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ADELAIDE - Robbie McEwen has called on world cycling chiefs to get their house in order ahead of anticipated negotiations this week aimed at resolving months of turmoil in the sport, writes Justin Davis.
The ProTour calendar introduced by the International Cycling Union (UCI) last season is currently under threat because negotiations between the world ruling body and cycling's main powerbrokers have stalled. The start of the season is just around the corner, and the organisers of the three three-week Tour of Italy, France and Spain - who together organise 11 of the Pro Tour's 27 races and some of the most important ones - have yet to agree to resume negotiations.
UCI president Pat McQuaid said he hoped both sides could soon end the stalemate but affirmed that changes to any of the current ProTour regulations could only be made after 2008 when the next three-year deal with sponsors and teams will be drawn up.
"I wouldn't disagree it (cycling) is at a critical stage and I think it's up to everybody to realise that - the UCI, the teams, the sponsors and the big tour organisers in particular," McQuaid said here at the Tour Down Under on Sunday.
"It's up to everybody to work together for the future of the sport - if their interests are in the future of the sport. And I think that is the case."
The Irishman added: "Everybody has to give a little ground and that would happen within the discussions for the next three years. The conditions and the regulations of the ProTour for the next three years have been settled, and they were agreed by the ProTour Council last year. Those conditions are there through 2008, and everybody just needs to accept them and work on whatever changes are necessary from 2008 onwards."
In the event of no resolution, a breakaway circuit - organised by the three companies which host the three main tours - threatens to rival the ProTour. The opening ProTour race of the season would therefore be the popular one-day classic, the Tour of Flanders, in which McEwen is hoping to contend.
Milan-San Remo, the Italian one-dayer which normally opens the European Classics season, is organised by RCS, the Giro d'Italia organisers who are standing by the Tour de France and Vuelta a Espa¤a organisers in their opposition to the ProTour.
McEwen, the 33-year-old Davitamon-Lotto sprinter who has twice won the Tour de France green points jersey, said the conflict would do little to change the status of decades-old races to the riders. But he said that the ProTour concept - inviting the best teams to the best races in order to promote the sport more effectively at a global level - has been rushed in and should be reviewed.
"To be honest, I think myself and the rest of the riders don't care what they call the calendar. If they call it the Pro Tour, or if they call it the Monkey Tour, it (the races) remains the Tour of Flanders, it remains Paris-Nice, Tirreno-Adriatico and the Milan-San Remo," he said.
"They're the biggest, most prestigious races. Who cares what they call it or what umbrella they put it under. Those races remain the ones the guys want to win and have on their palmares."
He added: "The Pro Tour came in with a bang, and it was too quick, and everybody realises that. They're still pushing on but what they should have been doing is fine-tuning it as a model before implementing it. And we, the riders, are the ones who are caught in the middle. But the biggest races remain the same, and that's what it's all about."
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