Monday, August 18, 2008

Messy road-cycling situation

As a former adolescent cyclist of sorts in my home town of Grafton (back in the days when bicycles had only recently been invented), I've always been interested in the Australian cycling world. A few days ago, I received an email circular from the organizers of Australia's Tour Down Under, and I promptly dropped in on their website.

Next January's scheduled event in Adelaide is part of the so-called ProTour circuit, under the auspices of the world-level body that governs professional cycling: the UCI [Union Cycliste Internationale]. The Tour de France, on the other hand, is organized by the Amaury group, owners of the newspaper L'Equipe (which angered the Australian swimmer Ian Thorpe not so long ago).

The director of the 2009 Tour Down Under assures us that everything "is on track and on schedule". He explains that the UCI has confirmed that the South Australian event "will remain in the top echelon of world cycling. We have also spoken to the elite teams who rate the event highly and plan to be in Adelaide in January 2009."

These reassuring words surprised me somewhat, because the news from France, just after Bastille Day, was that 17 ProTour teams competing in the Tour de France had decided to refrain from taking out ProTour licences for 2009. The Australian website includes a menu concerning teams for the Tour Down Under, but the data is obsolete. The 19 teams that are listed are those that competed in last January's event, rather than those that will be turning up in Adelaide in 2009. So, what gives? Would the organizers of the Tour Down Under be jumping the start in persisting in talking as if it's business as usual?

Today, speaking from Beijing, UCI president Pat McQuaid revealed a plan that his body intends to submit to the Amaury people in France, in the hope of resolving the conflicts that have existed over the last few years. I have the impression that today's UCI press release is full of good intentions, but we know nothing, for the moment, concerning possible reactions of the Tour de France organizers. I feel that South Australia is excessively optimistic in suggesting that they can calmly and confidently begin the countdown to the 2009 Tour Down Under. It would be more realistic if they were to inform potential spectators explicitly that international road cycling is still in a global mess.

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