Tour Down Under news roundup

UCI to tighten transfer rules; Armstrong-Contador row 'good'

World body mulls football-style transfers

Cycling is set to clamp down on transfers of riders between teams after high-profile swoops by Britain's rich new Sky outfit, the sport's chief said on Saturday,

UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) president Pat McQuaid said criticism of Team Sky's tactics had prompted a reappraisal of transfer rules, opening the door to football-style regulation.

"Because of what other people feel was fairly harsh and businesslike work of Sky in trying to get exactly the riders they want, maybe we should tighten up the regulations in relation to transfers," McQuaid said.

"That's something we are working on at the moment."

Sky raised disquiet in the conservative sport by signing Ben Swift, who was contracted to Katusha, and triple Olympic champion Bradley Wiggins from Garmin-Transitions.

Meanwhile America's BMC Racing Team lured Australian world road champion Cadel Evans from Silence-Lotto, boosting their chances of gaining a place on the elite ProTour.

"There's no panacea for it because if a new team comes into the market... as with Sky last year, they've got to get 25 to 30 riders and most of them are already on a contract of one form or other," McQuaid said.

"It's difficult for them to come in at a good level and just take the available riders who are already at the end of a contract."

He did not detail what measures were under consideration, but football operates a "transfer window" system where clubs can only sign during designated periods.

McQuaid said under the current system, both teams needed to come to an agreement before a rider can move. But he said recent developments had shaken up the "small family" sport.

"We probably do need slightly tighter controls and regulations on the transfer system," he said.

"That's something we are looking at the moment because this past winter there have been several controversies in relation to transfers."

Sky, with a reported multi-million dollar budget, was formed last year with the intention of producing Britain's first Tour de France winner.

Armstrong-Contador row 'good for sport': UCI chief

Lance Armstrong's simmering row with Tour de France champion Alberto Contador is "healthy" for cycling and better than the usual doping controversies, the sport's chief said on Saturday.

Pat McQuaid, president of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) said the verbal hostilities since last year's race have long been a part of cycling.

"I see it as a healthy rivalry, I don't see it as being over the top," he told reporters in Adelaide during the Tour Down Under.

"I think they're both saying things to position themselves in the lead-up to the Tour (de France) and I think that's a strategic aspect that there's always been throughout cycling."

Seven-time winner Armstrong has compared July's Tour de France showdown as "Ali-Frazier" after the former team-mates fell out spectacularly during last year's race.

Contador has accused Armstrong of being a bad team-mate, calling their relationship "non-existent" and provocatively describing Luxembourg's Andy Schleck as his main rival.

McQuaid said cycling had benefited from previous rivalries including Fausto Coppi and Gino Bartali's legendary clashes of the 1940s and 1950s, and Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault's row in the 1980s.

"I don't think there's anything unhealthy about it. I think it's good for the sport. Controversy of this type is a lot better than many other types of controversies which our sport has had over the last couple of years," McQuaid said, referring to doping.

"From that point of view I think it's a good thing. It generates interest in the Tour and will be a big talking point in advance of the Tour and during the Tour.

"The two individuals are bringing pressure on each other and I think it's how they deal with that pressure and deal with the event that will all unfold during July."

Armstrong, 38, is embarking on the second year of his comeback at the Tour Down Under, while Contador will start his season at next month's Tour of the Algarve.

© AFP 2010

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