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McQuaid: ProTour lives despite peace deal

The much-maligned ProTour series will continue despite a peace treaty hammered out this week between the UCI and the grand tour race organizers. UCI president Pat McQuaid said a reduced ProTour series will exist alongside Europe’s biggest races as part of a new world calendar that will mark a cease-fire between cycling warring parties.

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By Andrew Hood

The much-maligned ProTour series will continue despite a peace treaty hammered out this week between the UCI and the grand tour race organizers.

UCI president Pat McQuaid said a reduced ProTour series will exist alongside Europe’s biggest races as part of a new world calendar that will mark a cease-fire between cycling warring parties.

“We’re on a good way. There are some relationships to be redeveloped, I will do my best in the coming months to try to achieve that,” McQuaid said. “This agreement means we will be working together in a positive way in developing the sport in the coming years.”

McQuaid cemented the peace deal Thursday evening with Editions Philippe Amaury, the parent company of ASO and the Tour de France.

Organizers of the Giro d’Italian (RCS Sport) and the Vuelta a España (Unipublic) also signed on, opening the door for McQuaid to present the pact to the UCI annual congress on Friday.

The agreement is a major coup for McQuaid, whose first three years of his four-year term in the UCI presidency has been marked with growing tension and conflict between organizers of the grand tours and cycling’s governing body.

“It’s been three difficult years. I don’t like to be in conflict. It became very personal and it didn’t do anything good for the sport,” he said. “I am looking forward to rebuilding the bridges with the grand tours and the federations. I hope we can have a year of serenity to work toward the future of the sport.”

Whether the affable Irishman can mend fences that fast remains to be seen, but it seems that everyone was ready to turn the page on the bitter conflict between cycling’s biggest players.

As late as June this year, the UCI and the Tour officials were not even on speaking terms.

But McQuaid took a chance to reach out to the widow of ASO owner, Philippe Amaury. Using IOC member and French skiing legend Jean-Claude Killy as a bridge, McQuaid was able to reopen talks with the powerful French media conglomerate.

That broke the ice. By August, McQuaid announced during the Beijing 2008 Olympic Games that he was brokering a peace deal.

McQuaid offered few details, but essentially the UCI and the grand tours agreed to operate in a perhaps uneasy co-existence.

The grand tours and other important one-day classics will remain on a “historic” calendar alongside a ProTour calendar, all under what’s being dubbed the “world calendar.”

No restrictions will be placed on the grand tours on which teams they can invite to their events, removing a major sticking point over the original ProTour format that originally included 20 ProTour teams with automatic starts in all the major European races.

McQuaid also said the UCI will respect the pact signed between the major teams and the grand tours that extends through the 2009 and 2010 racing seasons.

“We’re working on a new ranking system that will be introduced for the 2011 season,” McQuaid said.

The grand tours, meanwhile, agreed to return to the UCI fold and end any speculation of creating a separate racing body. The UCI also lifted bans on the French cycling federation, its president and Eric Boyer, president of the team’s association.

In 2009, anti-doping controls will return to the UCI. In 2008, ASO used the French cycling federation to much success and increased controls dramatically. The UCI says they will continue to apply the heat to would-be cheaters.

“We will resume all anti-doping controls at all races,” said Anne Gripper, the UCI’s anti-doping coordinator. “We support the efforts by the AFLD. The new testing they conducted reveals how fast it is between a new doping product and how fast it can be detected (CERA).”

McQuaid insisted, however, the UCI will continue to develop its ProTour project.

As of now, there will be no quota, though any team that wishes to hold a ProTour license will be required to race in all ProTour events. Eventually, McQuaid said the plan is to reintroduce some sort of guarantee in the major events for ProTour teams.

A planned race in Russia, mostly like called the Tour of Sotchi, will be introduced in 2009 and there’s talk of creating a Tour of China, perhaps as soon as next year as well.

“Now we hope to move on and work to fulfill (the ProTour’s) promise. One of the most important things is the bundling of TV rights in ProTour events and improve TV production,” he said. “I used to be a race promoter and I know it’s expensive to put on a race. A few races make large sums of money, but there are others who are struggling to make ends meet. We want to help those organizers.”

McQuaid also confirmed his intention of running for re-election as UCI president at next year’s congress that will coincide with the 2009 world championships in Mendrisio, Switzerland.

With a tentative peace deal in the works, McQuaid has one year to prove that he deserves another mandate.

The departure of longtime UCI president Hein Verbruggen, who resigned this week from his post as UCI vice president, is seen as a step toward solidifying power at the UCI for McQuaid.

Though he strongly denied it, many considered that McQuaid had his hands tied and relied too often on Verbruggen to make decisions.

“That is a product of your imagination,” McQuaid said to a reporter who suggested he was Verbruggen’s puppet. “I was never a marionette. I have a lot of respect for Mr. Verbruggen and I sad to see him go. During the past three years, I’ve asked his advice on matters, but that’s as far as it’s gone. I made the decisions.”

McQuaid’s reputation and the future of cycling could depend mightily on McQuaid’s peace deal.

2009 world racing calendar

Jan. 20-25: Tour Down Under (ProTour)
March 8-15: Paris-Nice (Historic)
March 11-17: Tirreno-Adriatico (His)
March 21: Milan-San Remo (His)
April 5: Tour of Flanders (PT)
April 6-11: Tour of the Basque Country (PT)
April 8: Ghent-Wevelgem (PT)
April 12: Paris-Roubaix (His)
April 19: Amstel Gold Race (PT)
April 22: Flèche Wallonne (His)
April 26: Liège-Bastogne-Liège (His)
April 28-May 3: Tour de Romandie (PT)
May 9-31: Giro d’Italia (His)
May 18-24: Tour of Catalunya (PT)
June 7-14: Dauphiné Libéré (PT)
June 13-21: Tour de Suisse (PT)
July 4-26: Tour de France (His)
Aug. 1: Clásica San Sebastián (PT)
Aug. 2-8: Tour of Poland (PT)
Aug. 16: Vattenfall Cyclassics (PT)
Aug. 19-26: Benelux Tour (PT)
Aug. 23: GP Ouest France-Plouay (PT)
Aug. 29-Sept. 6: Tour of Germany (PT)
Aug. 29 –Sept. 20: Vuelta a España (His)
Oct. 17: Giro di Lombardia (His)
Dates to be confirmed: Tour of Sotchi (PT)