The head of the French Cycling Federation said on Wednesday he was appalled at the suggestion by world governing body the International Cycling Union (UCI) that riders taking part in next week's Paris-Nice race may face suspension as a result.
Jean Pitallier said he was upset at the controversy which has marred the run-up to the race after the UCI said on Tuesday that racers risk stiff suspensions, fines and bans from the Olympics and the World Championships for participating in a non-UCI sanctioned event.
"This is dramatic. It is unacceptable that riders should be held hostage in this way," Pitallier told AFP, referring to the spat between the UCI and organisers Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO), who opted to hold the season's first major European stage race under the aegis of the French federation.
"I have followed ministerial instructions and have only respected the law. We, the French federation and then the riders are victims of an intolerable situation.
"If suspensions result then of course we would have to have recourse to judicial action," he promised, adding the issue would go right to the top, as far as the office of President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Although Tuesday saw the race organisers reach agreement over rider and team contracts for the event after weeks of uncertainty, the riders have asked for written assurances from team bosses that any fines and their salaries if they are suspended would be picked up by the teams.
However, the UCI made plain in an email sent to the 17 ProTour teams set to take part that the riders risked serious punishments aside from the bans, suspensions of up to six months and fines of anything up to 10,000 Swiss francs (9,640 dollars).
The group representing the ProTour teams, the IPCT, confirmed Wednesday that they had appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) to intercede in the conflict.
"In this affair the teams and even the riders find themselves stuck between a rock and a hard place," the IPCT said.
Meanwhile on Wednesday, it emerged the next edition of the Tour of Spain has been included in the UCI calendar for August 30 to September 21, as well as two events organised by ASO in Belgium - the Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege, an official source said.
© AFP 2008