March 5/08 9:43 am - UCI Theatens Fines & Sanctions for Paris-Nice Participation
Posted by Editor on 03/5/08
UCI Theatens Fines & Sanctions for Paris-Nice Participation
In the ongoing battle between the UCI and Tour de France organizer (ASO) over who controls access to events, the UCI has upped the ante with threats of fines and sanctions, while ASO - for the first time - has made conciliatory comments.
The ASO (Amaury Sports Organization) announced that it would place the first major stage race of the season, Paris-Nice, on the French national calendar and arrange their own doping controls in an attempt to sidestep requirements of the UCI that they automatically extend invitations to all 18 ProTour squads for all of their events (and specifically the Tour).
Prior to this, at the Cyclo-cross Worlds, the UCI had announced an agreement with the main national cycling federations which would remove certain events from the ProTour, (and place them on a new 'Historic' calendar), but still (in the words of the UCI) ensure that the top teams received invitations (particularly to the Tour).
ASO, however, insists that they have the absolute right to decide which teams get invited to their events, and made the drastic decision to not invite Astana to any ASO events, including the Tour. this means that both the defending champion (Alberto Contador) and third place finisher (Levi Leipheimer) would not be allowed to race.
Both ride for a newly formulated Astana squad that consists of much of the former Discovery team, including Director Johan Bruyneel, and has added sweeping drug testing programs. Nevertheless, ASO insisted that Astana had brought the Tour into disrepute (after Alexandre Vinokourov tested positive for banned substances after winning stages last year). Critics pointed out that similar charges could have been brought against High Road (formerly T-Mobile) and Rabobank (who pulled Michael Rasmussen while he was in yellow).
An extremely angry Pat McQuaid announced at the Amgen Tour of California that the UCI would be taking actions to ensure that Astana could participate in the Tour. Yesterday, he fired a major salvo by sending a letter to both riders and teams stating that both would be subject to fines of up to 10,000 Swiss Francs, suspensions of up to 6 months, loss of UCI points and exclusion from the world championships (and other unspecified events, presumably the Olympics). For teams the threat is for similar fines, suspension and the withdrawal of ProTour licences. The UCI has also made threats that the French federation may face sanctions for agreeing to allow ASO to run events under their calendar.
A Belgian newspaper published a copy of the letterHere (PDF). The UCI also received the support of the association of European cycling federations (by a more than two-thirds vote), and USA Cycling CEO Steve Johnson has come down on the side of the UCI. Further, UCI president Pat McQuaid has declined an invitation from the French cycling federation and French Minister of Sport to meet and discuss the matter and try to find a resolution.
This is the first time that the UCI has followed through on threats of sanctions; in all previous instances during this ongoing battle, the UCI has met with the ASO and other Grand Tour organizers, and generally backed down. It appears that they have drawn a line in the sand, and it is a deep one.
High Road has said that they will not start Bradley Wiggins or Mark Cavendish in Paris-Nice, due to fears of jeopardizing their Olympic hopes, and this could also impact Michael Barry's Olympic chances if High Road uses him in the race (he is on the preliminary start list). Het Volk winner Philippe Gilbert (Française des Jeux) is also a potential pullout it has been reported. (Ryder Hesjedal of Slipstream Chipotle is not scheduled to race Paris-Nice)
In an official statement, ASO says that the UCI's response to their decision to run under the French calendar is "out of proportion". They continue "A.S.O. has required for several weeks two simple things: that Paris-Nice, which celebrates its 75th anniversary this year, remains as a major historical race on the world calendar ... [and] that A.S.O. be able to decide its teams selection system for the Tour de France. This system is open to sporting and ethical values and not according to the closed and arbitrary system of the UCI ProTour."
The statement concludes "A.S.O. makes a point of restating that it does not wish in any way to defy the authority of the UCI".
With the race set to begin on Sunday, we can only wait to see how far this brinksmanship goes.