President of the Union Cycliste International (UCI) Pat McQuaid has told Cycling Weekly that the conflict between Tour de France organisers ASO and the UCI will be resolved within the next two weeks.
The disagreements between cycling?s governing body and the sport’s biggest race organisers ASO, together with ASO?s allies who run the Giro and Vuelta, has dogged the sport for the last four years.
At the centre of the row has been the UCI?s ProTour, conceived as the way of putting together all of the best races with the best teams in the best league. ASO were initially a part of the ProTour, but after numerous disputes they, and the Giro and the Vuelta organisers, then quit.
Speculation had been rife that the conflict, which has led to races like the Tour and Paris-Nice being held independently of the UCI, could soon come to an end.
Attempts to bury the hatchet have intensified over the last few months, with behind-the-scenes conversations taking place at this week?s World Championships between McQuaid and other interested parties as they look to pursue the delicate process of ending the conflict.
It?s common knowledge that the UCI has effectively bypassed ASO for what McQuaid says are more productive discussions with their owners EPA [Editions Philippe Amaury].
However, what is surprising is McQuaid?s assertion to Cycling Weekly that the whole issue could be resolved in two weeks flat. Is it really all going to end that fast? ?I think a lot of speculation that the ProTour was dead and that the UCI was dead was premature,? McQuaid responded.
?The actions taken by EPA in July to ask the IOC to mediate on their behalf indicates the EPA understands there has to be a government of the sport, and that they are prepared to work with them.
?I had meetings with them in that period, under the mediation of Jean-Claude Killy (ex IOC and member of EPA) and again they made it quite clear to us it was not their intention – I wouldn?t say ASO – to start up another league.
?Within the context of that type of attitude we?ve had a very good discussion with them, we?ve agreed upon a calendar at elite level for next year which is the World Calendar, which comprises on one side the historic races and on the other the ProTour races.?
McQuaid?s big challenge this week will be talking to the teams and organisers about ?details I cannot divulge.?
However, McQuaid then went on to explain to Cycling Weekly that the keys to it all are the rules and regulations for participation and what he calls ?the ranking system on the world calendar which will be used for automatic participation in the events from 2011 onwards.?
The terms ?ranking system? and ?automatic participation? are perhaps the thorniest issues of them all. At the moment ProTour teams automatically qualify for certain events – not the Tour, the Giro, the Vuelta or events owned by the big three organisers – some of which are popular (the Tour of Flanders, say) and others much less so.
Introducing a ranking system rather than a closed league – such as the ProTour currently is – might in in fact be a re-introduction of the previous system [UCI points] used before the ProTour to decide which teams went to which races. Is the UCI planning to scrap the league and go back to a simple classification system?
The big question for many observers was that of the tv rights. Jealously guarded by the race organisers, McQuaid claims that ?television rights were never, ever an issue for the UCI in relation to ASO.
?We never indicated that we would take over the television rights and if you read all the material issued by the UCI since the beginning of the ProTour, there?s never been any indication of that.?
So Cycling Weekly did just that and had a trawl through the former press releases. We came up with the UCI?s statement on the ProTour from Salzberg 2006, which states categorically: ?As from 2009 the TV rights of all organisers with a license will be grouped and sold together.?
Not so, is McQuaid?s response: ?In the detail we had a contract with ASO that stipulated that unless they wished to they would never have to bundle [form part of] with the ProTour.
?We were never after those rights. There are lots of events that are struggling, and improving their TV rights is important.?
Perhaps more importantly, McQuaid now indicates that, ?ASO have agreed to keep their own TV rights and we are now happy with that.?
With the TV rights question solved, the UCI are upbeat and say that this dispute is on the point of being ended. The pessimistic say that the devil in this dispute has always been in the detail. The issue of the French Federation, which was suspended by the UCI after they supported the Tour de France this summer, is still pending. By the time the last rainbow jersey is fought for and won on Sunday afternoon, one side or the other will be proved right.