Final three Pro Tour teams announced

The UCI has revealed the last three teams to be accepted into next season's Pro Tour circuit. There

The UCI has revealed the last three teams to be accepted into next season's Pro Tour circuit. There
PICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE The International Cycling Union (UCI) has announced the names of the last three sporting groups that will take part in next season's Pro Tour. The three are Jean-Ren Bernaudeau's Vende Cyclisme group (sponsored next season by Bouygues Tlcom), Gianluigi Stanga's Ciclosport (Domina Vacanze-De Nardi) and the Bici Club Azzurro that oversees what will become the Lampre-Saeco team. The selections of one French and two Italian teams means that both nations and Spain have four teams among the 20 selected by the UCI. The full list now comprises: Rabobank, Liberty Seguros, Illes Balears, Phonak, Discovery Channel, Quick Step, Cofidis,, Crdit Agricole, T-Mobile, Gerolsteiner, CSC, Saunier Duval, Davitamon-Lotto, Euskaltel, Liquigas, Fassa Bortolo, Bouygues Tlcom, Lampre-Saeco and Domina Vacanze-De Nardi. As usual, the announcement provoked some controversy. Perhaps the most unlucky team to miss out is Vincent Lavenu's Ag2r. Their application was apparently up to scratch, but selecting them would have meant the Pro Tour having an imbalance in the quantity of teams from France and Italy. Lavenu, understandably, was gutted by the decision. "I don't know what the problem was for us," he told L'Equipe. "It simply seems that the UCI didn't want to create a geographical imbalance and we have paid the price for that. It's an unjust decision." Ag2r have backed Lavenu's team since 2000, and during that time it is hard to remember the team falling foul of the authorities in any way at all. Lavenu added: "I think it is an insult to us. Over the last 13 years my team has proved its value and has established a good philosophy. But today it seems we have become victims of the economic changes that are taking place in cycling. But we are used to fighting and that is what we will do. The team will continue with the belief that perseverance will one day pay off. I know that we still have the support of the race organisers, notably the Tour de France and Dauphin Libr." Although Lavenu has, according to team leader Stphane Goubert, told his riders that their future with the team depended on selection for the Pro Tour, there remains a possibility that they still might be selected for the major events on the French calendar, including the Tour. Tour organisers ASO are yet to agree to their many high-level events being on the Pro Tour circuit. Even if agreement is reached on this point, Ag2r could still benefit from one or two probably available wild card invite to the Tour. But that is plenty of its and buts. Goubert's assessment was that the decision was "a huge personal disappointment and a big problem. If we can't ride the major events what point is there staying in cycling?" he asked. The decision was not greeted with universal joy even in Italy. The news that Domina Vacanze are to switch to backing Stanga's current De Nardi set-up is likely to lead to legal action from the management of the team they are now backing. There was also some grumbling in Spain, where the final selection means that two of CV-Kelme, Relax, Costa de Almeria and Cafs Baqu are almost certain to miss next year's Vuelta even allowing for provision of two wild cards. There has been a move to resolve one of the reasons for dispute between the UCI and the three major tour organisations. The association of cycling teams (AIGCP) has established an ethical code, although full details of what it will consist of have yet to be revealed. However, the provisional acceptance into the Pro Tour of some teams that have been tainted by positive dope tests and blood irregularities to a large extent undermines the acceptance of a new code. Speaking prior to yesterday's announcement that his team had been given entry into the Pro Tour, Brioches La Boulangre/Bouygues rider Didier Rous said in L'Equipe: "We have always stuck to the rules. But doing this makes you really angry sometimes. It makes you angry seeing that the UCI is backing people still involved with doping. Our policy has been to be to ride clean, but we end up seeming like fools because of this. What can you say to young riders in the face of an injustice like this? To not take dope? I know from personal experience that anger caused by exactly this kind of situation forced me across that line in 1995."
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