You may have already heard by now that Unibet.com, sponsor of one of the UCI’s ProTour teams, has decided to cash in their chips and go home. At the end of the season, they will stop sponsoring the beleaguered team and walk away from professional cycling — at least for the time being. Score one for the Grand Tour organizers.
So ends this skirmish in the ongoing battle between the UCI and the sponsors of the three Grand Tours for control over the direction of professional cycling’s future. With all the fighting between the two groups, one may yet emerge the victor while the sport they’re fighting over dies. Or morphs into something radically different than it is today.
The Unibet.com cycling team, despite being a ProTour team, has been excluded by event organizers RCS, ASO and Unipublic from the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France, the Vuelta a Espana and from a number races the three organizations own. In France, the team was banned from racing, due to an old law that forbids the advertising of any gambling concerns not licensed by the government. Francaise de Jeux, the French national lottery, sponsors a team and can race anywhere on the continent.
But the ASO used the law banning gambling advertising to exclude Unibet from any of the races they own, even when the team offered to ride in outfits where the Unibet.com logos were replaced by question marks.
The kinds of power struggles that forced the Unibet team to call it a day threaten the future of cycling. This is a story of a struggle for power and money. The power to control who races in which races, and the money from television broadcast rights, among other revenue streams.
The idea behind the ProTour, to create a season long series of races that might draw further interest to cycling, and build excitement around various riders and teams as they compete for overall titles may well be a good one. But the way it was executed from the start has doomed it to the kind of internecine warfare that currently exists between the UCI and the race organizers.
It didn’t have to be this way. The UCI, with some thoughtful planning and organizing, could have brought the three big promoters into the fold early on. Made them a partner in planning the whole series. In short, they should have given the promoters a reason to sign on, rather than trying to wrest control over their races and take away earnings from broadcast rights and sponsorship. The way this whole saga has played out shows the true colors of both sides, and it’s not a pretty picture, any way you paint it.
For the sake of the sport, the UCI and the race organizers need to find a way to bring this fighting to an end. Here’s a thought: Scrap the ProTour in its present form and start over. Only this time, have everyone in the room — the UCI, team owners and race promoters — working together to ensure the success of whatever replaces it. It can be done. If everyone involved has the will to make it happen.
Hoist A Glass To Floyd
In a comment over at TBV, Peter suggests that a moment in time be set aside to hoist a glass or mug of your favorite beverage in honor of Floyd Landis, without whom many of us would not be writing, discussing or contemplating the sad state of affairs that is our current anti-doping system. As Peter notes:
It is a little something we could do for Floyd, after getting a small glimpse of the misery he is enduring, which we all read in [T]he Outcast article. Any thoughts?
Well, count me in. Of course, I don’t really need an excuse. I’ll raise a glass of beer, or stout, or ale, or whisky in Floyd’s honor any day. Right now, though, it’ll be a mug of Peets — just as soon as the water’s boiled.