UCI confirms discussions with Bakala and Kok about potential major reform of cycling
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Saturday, November 10, 2012

UCI confirms discussions with Bakala and Kok about potential major reform of cycling

by Shane Stokes at 5:15 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling
New Champions’ league of the sport could be in the pipeline

UCIFollowing the announcement that Omega Pharma Quick Step owner Zdenek Bakala and the team chairman Bessel Kok will be involved in a reorganisation of professional cycling, the UCI has confirmed that discussions have taken place with the duo since late 2011 and that things are moving forward along those lines.

“These discussions have included their potential financial investment in a new joint venture company with the UCI and other cycling stakeholders that would promote and organise elements of this new calendar,” said the governing body this evening in a statement. “The UCI has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with them as the initial investors in the joint venture and will now enter into extensive dialogue with the teams and race organisers before any final agreement is concluded.”

The project – which could lead to a clear reworking of the sport if it proceeds as planned – is being billed as a Champions’ League of cycling and is intended to improve upon the current WorldTour structure. Details are still being worked out, but it is envisaged that approximately 18 teams will be part of the system and would have more solid financial standings due to a share of television rights and other factors, plus longer-lasting licences.

The organisers of the Grand Tours are yet to be convinced to come on board, but it is hoped that they will be part of the system, and that approximately twenty races will be involved. It is projected that it would be fully operational by 2016.

At this point in time, a three-pronged approach is envisaged. According to Omega Pharma Quick Step, the first goal is to improve the anti-doping battle through strict policies and procedures that will lead to quicker judgements than before. The Contador case is given as one example of a process that rolled on far too long.

It is understood that an agency independent of the UCI will run this aspect, although details have not been worked out.

The second aspect looks at the financial side of things, and will see to improve things for teams through greater stability in this area. Bakala will himself put in ten to twenty million euro, the billionaire becoming the first investor in the new system.

The third aspect relates to the regulations, with the importance of clear, precise rules being emphasised.

“The sport is in very troubled times,” said Bakala, presenting the project. “The Armstrong case was the straw that broke the camel’s back. The International Cycling Union (UCI) is under tremendous pressure to replace some famous people at the top. Rabobank's sponsorship ended after seventeen years. The situation has even a dramatic impact on some riders. It's time for a new system. We have world-class product to offer."

He explained what he saw the benefits of the new structure would be. “Our system needs these changes in order to gain credibility and growth, in addition to a series of further steps like technological development in cycling and a change in the system that assigns points and team licenses. The public needs to be able to identify with a cycling culture that has clear rules and regulations, with a system of races and classifications that is easy to understand. The teams need stability, with a licensing system that allows them to work towards medium and long-term goals and build branded teams that fans can easily recognize.”

He said that the new structure would be easy for the public, media, sponsors and broadcasters to decide. Rather than there being a dramatic change, he said that the project would evolve over time. Although different in setup, it would share a similar goal as the WorldTour: “having the top teams, with the top riders, in the best races. That’s the goal,” he said.

The UCI had previously been opposed to other planned restructuring, including the so-called ‘breakaway league’ that was spoken about last year. However it seems more open to what is being proposed by Bakala, and said that its planned consultation with all the stakeholders in the sport scheduled for early 2013 would relate to this proposed joint venture.

However it said that it’s too soon to take it as granted that the change would take place. “No agreement has been reached on the reforms that will take place to the calendar and as such any media reports about the future of the calendar are pure speculation at this stage. However, the UCI will retain full control over the calendar, including sporting and technical elements. The UCI and the investors are also committed to ensuring that the final structure of the joint venture will avoid conflicts of interest.”

Bakala is putting in a considerable amount of money, albeit only a fraction of his total wealth. “Money is not the most important criterion for me. Cycling is a very interesting business, but firstly I love the sport,” he said, according to Het Nieuwsblad. “I hope that other investors follow.”

While the UCI is guarded about saying the reform will happen, its President Pat McQuaid seems open to the idea at this point. “Improving the professional road cycling calendar for spectators, cyclists, teams, organisers and sponsors is a priority for the UCI. Cycling is one of the world’s most popular sports and we are committed to take this to an even higher level,” he said.

“In Zdenek Bakala and Bessel Kok we have cycling fans who have already done much for the sport but who want to invest further. That demonstrates the confidence they have in cycling and we are keen to partner with them and others. We look forward to making a formal announcement on this as soon as possible next year.”



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