ProTour gives food for thought

Danilo Di Luca has been crowned the first winner of the ProTour, but the series looks set to undergo

Danilo Di Luca has been crowned the first winner of the ProTour, but the series looks set to undergo

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New International Cycling Union president Pat McQuaid summed up the past season of racing neatly at the weekend, describing it as "one of the most difficult in the history of cycling.

Speaking in Como on Saturday at a dinner after the final ProTour event of the season, the Tour of Lombardy, McQuaid declared that "resistance, opposition and conflict have affected the ProTour on an almost daily basis. Cycling doesn't need this." The Irishman acknowledged that the UCI will be reviewing the structure of the ProTour in the coming weeks, but insisted it was "the vision for the future".

The most obvious conflict McQuaid and the UCI face is the ongoing one with the organisers of the three major tours, but the governing body is also likely to be looking at a number of issues on the racing side as well. It has already been decided that there will be some tweaks to the way in which ProTour points are allocated next season. For example, stage-winners at the Tour will receive 10 rather than three points, and those at the Vuelta and Giro eight rather than three.

Other issues likely to be investigated are whether there are now too many competitive demands on riders, whether the number of races on the ProTour calendar prevents teams from taking part in other events and whether team rosters are now too large.

Illes Balears team manager Jos Miguel Echavarri said at last weekend's gala dinner that he thinks "the calendar is too full. And in order to be able to ride on three fronts at the same time the size of rosters have become too large. This prevents us from staying close to our riders."

Francaise des Jeux directeur sportif Martial Gayant admitted in an interview with L'Equipe that he had similar concerns to Echavarri. "This year we had seven extra riders, and that means more work for us and less contact with the riders. I've got one rider, Rmy Di Gregorio, who I saw at the team presentation in January and then didn't see again until we had a team get-together last week. This year we did 270 days of racing as against less than 200 last year. In 2004, we didn't ride the Vuelta, Tirreno, or the Tours of Poland, Catalonia, the Basque Country or Benelux."

Even strong ProTour supporter Manolo Saiz, team manager of Liberty Seguros, felt that there some problems with the calendar, particularly with the way that ProTour races clashed with each other. He felt this created a problem for the media more than the teams, but that this still needs to be tackled.

Quick Step boss Patrick Lefvre, who is also president of the Association of Professional Cycling Teams, said he felt the balance sheet on the ProTour "is positive, but it could be still further in credit. The idea at the start was to have the best riders in the best races, but this objective has been far from attained. There are less encounters between the main team leaders. Who really rides from February to October?" he asked in La Dernire Heure.

"I don't think that it is fair that Armstrong (who only rode four ProTour races this season) and Ullrich (who rode six) are fifth and fourth respectively in the final standings having ridden so little. It is necessary to force the riders to compete in a minimum number of races. And the points allocation is not right either. We won five (of 10) Classics this season, as well as the world title, but we only finished 12th out of 20 in the ProTour rankings," the Belgian team boss pointed out.

On the plus side, the Quick Step boss thought the level of riding was higher than before and that there are more big teams in the biggest races.

So, there is plenty for McQuaid and his team to consider, not least the fact that the organisers of the Tour de France did not take up their offer to attend the Como gala.

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