UCI warns riders over 'unjust' organisers' rules

Governing body tries to win riders over

Cycling's world ruling body the UCI has warned teams aiming to take part in races run by the powerful ASO company about the 'unjust' conditions set out in the breakaway race organisers' contract.

ASO runs a number of top events including the Tour de France and Paris-Nice, the week-long stage race which has again become the bone of contention in the ongoing feud between the International Cycling Union (UCI) and powerful race organisers. Following the recent departure of ASO, and fellow organisers RCS (Italy) and Unipublic (Spain) from the UCI's Pro Tour series, ASO announced that Paris-Nice would be held under the auspices of the French Cycling Federation (FFC).

Fuel was added to the fire earlier this week when UCI chief Pat McQuaid asked all teams to boycott the race under threat of possible sanctions.

That call that was rejected Wednesday by the president of their representative body, Eric Boyer, who said the International Association of Professional Cycling Teams (AIGCP) had taken a "purely sporting decision."

"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."

Now, the week-long 'Race to the Sun', which gives a good indication of who could be on-form for the more important races in the season, will go ahead as a non UCI-sanctioned event.

On Thursday evening, ASO and the FFC signed the contract for what they believed would ensure the smooth running of the March 9 to 16 event.

FFC president Jean Pitallier said: "The agreement makes sure that all the criteria needed to organise the race are there, particularly a sufficent number of officials."

Hoping for a solution to the conflict, Pitallier added: "We hope the UCI go back on their decision therefore we will adhere to its own rules (concerning officials)."

The UCI believes however that ASO could abuse its power by making "unfair" demands on teams intending to compete, and has sent a letter - obtained by AFP - to each team warning them of the conditions set out in ASO's contract. One of the stipulations set down by ASO is for teams to "immediately pull out of the race any rider or staff member whose presence could damage the reputation of the event, or the organiser."

That move is in direct response to the numerous doping scandals which have marred the Tour de France, including last year's edition when riders from Astana, Cofidis and Rabobank further discredited the event.

McQuaid warned in his letter to the teams that it was wrong for ASO to determine unilaterally the reasons to expel individuals from its races.

"I would like to impress on you the following. The signing of this contract would mean that your team would put itself completely outside the UCI. By signing the contract you would be joining a private circuit controlled entirely by ASO for the benefit of its commercial interests.

"You would be abandoning the protection afforded by rules of the UCI which are designed to give teams and riders rights and not simply protect the interests of organisers."

McQuaid also hit out at a "completely one-sided contract in favour of ASO", and said it was devoid of any statutes giving riders the rights to the presumption of innocence in the event of doping suspicion.

"ASO would be able to exclude any rider or even an entire team simply as a result of a mere rumour of doping (article 2.2 and 3.2): the contract provides for no form of appeal to a neutral body in contrast to the UCI's rules which provide for appeal to president of the college of commissaries, the president of the CUPT, the Road Commission or CAS.

"You would be denied this fundamental right of redress."

Race director Christian Prudhomme told the teams: "We acknowledge the concern this situation may be causing you, but I can assure you that our wishes above everything else are in everybody's interest - preserving the reputation and the longevity of the events which have shaped the history of cycling."

© AFP 2008

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