ASO and UCI lack entente

ASO and the UCI are still far from reaching an agreement over the Tour de France appearing in the Pr

ASO and the UCI are still far from reaching an agreement over the Tour de France appearing in the Pr
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE The row over the structure of the Pro Tour between the key players at the top of European cycling continues. And if Hein Verbruggen, President of the UCI, had thought that his problems lay principally with ASO director Patrice Clerc, he should have witnessed the intransigence of Jean-Marie Leblanc in London on Tuesday. Moments after presenting in excellent, if scripted, English his vision of the possibilities for entente cordiale between Paris and London, Tour de France director Leblanc dropped the diplomacy and launched into a scathing attack on the International Cycling Union (UCI). While Leblanc bemoaned the impasse that is currently dividing the sport's two most powerful bodies, it was clear that entente cordiale - or even compromise - between the UCI and the Tour's parent company, ASO, will be difficult to achieve prior to the launch of the Pro Tour on January 1 2005. That's because the intransigent Leblanc knows where, in marketing terms, the real power in world cycling lies. Thanks to the global appeal of the Tour, that is in Paris - and yesterday at the French embassy in London, Leblanc was in passionate and uncompromising mood. Asked whether it is true, as UCI president Hein Verbruggen claims, that the Vuelta a Espana and Giro d'Italia are close to agreeing to Pro Tour participation, Leblanc bluntly dismissed such claims as "brainwashing". "Alas," said Leblanc, "it is possible that the Pro Tour might go ahead without us. There is a profound division between the UCI and ASO. Our lawyers are talking to their lawyers to improve working relations and I hope we can build a bridge. "But without ASO, the Pro Tour will mean nothing," he added. Leblanc has a point: it is hard to imagine a successful Pro Tour without ASO events such as Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Fleche Wallonne, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, the Tour de France and Paris-Tours. "If we licence our events and our name to the Pro Tour, it must fulfil our criteria, and we have been asking questions of Verbruggen for a long time," insisted Leblanc. "Questions over ethics, and questions on the possibility of changing rules which say that a team can stay in the Pro Tour for four years. "What if a team is not able to compete at that level for that amount of time?" asked Leblanc. "Can it be replaced by another more deserving team? We are still waiting for a clear response to questions like this."
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