By Andrew Hood
It took nine hours of intense haggling, but the UCI and cycling’s biggest race organizers signed a truce Monday that will save the 2007 racing season and avert a major crisis that threatened to split the sport.
Next week’s Paris-Nice will start as planned without the possibility of sanctions against participating teams after cycling’s governing body and Tour de France organizer ASO hammered out a temporary agreement to keep cycling’s racing calendar intact through the 2007 season.
“I am happy that the sport has got out of this crisis and look forward to a season where cycling can be the priority,” UCI president Pat McQuaid told Reuters on Monday. “The agreement, which is good for this season, allows us to work together. At least everyone is around the table and talking. Most important is that cycling goes on.”
Cycling was on the verge of a major split after the major race organizers had all but cut ties with the UCI’s ProTour format and threatened to create a rival racing circuit.
The UCI called for a boycott of Paris-Nice, set to start Sunday, and vowed to fine and sanction any team that showed up for the traditional season opener.
Cooler heads prevailed after teams insisted on a last-ditch negotiations Monday in Brussels. Attending the meeting were McQuaid and ProTour manager Alain Rumpf, ASO president Patrice Clerc with Quick Step-Innergetic manager Patrick Lefevere representing the teams, as well as representatives from Unipublic, organizers of the Vuelta a España, and RCS, organizers of the Giro d’Italia.
A temporary agreement that seemed to indicate concessions on both sides will save the 2007 racing season. Major players agreed to meet once a month to discuss a long-term solution and have a workable agreement ready by September 21.
The UCI compromised with the Big Three and agreed to include only 18 of the 20 ProTour teams at events organized by ASO, RCS and Unipublic. That means that new ProTour teams Astana and Unibet.com will have to bank on wild-card invitations to race in those races.
The UCI also conceded that the major organizers are not legally bound to the ProTour concept during the course of the temporary agreement and that the ProTour jersey will not be officially presented during protocol at their races. The ProTour leader will be allowed to wear the jersey in events.
The agreement averts a major crisis that threatened to split the sport, with race organizers rebelling against the UCI and teams and racers caught in the middle.
“We are going to ride Paris-Nice,” IPCT president Lefevere told Reuters. “We have a consensus for the moment that we can live with.”
The dispute dates back to the introduction of the ProTour format in 2005, with the race organizers pitted against what they call a closed system and perceive as a threat to their valuable television rights and other economic interests tied to sponsorship deals.
The conflict reached a boiling point this winter when ASO didn’t want to include new ProTour team Unibet.com in its events.
18 ProTour teams will be guaranteed starting spots in the following events
(Astana and Unibet.com will have to count on wild-card bids) Paris-NiceTirreno-AdriaticoMilan-San RemoParis-RoubaixFleche WalloneLiege-Bastogne-LiegeGiro d’ItaliaTour de FranceVuelta a EspañaParis-Tour and Giro di Lombardia
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