By Agence France Presse
Pat McQuaid, the head of cycling’s world governing body, said Monday a long-running feud that has “split the cycling family” is nearing its end, as he announced the creation of a new international calendar.
UCI president McQuaid has been fighting resistance from major race organizers, including the Tour de France, in recent years following disagreements over the ProTour calendar of races.
Leading the fight against the UCI’s ambitious vision for an elite series has been the powerful Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), the company which owns the Tour de France among other major sports events.
McQuaid said that thanks to the mediation efforts of former Olympic skier and International Olympic Committee representative Jean-Claude Killy, the UCI has taken a major step towards making its peace with ASO.
But the Irishman — who was snubbed by ASO by not being invited to the Tour de France in July — admitted he had to go one level above ASO’s management, to the company’s owners, in a bid to break the deadlock.
“After discussions in recent weeks with the Amaury Group, and thanks to the intervention of the IOC and a mediator in the shape of Jean-Claude Killy, we are announcing a new initiative for professional cycling for the coming years,” said McQuaid.
“We have agreed on the basics, and I hope that can lead to further discussions in the coming weeks.”
Although contracts have yet to be signed, McQuaid said that informal talks with sponsors, teams and other race organizers who had opted out of the ProTour had left most parties “very positive” for the future.
“I’ve spoken to the organizers of the Giro d’Italia and the Tour of Spain about the new developments and the response from all the different parties has been very positive,” added McQuaid.
The new calendar would see some of the major races that opted out of the Pro Tour, such as the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege — also owned by ASO — come back into the fold of a calendar that would incorporate most of the world’s biggest races.
ASO’s decision to hold the 2008 Tour under the auspices of the French cycling federation (FFC) earlier this year took the feud to a new dimension, and earned the FFC a sanction from the UCI.
The new agreement would see the Tour return to the UCI fold as part of a “world” calendar next year.
But because most major teams have signed contracts with ASO until 2010, the UCI is looking towards 2011 as the season in which the cycling family would finally be brought together under the one roof.
A new rankings system would be established, and would be the basis for future qualification to the Tour de France.
“We are looking at the creation of a UCI world calendar as of 2009 which would include the races on the ‘historic’ calendar and the Pro Tour,” added McQuaid.
“It would be accompanied by a rankings system for individual riders, teams and nations.
“Then from 2011 onwards the rankings system would be used as criteria for qualification to the Tour de France.”
In recent years the world’s biggest race has insisted on the right to ‘invite’ teams, which led to problems when the UCI insisted that all 18 ProTour teams should be automatically invited.
Tour chiefs then dug their heels in by not inviting the Astana team of Spaniard Alberto Contador, who won the 2007 race while riding for the Discovery Channel team.
Tour bosses said it was related to doping scandals, which led to Astana’s evictions in 2006 and 2007, while the UCI saw it as a direct provocation.