The purchase of the Tour of Germany and Vattenfalls Classic by a French company that owns a sizeable stake in ASO could finally bring the guillotine down on the UCI?s ailing ProTour concept.
Paris-based Lagardère Sports confirmed it had made the multi-million euro capture of Upsolut Sports, the company which organises the Tour of Germany and Vattenfalls Classic.
In turn, Lagardère owns almost a quarter of Editions Philippe Amaury, the media group that holds ASO, the owner of the Tour de France, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and several other top bike races.
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has been reeling since the three grand tour organisers ? ASO, RCS, which organises the Giro d?Italia, and Unipublic, which owns the Vuelta a Espana ? withdrew their races from the ProTour.
When the 2008 ProTour calendar was published, with 17 events including the recently-added Tour Down Under and the yet-to-be-invented UCI ProTour final, the Tour of Germany looked to be the one remaining jewel in the crown.
Although a relatively modern race ? the first edition was held in 1999 ? it has rapidly become established as one of the most prestigious stage races on the calendar, thanks to huge, enthusiastic crowds.
Despite the strong reaction from the German media to the doping problem, the Tour of Germany was again a success this summer and, privately, the UCI had plans to elevate the race in future years, perhaps even extending it in a bid to challenge the big three.
But now a French company with strong links to ASO has bought the race, its days in the ProTour calendar appear numbered. It won?t be a surprise if the new owner requests the race is placed on the Europe Tour along with the other defectors from the ProTour.
The UCI is sticking with the ProTour despite a series of blows. In the latest edition of Cycle Sport Alain Rumpf, the manager of the ProTour, said the UCI would not give up on its blueprint for the future of cycling.
Talking about losing the events organised by the three grand tours, he said: ?It changes the flavour of the UCI ProTour. In its first editions it was the best riders in the best teams taking part in the best races. In the future it?ll be the best riders in the best teams taking part in a worldwide competition. The future ProTour will expand. We have added the Tour Down Under and we will continue to add races from other continents and it?ll become a truly worldwide competition.
?We believe that in a couple of years it'll be the worldwide competition and that thanks to the UCI cycling will grow globally into the 21st century.?
But the UCI could face a serious problem if the French want to withdraw the Tour of Germany from the ProTour.
And it strengthens the hand of the three grand tour organisers should they wish to create a rival competition.
In sporting terms the ProTour is dead. Politically the teams continue to support it because they have invested in the concept. But in the war between ASO and the UCI, the French are well ahead on points and scense a knock-out.
2008 ProTour dates unveiled
Grand Tours out of ProTour
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