SAINT-PAUL-TROIS-CHATEAUX, France (VN) — The UCI and the Tour de France parent company (ASO) rolled out a new agreement Monday to get the debut Tour of Beijing off the ground this October.
ASO will provide on-the-ground assistance in a four-year commitment to run the five-day Chinese tour.
Whether the 18 ProTeams will be there remains to be seen.
Jonathan Vaughters, president of the pro team’s association (AIGCP), told VeloNews that the long-simmering issue over the use of two-way race radios remains unresolved.
“It’s premature to say whether the teams will be participating in Beijing or not,” Vaughters told VeloNews. “There needs to be some further negotiation on the possible participation at the Tour of Beijing.”
Cycling’s top teams have been threatening to boycott the UCI-backed Chinese tour this fall in a long-running spat over the issue of banning two-way radio communication next season.
UCI is pushing for a permanent ban of two-way race radio in all races by next season and the majority of the elite pro teams are pushing back.
Teams have targeted a possible boycott of the Beijing, in part because the race is being organized and promoted by the UCI.
Vaughters, however, hinted that there’s progress being made in recent, behind-closed-doors negotiations with the UCI that seem to have broken the ice over the radio ban and other issues.
“The negotiations regarding the radio ban have been very positive with the UCI as of recent and moving in the right direction. We reaffirmed our position right before the meeting in Paris and all the teams re-signed a document reasserting our position to the UCI,'” Vaughters said. “The UCI has shown a willingness to negotiate and things are moving in the right direction. I am happy that the UCI has stepped forward and shown willingness to talk. Instead of a lot of bluster, it’s been very professional behavior and willingness to see the issue from other points of view. I am happy with all the progress.”
Whether that means a retreat on the radio ban by the UCI remains unclear. Teams have dug in their heels over the radio ban proposal, insisting that modern racing requires the two-way radio communication between rider and sport director. The UCI backs the notion that the radios have dulled racing by eliminating the element of surprise that’s long been a part of cycling’s history.
UCI president Pat McQuaid also confirmed to journalists on the ground Monday that talks are ongoing between teams and cycling’s governing body.
“We have been in discussions with the teams about a compromise. We’re in positive discussions,” McQuaid said. “I think the teams will be there (in China).”
The Beijing race — set for October 5-9 — also marks a new compromise between ASO and the UCI, two powerful institutions that have been at loggerheads over the ProTour expansion and other issues for several years. Relations have improved with the exit of former ASO president Patrice Clerc. ASO will assist with logistics during the Beijing, similar to what it’s done at the tours of Oman and Qatar.
The Beijing race is also the first foray into race promotion by the UCI’s business division called “Global Cycling Promotions.”
McQuaid said the Chinese market is critical to the future of cycling.
“China is very important to sponsors, to the riders and to bike companies,” McQuaid said. “Everyone wants to go there.”
McQuaid said that the UCI is promoting cycling in “several large nations,” without naming names, but other nations include possible races in Russia, India and South America. Any future expansion into emerging markets would not conflict with the established European calendar.
“We cannot do the World Tour by affecting the historic, traditional calendar. We will do these things in the winter or fall,” McQuaid said. “The Beijing dates are a good place on the calendar. It’s a week after the worlds. The season is still ongoing and the weather is perfect.”
Whether or not the “top riders from the top teams” will be there, as the UCI has promised, remains to be seen. But when China comes calling, most people seem willing to answer the door.