Lee’s Lowdown: ASO vs UCI… Again.
Are you slightly baffled by what is going on between the UCI and the Amaury Sports Organization, owners of the Tour de France and a whopping 40% of the races that currently make up the WorldTour? You needn’t be. It’s basically just two groups of folk who have often knowingly screwed this great sport fighting to have their own way and to reap as much financial benefit as possible from it.
We’re witnessing two abusive and reckless parents arguing with each other on the steps of the courthouse as to who should have custody of the bemused, sickly child, when anyone with sense can see that the Child Protective Services need to step in to wrestle control of the situation to ensure the wellbeing of the kid.
The story as reported goes something like this. The management and owners of the teams that make up the current WorldTour roster want to have guarantees in place that they will be able to keep their WorldTour licenses for at least three years. They argue that they need this to ensure financial security and to allow them to guarantee jobs and secure further sponsorship. Participation in the Tour de France is seen as essential in all this due to the massive pull of the race in the sponsors’ eyes.
The UCI is also roughly on the same side as the teams in all this. They are working to protect their sovereignty over the highest tier of the sport, something they are finding increasingly difficult to do given the various challenges to decisions made by their President Brian Cookson (see Katusha and Astana), the general disdain with which just about anyone who rides a bike views them thanks to their inability to do just about anything but make money and bad decisions, and the almost overwhelming strength of ASO. What the UCI definitely doesn’t want, and will fight for however, is ASO riding roughshod over their authority.
In the other corner is ASO, who Jonathan Vaughters, that font of knowledge and good old fashioned decency, recently labeled “the big playground bully”. Hilarious to me is that, given what we all know about him, and worth an article in itself, but I’ll leave that for another day.
ASO are not happy about having to accept each and every team that has a World Tour license to the Tour. ASO were furious with the reforms voted and approved by the UCI Professional Cycling Council and the UCI Management Committee earlier this month in Barcelona, reforms that guaranteed the WorldTour teams a three-year license, and have decided to pull the Tour from the WorldTour calendar. Instead they will designate the event as a Hors Classe race, a move that would allow them to invite just 13 of the 18 World Tour teams, filling the remaining slots with any teams from the Pro-Continental and Continental ranks.
ASO know the power they hold and they also know the Tour de France will always be the Tour de France. They are very much unhappy with the Velon Group that comprises LottoNL-Jumbo, BMC, Cannondale-Garmin, Lampre-Merida, Lotto Belisol, Etixx – Quick-Step, Orica-GreenEDGE, Giant-Alpecin, Team Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo and Trek Factory Racing. Velon was formed in an attempt to gain a more secure financial income for the teams involved.
If ASO are going to deny five World Tour teams entry to the Tour, where do you think those five teams will come from? The owners of these teams mentioned above know very well the precarious situation they now find themselves in.
“End of the day, every high-level, highly funded team out there is not going to be able to continue with their high-level sponsors if they’re not in the Tour de France,” says Jonathan Vaughters. “I think most teams’ sponsorship contracts read along the lines of, ‘If you’re not in the Tour de France, we can terminate the contract.’ That is a very scary prospect.”
“We simply do not agree with the planned reforms,” Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme said to French website Velo101.com on Friday. “In this form, it does not interest us. That’s why we prefer to register our trials as Hors Classe. Now, a WorldTour without the Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Fleche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, the Criterium du Dauphiné and the Vuelta a España, it’s not really an elite timetable.”
That isn’t a slap in the face with a silk glove, that thing is metal and studded. Blood has been drawn.
Vaughters falls back on his opinion of ASO as the bully in the schoolyard. “They can simply wipe $20 million and a hundred-something jobs off the map just because they don’t like you. It’s a level of power that is, in essence, a monopoly in the sport. It puts them in a position of extreme unilateral power.”
Yes, agreed, but there are a few teams that have been doing stuff over the past few years that warrant being denied entry to the Tour because they have brought the sport into disrepute and yours, JV, is one of them, along with Astana, Katusha and well, the list goes on. Would it be so wrong to argue that the owners and managers of certain teams within the WorldTour act like a loosely connected mafia in a sense? Several have been busted for doping or linked to fraud and have done little if nothing to work to stamp out doping in the modern peloton.
Under their watch riders have been treated like commodities, established pros with doping convictions have been given new contracts at the expense of up and coming riders and riders who highlight the doping problem within the peloton have been turfed out and banished from the sport.
I don’t quite see how it is these people who should be the torch-bearers for our sport. They have failed in so many ways that I feel they are actually the last people who should be at the helm of this old tub. The UCI, needless to say, have no better credentials.
And what about ASO? If this hugely influential and powerful organization had linked the decision to pull out of the WorldTour to a drive to eliminate doping at its races, by denying entry to teams with riders that got busted at its races or say had two positives over two years, then I could get behind it. This is what they should be doing! You can hear the fear in Vaughters words even on the page when he describes the potential loss in revenue that not being in the Tour would bring, so why not use this to force the teams to really truly work to cut doping in the peloton?
However, the ASO decision is based purely on economics. Yet they could, had they been clever enough, have linked this move to an anti-doping drive. That would have shamed the UCI and forced the teams into real action.
It is a great opportunity lost, for this is the real battle for the sport, in the realm of doping, not in some petty squabble between a bunch of inherently selfish, egotistical bullies on the street corner who have their own interests at heart.
Lee Rodgers is a former professional road racer on the UCI Asia Tour circuit now racing MTB professionally around the world. His day job combines freelance journalism, coaching cyclists, event organizing and consulting work. You can keep up with his daily scribblings over at www.crankpunk.com.