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.?
PARIS-NICE 2008: STAGE REPORTS
Prologue: Hushovd wins
Prologue analysis: winners and losers
Big names line up for Paris-Nice and defy UCI
Teams vote to ride Paris-Nice
Paris-Nice preview: does the route suit David Millar?
RELATED LINKS: UCI VS ASO
ASO: "We are doing the right thing"
Dummies' guide to the UCI vs ASO row
UCI intensifies war of words before Paris-Nice
McQuaid defied anti-apartheid ban to race in South Africa. Is he the right man to lecture others on where to race?
Cavendish and Wiggins avoid Paris-Nice and possible UCI ban
Analysis: UCI v ASO. How did it come to this and where do we go next?
Row intensifies as UCI ask Boyer to step down
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Edward Pickering is a writer and journalist, editor of Pro Cycling and previous deputy editor of Cycle Sport. As well as contributing to Cycling Weekly, he has also written for the likes of the New York Times. His book, The Race Against Time, saw him shortlisted for Best New Writer at the British Sports Book Awards. A self-confessed 'fair weather cyclist', Pickering also enjoys running.
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