Pat McQuaid, the embatttled president of the Union Cycliste Internationale, has said he won’t be at this year’s Tour de France, which starts tomorrow in Brest. In fact, he wouldn’t be allowed to attend, such is the animosity between the UCI and Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO), owner of the Tour de France.
And it’s not just the president who’s banned. The UCI’s medical and anti-doping teams won’t be on Le Tour either. Nor are there any UCI commissaires.
ASO is running the Tour under race regulations – and anti-doping controls – drawn up by AFLD, the French cycling federation, which is also at war with the UCI.
Pro cycling insiders feel ASO’s recent deals with the Tour of California and the Tour of Spain mean there’s a new world power in cycling, and it’s ASO.
Pat McQuaid is rattled: “ASO have an objective and we can now see what that is – it’s to kill the UCI. They want to set up another international federation with their own races, their own rules, their own anti-doping. They’re getting support from Nicolas Sarkozy [the French president] down to the French sports minister.”
The origin of the war is the UCI’s decision to create a ProTour series of events, with riders and teams forced to enter a set number of UCI-controlled events. This, in turn, would control the money coming into cycling’s coffers, not something the major race organisers were ever going to take lying down.
The ProTour was the idea of McQuaid’s predecessor, Hein Verbruggen, but McQuaid made no attempts to appease the Grand Tour organisers when he took over the UCI’s top job.
The UCI has few friends in cycling. This is the organisation that made sure cycling’s blue riband tracking cycling event – the kilo – was pulled from the Beijing Olympics, an event that had been in the modern Olympics since the very start. In 2005 McQuaid told BikeBiz.com it was the International Olympic Committee which requested for the kilo to be culled, an accusation denied by the IOC. McQuaid later had to retract his claim.
Phil Liggett, the ‘voice of cycling’, here at the Tour de France to commentate for ITV, Versus in the US and Australian TV channel, said the ASO could be about to create the biggest news story at its own race.
"The UCI are very worried about what ASO are doing. I don’t agree with the stance ASO are taking but nor do I agree with the UCI. They started the battle and it looks like ASO is going to finish it.
"The result might be two federations. The riders will side with the big promoters. They’ve got to, that’s where their bread and butter is.
"[A second world federation] has happened in other sports. ASO could announce their own calendar. They moved into [partnership] with the Tour of California. Why? That race was about to sign with the UCI as part of the ProTour, now it won’t.
"ASO now has 49 percent share of the Tour of Spain. ASO is controlling all of the big races, where the racers must go.
"The UCI made the mistake of trying to organise events when it should have stayed as a governing body.
"You cannot break the Tour de France. A guy can win twenty races in Belgium and lose his contract at the end of the season. If he wins a stage of the Tour de France he keeps his contract for the next ten years, that’s the difference."