Cycling?s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), has called for all teams to boycott Paris-Nice this March.
The UCI?s call for the teams to quit one of Europe?s biggest races indicates just how serious the conflict between the UCI and the Paris-Nice organiser, ASO, has become. It came just hours after the French Cycling Federation said it was prepared to provide the commissaires and anti-doping inspectors from the French anti-doping agency (AFLD) for the race, thereby completely bypassing the UCI.
?The stituation has arisen as a result of the French Cycling Federation?s decision to agree to ASO?s request to organise Paris-Nice as an event on the national calendar.? the UCI press release said.
?This measure is utterly irregular and will have far-reaching consequences for all parties involved.?
The UCI are also threatening to withdraw anti-doping regulators from both Paris-Nice, and other ASO-run events such as the Tour de France, news agency AP reported.
?The current organisers are behaving in a very irrational way.? McQuaid told AP. ?It?s about power, nothing to do with sport.?
“It’s about defending the survival one of cycling’s top events.” French Cycling Federation president Jean Pitallier countered.
Quite apart from Paris-Nice, longer term there are other worrying consequences: the UCI also claim the “unacceptable insubordination of ASO and its allies…could undermine the remarkable efforts made by cycling in the biological passport, which the UCI reserves the right to apply as a priority to those of our partners who abide by its rules.”
The passport is the much-vaunted new anti-doping weapon which ASO has said is an indispensable condition for starting the Tour next July. A less than complete version of the passport could, therefore, cause major credibility problems for the race in a year where it desperately needs to be as free of scandals as possible.
Asking teams to quit Paris-Nice (which they refused to do last year) will seen in some quarters as the UCI?s last throw of the dice. As the rebel race organisers like ASO can no longer be persuaded to form part of the ProTour – the root source of the conflict between the UCI and ASO – the teams are now the focus of attention.
So far the squads’ reaction has been muted, although former teams association President Patrick Lefevre, manager of the Quick Step team, has made an appeal for unity.
If this situation sounds vaguely familiar, that?s because it is. Last year the UCI and ASO had a similar stand-off which was only resolved six days before the start of Paris-Nice in an emergency meeting in Geneva airport.
But a year on, no such meetings have even been mentioned by either side. ASO?s outright rejection of the UCI?s ProTour league last year, not to mention the war of words over the Michael Rasmussen expulsion from the Tour and the disagreements over which teams can take part in the 2008 Tour, have all intensified the crisis.
The 12 days to go before the start of Paris-Nice look certain to become as tumultuous as in 2007 – if not more so.