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UCI: Reform of pro road calendar is ‘in development’

The UCI confirmed discussions with Omega Pharma owner Zdenek Bakala that would promote elements of a new pro road racing calendar

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The Union Cycliste Internationale released a statement Tuesday confirming that discussions with Omega Pharma-Quick Step owner Zdenek Bakala and his business partner Bessel Kok have included their potential financial investment in a new joint venture company with the UCI and other cycling stakeholders that would promote and organize elements of a new pro road racing calendar.

That calendar, which would replace the current UCI WorldTour, is the World Series of Cycling (WSC) concept first proposed by London-based Gifted Group in 2011.

Led by Jonathan Price, whose background is in selling sponsorship and bundling TV rights for European soccer and rugby, Gifted Group has pitched a race calendar designed around 10 four-day stage races that include a sprint stage, a mountain stage, a rolling stage and a time trial.

According to WSC, which is working in tandem with the UCI, eight teams support the project — Cannondale, Garmin-Sharp, Movistar, Omega Pharma, RadioShack, Saxo-Tinkoff, Vacansoleil and the former Rabobank-sponsored Dutch team. The WSC envisions a calendar based on top current events, such as grand tours and classics, as well as 10 new Grand Prix events held on different continents.

The UCI stated that it 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.

Initial reports had financial group Rothschild backing the new calendar, though Bakala and Kok are now the WSC’s prime financiers; the pair is reportedly willing to invest between 10 and 20 million euros into the project.

“The possible development of the professional road cycling calendar will be subject to comments from the wide-ranging consultation ‘A bright future for cycling’ that will involve all the stakeholders in the sport and which will take place in the first quarter of 2013,” the UCI statement read.

The “bright future for cycling” refers to an initiative the UCI launched in tandem with the Independent Commission that is investigating the national governing body in the wake of USADA’s explosive, revelatory case against the U.S. Postal Service team that has drawn allegations of a UCI cover-up of a 2001 positive drug test for Lance Armstrong.

The “bright future of cycling” initiative fell under criticism when it was learned that key stakeholders — riders, teams, race organizers, national federations, sponsors and anti-doping organizations — had only six days to submit their input before a December 10 UCI deadline.

The UCI said that its “bright future of cycling” consultation would have “a considerable bearing on this proposed joint venture and the future road cycling calendar.”

“No agreement has been reached on the reforms that will take place to the calendar, and as such any media reports about the future of the calendar are pure speculation at this stage,” read the UCI statement. “However, the UCI will retain full control over the 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 concept behind the WSC is to increase value — to teams, sponsors and race organizers — through broadcast deals and expanding the sport into new global markets.

On Tuesday, web site Cyclingnews posted an interview with Price, in which the Londoner said that while he had spoken with RCS (owners of the Giro d’Italia and Giro di Lombardia) and Wouter Vandenhaute, manager of the Flanders Classics events, the WSC had not yet spoken with ASO, owners of the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and other French races.

“We set WSC up as a company in Luxembourg and we made an approach to ASO through the Luxembourg government,” Price told Cyclingnews. “The response from ASO was that they wanted us to engage with the UCI before they entered into any discussions with us. We’ve gone ahead with that, which we always intended to do anyway, and so in some time in the future I would expect to sit down with them and have a conversation.”

In that interview, Price also stated that in his vision, the UCI would continue to oversee anti-doping efforts for the World Series of Cycling.

VeloNews has learned that Price also presented his WSC vision last week at the inaugural meeting of the Change Cycling Now group in London, headed by Skins CEO Jamie Fuller, which also included Jonathan Vaughters, Greg LeMond, Michael Ashenden, Paul Kimmage, David Walsh, Eric Boyer, John Hoberman, and Emma O’Reilly, among others.