January 24, 2016 (Adelaide, South Australia) – Brian Cookson, President of the Union Cycliste Iternationale (UCI) fronted the media during the Tour Down Under in Adelaide, South Australia.
He faced a barrage of questions about the well-documented ASO move to withdraw their races from the UCI WorldTour in 2017, removing 27 races including the Tour De France, Vuelta Espana, Paris-Roubaix, and Creterium du Dauphine.
“I’m not about to enter into a war with ASO,” Cookson said. “The UCI has been down that road before, we’ve spent the last two years talking intensively with the ASO and other stakeholders.”
Make no mistake, this is a war of power and diplomacy. A Cold War between the world’s biggest cycling organization, and the world’s biggest race organizer.
Withdrawing their events from the WorldTour reduces ASO races to Hors Categorie (HC) status, which gives them total control over inviting teams. HC classification means a maximum of 70% of teams in the race can be WorldTour, but ASO can choose to invite fewer. The Tour de France has 22 spots, meaning only 15 of 18 WorldTour teams can race.
Without guaranteed entry to ASO races, WorldTour teams are uncertain of their racing program, weakening their positions securing sponsorship, something that is already a major issue.
Cookson is understandably careful about his wording. The UCI needs ASO events more than ASO needs the UCI. The WorldTour is significantly weakened without ASO races.
The tension focuses on proposed three-year licenses, something Cookson believes needs to be reviewed.
“It’s not a big deal, they still have to be assessed on an annual basis, for economic viability, for ethical criteria, and for sporting criteria as well. I don’t think this is a big deal, but it’s clearly been something that ASO have been threatened by,” he said.
Cookson believes there are advantages to extending licenses to three-years.
“We’re trying to encourage teams to have greater financial stability. The message we’ve been getting loud and clear is that one-year [licenses] are a recipe for instability and weakness for the teams,” he said.
But ASO wants more discretion over who they invite to their races. Three-year licenses mean less control for them.
The UCI-ASO split hurts cycling fans as well. What relevance does the UCI WorldTour have without ASO races?
“I think it’s not impossible to run the world tour without ASO’s events,” claims Cookson, “but of course they are some of the biggest and best events. So it’s regrettable that they would not be part of it, and we do want them to be part of it.”
Cookson says the childish response of the ASO helps no one.
“I think the ‘I’m going to take my football home with me because I don’t like how you’re playing the game’ approach is not helpful to anybody,” he said.
He’s right. While the UCI and ASO tug-of-war continues the victims are the teams, the riders and the fans.