The UCI and senior officials from EPA - the owners of Tour-organising company ASO - have reached a new deal which could provide a much-needed ?new start? for road-race cycling.
Speaking at a press conference in Beijing on Monday morning, UCI president Pat McQuaid revealed that under International Olympic Committee (IOC) auspices, he had been in negotiations with EPA - Editions Phillippe Amaury, the owners of ASO and the Societé du Tour de France - discussing the future of professional cycling.
The UCI and ASO have been at daggers drawn virtually since the initiation of the UCI's top professional league, the ProTour. This year it reached the point where ASO-run races like Paris-Nice and the Tour were held completely outside UCI auspices.
These discussions are designed to bring a much-needed end to a conflict that has caused huge damage to road-racing.
Claiming in a press release to ?meet the expectations of all the players in professional cycling.? McQuaid argued that EPA are willing to recognise the UCI as ?the international federation governing the sport.?
Gettiing down to the nitty-gritty, the UCI?s plan involves the creation of a single UCI World Calendar in 2009, one which will include the Monuments (ie ASO-run events like the Tour and Paris-Nice) as well as the ProTour, which contains races like Flanders and the Tour of Switzerland.
As a result of this World Calendar, a team and individual classification would be drawn up. This in turn would define the participation rights of teams from 2011 onwards. Before that date, the right to race in the Tour in 2009 and 2010 will be governed by an agreement between the teams and ASO drawn up on June 18th, one in which all 18 ProTour teams were allowed to race - although ASO have the right to refuse teams entrance.
The UCI also says that the unanimous backing of this plan ?will allow for the complete reintegration of the French Cycling Federation.? - currently suspended and subject to legal proceedings by the UCI for supporting ASO. The court cases would also be dropped.
?This agreement is in the best interest of professional road cycling.? McQuaid commented.
However, although the deal does represent a step back from threat of two separate international federations which would have left roda cycling?s crediblity in tatters, the devil - as ever - will be in the details.
There is no mention, for example, of whether the Giro organisers RCS and Vuelta organisers Unipublic, both of whom are allies with ASO, will go automatically along with the agreement. The Tour have recently bought 49 percent of Unipublic, the company which runs the Vuelta, but the lack of an actual mention of the Giro or Vuelta may be significant.
The UCI does, however, concede that it recognises ASO?s ?exclusive rights of organisation or operations.? - and those of other organisers.
Nor has it yet been decided exactly how many teams - another major source of disagreement - will be automatically qualified for the Tour. The exact nature of the classification structure, too, has yet to be hammered out. Last but not least, there has been no direct reaction from ASO boss Patrice Clerc - although that may well appear shortly.
The deadlock, then, has yet to be broken completely. But this agreement could be a big step in the right direction.
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