UCI acknowledges talks with Omega Pharma boss, calls media reports speculative

The UCI has signed a memorandum of understanding with investors and plans "extensive dialogue with the teams and race organizers. ..."

AIGLE, Switerland (VN) — The UCI issued a statement Saturday acknowledging that the sport’s governing body has been in discussions with Omega Pharma-Quick Step team owner Zdenek Bakala and his business partner Bessel Kok since late 2011 about potential developments that might turn the pro road cycling calendar into a “Champions League of Cycling” by 2016.

The discussions with the UCI have included a potential financial investment by the wealthy businessmen into a new joint-venture company with the UCI that would “promote and organize elements of this new calendar.”

“The UCI has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with [Bakala and Kok] as the initial investors in the joint venture and will now enter into extensive dialogue with the teams and race organizers before any final agreement is concluded,” the statement said.

In the fall of 2010, Czech investor Bakala, along with Dutch investor Kok, bought majority shares of Patrick Lefevere’s holding company that owns the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team.

While the UCI acknowledged discussions with Bakala and Kok are in place, the federation stated that no agreement has been reached on reforms to the pro road calendar, “and as such, any media reports about the future of the calendar are pure speculation at this stage.”

The UCI, it said, would retain full control over a potential new race calendar, including “sporting and technical elements.”

“The UCI and the investors are also committed to ensuring that the final structure of the joint venture will avoid conflicts of interest,” the statement added.

Bakala made his fortune in the aftermath of the Czech Republic’s “Velvet Revolution” following the dissolution of Czechoslovakia in 1989. Educated in the United States, he returned home to help nurture the country’s nascent investment banking industry in the early 1990s and invested heavily in coal and iron ore mining, building a self-made fortune estimated to be in excess of $2 billion.

He married a former Miss Czechoslovakia and has diversified his fortune into chemicals, wineries, hotels, real estate and rail holdings. He was a friend of the late Czech president Václav Havel.

“Improving the professional road cycling calendar for spectators, cyclists, teams, organizers and sponsors is a priority for the UCI,” said UCI president Pat McQuaid. “Cycling is one of the world’s most popular sports and we are committed to take this to an even higher level.

“In Zdenek Bakala and Bessel Kok we have cycling fans who have already done much for the sport but who want to invest further. That demonstrates the confidence they have in cycling and we are keen to partner with them and others. We look forward to making a formal announcement on this as soon as possible next year.”