to the sport, can have a team in the national championship.”
Asked if he considered the exclusion of Fraser and other foreign Health Net riders to be fair, Bisceglia suggested that his primary focus in the case “was to protect the integrity of the national championship. I hope they can reach an agreement for the remainder of the schedule, but for now, I was largely concerned with the iintegrity of the national championship.
Fraser and his attorneys are scheduled to meet with Threshold and their representatives in a settlement conference on Tuesday. Asked what his goal for the meeting might be, Fraser replied simply: “Whatever it takes to get me racing. Beyond that, I can’t really speculate.”
Fraser said he was particularly grateful for the outpouring of support he’s received over the past three days.
“It’s been really nice to hear from people who really think I should be there,” Fraser said. “I agree, but it’s just as important to me to see my team there.”
To get there, however, the Health Net squad will have to act quickly.
“Well, it is sort of short notice,” Raifman observed, “and ordinarily, that would be next to impossible, but Threshold is pulling out the stops to help us make it there on time. We’ll be able to do it, with their help. Like I said, they were very gracious today.”
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