By Julien Pretot
PARIS (Reuters) – Tour de France organiser ASO is withdrawing its races from the International Cycling Union (UCI) calendar in 2017 because of a disagreement over the reform of the calendar and the selection of teams, it said on Friday.
ASO (Amaury Sport Organisation) said reform of the UCI’s World Tour means that the 2017 season would be a closed circuit whereas it wants a system based on ‘sporting criteria’, meaning no team can be guaranteed a spot on the Tour de France and other top events.
The calendar changes, approved by the UCI, mean teams would be handed three-year World Tour licences from 2017 — rather than the current one-year licences until 2016.
“Amaury Sport Organisation has informed this day Union Cycliste Internationale it has opted for the registration of its events on the Hors Classe calendar for season 2017,” ASO said in a statement.
“The UCI has actually recently adopted, from season 2017, a reform of the World Tour calendar characterised by a closed sport system.
“More than ever, ASO remains committed to the European model and cannot compromise the values it represents: an open system giving first priority to the sporting criterion.”
Organisers cannot select more than 70 per cent of World Tour teams in a ‘Hors Classe’ race, or 15 teams in the usual 22-team lineup for the Tour de France, the most prestigious race in cycling.
It means that three World Tour teams will be omitted from the 2017 Tour lineup as the elite group usually features 18 teams.
There is no risk of the Tour and ASO’s other major races not taking place but they will do so outside the umbrella of cycling’s main calendar, which could lead to a potentially damaging split.
ASO owns the Tour de France, La Vuelta, the top-tier classics Paris-Roubaix and Liege-Bastogne-Liege and the one-week Paris-Nice and the Criterium du Dauphine.
In 2008, then defending Tour champion Alberto Contador could not enter the Tour de France because ASO had not invited his Astana team following the doping scandals they were involved in the previous year.
Last year, 11 of the top-tier teams regrouped in a joint venture called VELON, seeking a bigger slice of the pie from organisers and a guaranteed three-year presence in the World Tour, which the UCI has now granted them.
ASO and the UCI were also at odds between 2005 and 2008 when Tour de France organisers refused, along with their counterparts at the Tour of Spain and Giro d’Italia, to be part of the UCI Pro Tour that later became the World Tour.
ASO’s withdrawal is a massive blow for UCI president Brian Cookson as the governing body could lose its influence in top races.
The UCI, however, put on a brave face.
“The UCI remains committed to implementing the reforms which were agreed as part of this extensive consultation process and which the UCI believes properly balances the interests of all those involved in professional cycling,” it said in a statement.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Martyn Herman/Mark Meadows)