March 7, 2008 (Aigle, Switzerland) — The stage is set this Sunday, not so much for the Paris-Nice stage race running March 9-16, as it is for a showdown in the world of cycling. Both sides in the current dispute – the UCI and the French-based Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) – have rejected the jurisdiction of the international Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to rule on whether Paris-Nice can proceed outside of the UCI framework. The UCI is the world’s top cycling authority while the ASO organizes many ProTour races, including the Tour de France and the Paris-Nice race.
“Neither the UCI nor the ASO have accepted the jurisdiction of the CAS to decide this dispute,” said the CAS in a statement yesterday.
The dispute centres around ASO’s holding of bike races outside of UCI regulations, starting with this weekend with Paris-Nice. Supporting the ASO in this breakaway are the French Cycling Federation (FFC) and the Association of Professional Cycling Teams (AIGCP).The UCI riposted by threatening suspensions and fines of up to about $9,500 CDN for cyclists participating in Paris-Nice. A number of top cyclists, including Mark Cavendish (High Road) and George Hincapie (High Road) have since opted out of Paris-Nice. Cavendish is worried about being barred from the UCI Track Cycling World Championships 2008 in Manchester, England from March 26-30. Hincapie is worried about jeopardizing his participation in the 2008 Beijing Olympics reports AP.
In a speech before the Congress of the European Cycling Union (ECC) in Thessaloniki, Greece on March 2, UCI president, Pat McQuaid sounded anything but conciliatory as reported by Canadian Press and the Norwegian cycling website syklingensverden.com. He referred to the ASO as “the merchants,” claiming that “if we cave in to [the ASO], we will be signing the death warrant of elite cycling as we know it.” McQuaid also accused the ASO of undermining anti-doping efforts by not paying their contribution to the Biological Passport initiative.
After McQuaid’s speech, the ECC voted 18-7 in favour of requesting that the FFC withdraw from the Paris-Nice race, a move supportive of the UCI.
Yesterday, Cycling Australia released a statement that, “It is crucial for the sport to remain under the control and direction of the UCI — the governing body elected to represent all constituents. This includes ensuring the sport is conducted under the regulations prescribed by the UCI.” As reported earlier, Cycling USA has also issued a statement asking for all parties to respect the authority of the UCI.
Pedal reached Pierre Blanchard, president of the Canadian Cycling Association (CCA) to clarify the Canadian position on the dispute. Blanchard told Pedal this morning that he had just got off the telephone with McQuaid but also maintains ties with FFC president, Jean Pitallier. Blanchard has also been in contact with Cycling USA about Michael Barry (High Road) who had been scheduled to race Paris-Nice, but has now opted instead for a race in Belgium. Barry is a Canadian who holds a US racing licence and therefore risked US rather than Canadian sanctions for competing in Paris-Nice. Blanchard indicated that because no Canadians are now in the Paris Nice start line-up, there is no urgency for the CCA to issue a statement, but the subject will be discussed at the next CCA board meeting in mid March. He also expressed hope that the situation might “evolve in the right direction” before then. Blanchard, speaking as CCA president rather than for the CCA board, expressed support for the UCI while nonetheless being critical of the ProTour formula.
Meanwhile, the UCI is upping the ante, threatening to exclude all French cyclists from the 2008 Beijing Olympics reports AP. This applies to all Olympic cycling disciplines “” road, mountain, track and BMX “” because the FFC is sanctioning the Paris-Nice race. And teams that participate in Paris-Nice risk being excluded from future ProTour races reports Reuters.
The big question now is which side will flinch first”¦
For more on this story – Reuters – Canadian Press – AP – McQuaid’s speech (in English) – Cycling Australia release.