PIC BY PETE GODING
ASO director of cycling Christian Prudhomme revealed at Thursday's Tour 2007 presentation in London that he hopes there will be a resolution to the ongoing dispute over the ProTour before the start of Paris-Nice on March 5.
Talking exclusively to procycling, Prudhomme admitted that his organisation is prepared to lay its cards on the table and talk to the parties concerned about finding a solution to the question of ASO-organised events remaining in the UCI ProTour.
"The teams' sponsors have suggested a 'round table' meeting," Prudhomme said. "We hope this happens, as we've got no problem with meeting with the sponsors - in fact, very much the opposite. But everyone needs to assume their role: with the UCI [International Cycling Union] there as a referee rather than an active member of the discussions. We want to find a solution."
In suggesting the UCI stick to their supposed role, Prudhomme also revealed more about the extent of the problems that have led to ASO threatening to pull their 11 events from the ProTour, and Tour of Spain organisers Unipublic and Tour of Italy organisers RCS saying they will do the same.
"You've got these [20 ProTour] teams who have a letter - a contract - signed by the UCI, saying that they have a [ProTour] licence for four years, which runs until the end of 2008, while we have another letter, signed by the same people, which says that from 2007, we're free to negotiate with the teams," Prudhomme told procycling. "So some have an engagement with the UCI for four years, while we have been told - by the same people - that we're free after two years. That's really a problem. Everyone has their letter signed by the UCI - but it's not the same. And that's why we've proposed the Grand Tour Trophy - because we had to react."
Prudhomme is keen to see that the teams are not penalised, "but there was an error by the UCI. They signed letters with the teams signing then up for four years - until the end of 2008 - while they wrote to us that we were free from the beginning of 2007. That's the argument. It's a problem."
With ASO's Paris-Nice - which was the opening ProTour event last year and is due to be again this year - starting in Paris on March 5, Prudhomme admits that an agreement needs to be reached - and soon.
"But we are the people who want to discuss it, who want to be open, who are ready to talk, who want to talk, who want to talk with the sponsors at a round table as soon as possible," Prudhomme continued, reiterating that the UCI should be there purely to oversee the proceedings. "They are the referees in this ball game."
"We have the teams and a 1,076km race route, and we hope that there are no problems with snow this year and. there we are." Prudhomme smiled. "But I hope we will have had a meeting before then and that something will have been resolved."
Then asked if he could reveal where next year's Tour will be going after its start in Britain, Prudhomme told procycling: "Come along on October 26!", referring to the presentation of the 2007 Tour route at Paris's Palais de Congrs.
However, Prudhomme did reveal one previously unknown fact about the 2007 Tour. "What I can say is that on the Sunday evening we will be in France. The riders and the organisation will have taken the Eurostar, the vehicles and the press and everyone else taking the ferry or however they wish to get over. On the Sunday night we'll be in France."
PIC BY PETE GODING