Seventeen of the world's top cycling teams said on Tuesday they would not be seeking a ProTour licence for 2009, according to a statement released in Pau at the Tour de France.
The ProTour was launched by the International Cycling Union (UCI) in 2004 in a bid to revamp the cycling calendar and have the best teams riding in the best races. But since then the ProTour has met with resistance on several fronts. Recently France's top team, Cofidis, said they would not be renewing their licence, and there have been murmurings from the Euskaltel and Liquigas teams that they would also pull out of the series.
Since the series was launched, there has already been opposition from the organisers of the three major three-week races of France, Spain and Italy.
After a meeting in Pau on Tuesday, 17 of the 18 teams involved with the ProTour said they would leave the series in a bid to try and work towards a new cycling calendar.
"It has been decided unanimously not to renew our ProTour licences for the 2009 season," said a statement. "The teams are working towards developing a new way of organising professional cycling."
The statement comes in the wake of several meetings held between major race organisers, including those of the Tour, the Giro d'Italia and the Tour of Spain, and the UCI. Currently, the Tour de France and several other top races are no longer part of the ProTour.
Eighteen teams currently hold a ProTour licence, the only one missing from the Tour being Astana - who were not invited by the organisers due to a doping scandal which led to their eviction from last year's race.
World cycling's ruling body in recent months has claimed that Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO), which owns the Tour de France, is aiming to establish a parallel and rival federation - a claim which ASO has flatly denied.
The UCI however released a statement which appears to lay the blame for the teams' decision at ASO's door.
"This decision was entirely foreseeable in view of the meetings held recently between the teams and the management of ASO," the UCI said. "The UCI notes that the teams have once again succumbed to pressure from the management of ASO, whose aim for the last four years has been to destroy the UCI ProTour.
"By signing the agreement that ASO's management has imposed on them, the teams appear to want to join the parallel system that ASO is seeking to put in place. The UCI is looking into the situation and will take the necessary decisions in due course."
The news on the teams' pull-out brought an unequivocal response from Thierry Cazeneuve, who runs the respected Dauphine-Libere ProTour race, an eight-day stage race held a month prior to the Tour de France.
"It will spell the end of the ProTour," Cazeneuve, one of the many race organisers who must also have a licence to stage the series of races, told AFP. "It simply makes no sense for an organiser to have a licence if there are no ProTour teams coming. I accept all such decisions as soon as they become legitimate. This one has come from the family of cycling teams, who have decided to leave the system."
Silence-Lotto team manager Marc Sergeant, whose team leader Cadel Evans is currently wearing the Tour de France yellow jersey, added: "The ProTour is a great idea in principal, with the best teams in the best races in the world. But when there's a war going on, you have to choose a side. The teams' strength lies in their unity. Now it's up to others to come to the table and talk.
"There were some good things in the ProTour, but where is it leading to if the Giro, Tour and Vuelta are not even part of the series?"
© AFP 2008