They counted 160 riders out, and they counted 160 riders back in.
Race organisers ASO received a vote of confidence from the riders at Paris-Nice. Under threat of suspension for even taking part, the riders decided that they would call the UCI?s bluff, and take the start line. Now the cycling world waits to see if UCI president Pat McQuaid?s threat of strict sanctions for taking part in a race outside UCI jurisdiction was a serious one, or if it was as much bluster as buffeted the riders around today?s windy Prologue course.
Paris-Nice has its full field. It?s not as strong as some previous years, but Tour favourite Cadel Evans is here, with a formidable Silence team, as is Frank Schleck, with an equally intimidating CSC squad. Thor Hushovd is here with Crédit Agricole, although as the Norwegian pointed out at his victory press conference today, where else could he be? RCS excluded his team from Tirreno-Adriatico, and they?ve got to race somewhere.
ASO officials are publicly expressing satisfaction that the race is going ahead after weeks of uncertainty. Christian Prudhomme told Cycling Weekly that all ASO were interested in was the racing.
?I?m sick of having to talk about the politics. What we saw today was an exciting Prologue and a superb winner in Thor Hushovd. We had the surprise performance by the Spanish rider, who almost won, and some interesting tactics because of the constantly changing weather,? he said.
?But I don?t believe the UCI will impose sanctions on the riders, because that would not be the act of a responsible governing body.?
Privately, however, ASO feel that they have been vindicated in their decision to organise the race under French Cycling Federation (FFC) rules.
One ASO official told Cycling Weekly that morale within the organisation had never been higher.
?We are convinced, as an organisation, that what Christian [Prudhomme] is doing is the right thing. McQuaid underestimated the feeling not only of the riders, but of the public and the fans. He didn?t understand that what the public want most of all is to see a bike race. They don?t care about the politics, but they do care about the racing.?
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