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UCI vs ASO Schism Deepens

March 5, 2008 (Paris, France) — Things are shaping up for another major showdown in 2008 between cycling’s governing body, the UCI, and the French-based Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) which organizes many ProTour races, including the Tour de France and the March 9-16 Paris-Nice stage race reports AFP. ASO is proceeding to organize Paris-Nice – an important season opener – outside of UCI regulations this year and the UCI has riposted by threatening fines and suspensions for any cyclists who participate.

Cyclists received an email from the UCI on Tuesday threatening the 17 participating ProTour teams (three continental teams are also participating) with fines of up to 10,000 Swiss francs (about $9,500 CDN) and suspensions of up to six months unless they stay out of this year’s Paris-Nice. AFP quotes Rabobank sports director Eric Breukink as declaring, “Our riders are frightened.”

British cyclists Mark Cavendish (High Road) and Bradley Wiggins (High Road) have already decided to pull out of Paris-Nice rather than risk a ban from UCI Track Cycling World Championships 2008 in Manchester, England on March 26 according to The Guardian.

UCI president Pat McQuaid told this week that he was prepared to ban up to 150 ProTour cyclists. McQuaid also announced his refusal yesterday to meet with Jean Pitallier, president of the French Cycling Federation (FFC), and French Sports Minister Bernard Laporte this Friday in an effort to resolve the impasse. McQuaid indicated that he will only meet with Pitallier if Paris-Nice proceeds within UCI guidelines.

Among those supportive of the ASO is the FFC and Eric Boyer, chairman of Association International des Groupes Cyclistes Professionels (AIGCP), a French-based group that represents many professional cycling teams. Boyer called the UCI threats against cyclists to be “a grave error.” The AIGCP nonetheless had differences with the ASO Paris-Nice proposal and negotiated with the ASO to allow the French Olympic conciliation body (CNOSF) to serve as arbiter in the event of disagreements.

Among those critical of the ASO is USA Cycling CEO Steve Johnson who issued the following statement yesterday:

“We are very concerned by the recent movement of certain professional cycling events away from the established international organization of the sport. While we agree that the ProTour in its current structure should be revisited, we join the European Cycling Union in asking the French Cycling Federation to respect the established regulations of the sport, and implore all parties to return to the bargaining table to seek an acceptable solution in the best interest of professional cycling.”

Johnson continues to cite how the current dispute is forcing cyclists to choose between either breaking rules or not participating in a major race; that it will likely sabotage efforts to introduce better anti-doping controls; and how this situation ultimately creates instability that threatens the survival of professional cycling.

Read more AFP, Guardian, cyberpresse (in French), and USA Cycling’s statement here.

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