Time to step away from the Tour de France for a moment and reheat an issue that’s been simmering all year. There was a frustrating saga earlier this year when teams rejected the ban of race radios, the portable communications linking a rider with the team car. Things went so far that it set up a serious conflict between the top teams and the sport’s governing body, the UCI.
The issue is still a sore matter with the leading teams threatening to boycott the new Tour of Beijing, not so much because they want radios but because the teams are in a power struggle with the UCI, the radio issue is a Trojan Horse for bigger ideas.
Now comes news of a crafty tactic by the UCI. They are involving ASO in the organisation of the race. I’d heard this from a well-placed source last week but now the news is reaching the media too so let’s explore the idea.
This Chinese race, scheduled for October, is being catapulted into the World Tour calendar despite being completely new. Noticeably it is organised by the UCI itself, the governing body is branching out into race organisation and has a substantial financial stake in the race. As such the absence of the top teams in this race would be a big embarrassment and possibly financially damaging for the UCI. The top teams know that threats of a boycott gives the UCI sleepless nights.
ASO is the company that organises the Tour de France and consequently it is one of the most powerful players in the sport. Perhaps ASO will bring more in terms of organisation but this is a very clever move by the UCI. Teams will think twice about upsetting the Tour de France organisers because selection to the biggest races could be stake, certainly it would not make sense to upset both the UCI and ASO.
Deploying the badger
There’s also a genuine business interest for ASO. The company is promoting a cyclosportif event in South America later this year and is reviewing plans for a similar event in China. They’ve even dispatched Bernard Hinault to Shanghai.
No end to the issue
The politics goes on. ASO could underline the weakness of the governing body. Does the UCI really need help to run a race in terms of organisation? Is it struggling to enforce the UCI World Tour rule that all teams with “ProTeam” status take part in races with World Tour status?
We’ll see what happens but this could be both a clever tactic but also a sign of the ongoing and unresolved bickering that exists behind the sport. There are frustrations, ambitions and – above all – a lot of money at stake. The power struggles go on but if the UCI gets ASO on board then the game has changed.
UPDATE - 1820 CET: we can remove the question marks now. My source was correct and the UCI confirmed the partnership with ASO today during the Tour de France rest day.