Pro teams defy UCI over Paris-Nice

Teams unanimously choose to race

Cycling's governing body the International Cycling Union (UCI) suffered a grievous blow to its authority on Wednesday as the professional teams signed up for the first major stage race of the season the Paris-Nice defied them and agreed to compete in it.

Pat McQuaid, president of the UCI, had called on the teams to boycott the race as part of his body's ongoing dispute with the race's parent company ASO (Amaury Sports Organisation) - also the organisers of the Tour de France.

ASO aim to run the race under the auspices of the French Cycling Federation (FFC), with backing from the French government.

However that "far-reaching" move, according to a strongly-worded UCI statement released on Monday, means the race will no longer be a UCI-ratified event. Fears of a similar fate surround the Tour de France.

Despite taking those measures, the teams still opted to race in the event after consulting with each other.

"After having consulted all the teams, the International Association of Professional Cycling Teams (AIGCP) have decided unanimously to compete in the Paris-Nice race," announced Eric Boyer, who as well as being Cofidis team chief is also president of AIGCP.

"The AIGCP came to this decision purely in the interests of the riders and the team sponsors (...) AIGCP has informed Pat McQuaid of its decision."

Boyer, whose Cofidis team opted to withdraw during last year's Tour de France after one of their rider's failed a drugs test, said that his body would meet with the UCI next week.

"In order to find a solution to this serious crisis that cycling is experiencing at the moment and to avoid a similar situation occurring again, we have organised a meeting with the UCI for the beginning of next week," said Boyer, who has been at the forefront of the fight against doping in the sport since he took over the team in June 2005.

Races such as the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Tour of Spain are now no longer classed on the Pro Tour, the elite cycling calendar set up by the UCI several years ago but which has been criticised by race organisers ever since.

Of the 27 races on the 2007 Pro Tour calendar, there are now only 16. All the races run by ASO, RCS and Unipublic now feature either on a 'World' calendar or an 'Historic' calendar - a name which has yet to be confirmed.

Existing tensions between the UCI and race organisers, mainly over disagreements with the Pro Tour issues, have worsened this season.

Most recently, ASO controversially did not invite Astana - a Pro Tour team - to the 2008 Tour de France on the premise that the doping scandal which led to its exit from the 2007 edition had done lasting damage to the race's image.

That decision enraged the UCI, who highlighted the fact that other teams were thrown off the race after a rider tested positive - however, ASO pointed out that unlike Astana who they had to order to leave the race Cofidis had jumped before being told to do so.

McQuaid feels strongly that Astana, which features Tour de France champion Alberto Contador and third placed finisher Levi Leipheimer, should be allowed to race in July.

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