Doubts still hang over ProTour
The ProTour kicks off on Sunday with the prologue of Paris-Nice, but much remains to be sorted out i
PIC BY TDWSPORT.COM UCI president Hein Verbruggen may give the impression that the ProTour will prove to be a great legacy to leave to the sport when he steps down from his position in the autumn, but for the moment much still needs to be done to get some very powerful and vocal dissenters on the new elite level circuit into line. Chief among them is Tour de France organisers ASO, who also run Paris-Nice and have, perhaps by deliberate design, organised to stage the first day of ProTour racing near their own HQ in Issy les Moulineaux. ASO president Patrice Clerc makes clear in the April issue of procycling that he and his colleagues still have significant reservations about the ProTour’s format, notably about the lack of a promotion and relegation system, and about the ownership of image and other rights. Concerns about ethical questions seemed to have been cleared up with the implementation of an ethical charter on doping, but this charter was recently rejected by the International Association of Pro Riders (PCA) because they see it as being exceeding legal norms and the regulations of the UCI, and difficulties could still arise in this tricky area. Just last week representatives of the three major tours, all of whom were less than enthusiastic about signing up to the ProTour at all, met with Verbruggen in Zurich to discuss their differences. Although progress was made on several issues, differences still exist on others, notably that relegation question, the increased cost of licences for ProTour teams (who have seen their UCI registration charge rise by 400%) and races, and ownership of television rights. If ASO and their major tour-organising colleagues are to be believed, all of these issues must be cleared up before they will commit themselves to next year’s ProTour. Speaking to La Dernire Heure, Tour of Flanders director Harry van den Bremt emphasised the importance of the UCI getting the organisers of the major tours onside. “We need their total commitment to the ProTour. But I get the impression that ASO in particular is reticent,” he said. “It’s the UCI’s job to do all it can to reach an agreement. The survival of cycling depends on it.” Van den Bremt, though, is pessimistic about what the ProTour will mean for cycling in the long term. He points out that many races signed long-term broadcast deals with television companies long before the ProTour was even mooted, and he foresees financial problems for some ProTour events, mentioning Ghent-Wevelgem and the Tour of Romandy. His worry is that the possible future loss of events such as these from the ProTour could quickly lead to their permanent loss. Paris 2012 bid The start of the ProTour also presents an opportunity to those pushing Paris’ bid to host the 2012 Olympics to put their city in the media spotlight as the bidding race hots up. ASO, unsurprisingly, are right behind the Paris project, as hundreds of advertising boards along Sunday’s prologue course will testify. The decision on which city gets the bid is due to be made when the International Olympic Committee meets in Singapore on July 6, when the Tour de France will be entering its fifth stage. Paris and London are widely regarded as the two favourites in the bidding process, with the French capital having an apparently significant edge, so much so that ASO are already contemplating how they would celebrate a victory for Paris during the Tour. Of course, London may feel that they have a secret weapon in the shape of their home town boy Bradley Wiggins. Victory for the Olympic pursuit champion on Sunday may not sway the Olympic bid process too much, but it would certainly reduce the impact of the Parisian promotional coup.