Cycling’s world governing body and Tour de France organizers agreed on Thursday to end years of feuding over who controls the sport.
The deal followed telephone negotiations between Pat McQuaid, president of the International Cycling Union (UCI), and French company Editions Philippe Amaury, which owns the Tour de France.
At stake was the power of major race organizers against that of the UCI, marked by bitter fights over which teams could enter events like the Tour. It even led to such a bitter split that the Tour owners excluded the UCI from cycling’s showcase event this year.
Also, until late on Thursday, the UCI had been threatening to extend its suspension of the French cycling federation and, possibly, keep their riders from competing in this weekend’s world championships in Italy.
In a terse statement issued by UCI, it said both sides “have signed agreements today to put an end to the disputes that have existed over the past four years.”
“The parties will work together for the sport of cycling going forward. All parties believe that this marks the start of a new positive era for a united cycling family,” it said.
Contacted by phone, McQuaid refused to elaborate on the conditions of the deal. Calls to Christian Prudhomme, the Tour race director, and Christophe Marchadier, spokesman for Tour organizer Amaury Sports Organization, were not immediately returned.
But the agreement will eventually bring the Tour back within the grasp of the UCI. Based on a proposal tentatively backed by both sides at the Beijing Olympics, it would see the creation of a new world calendar, starting next year, that will include both the UCI’s ProTour series and the “historical calendar” of events such as the big tours.
It should also confirm a new ranking system for riders, teams and nations that, from 2011, will determine which teams must be invited to compete in the Tour.
The UCI ProTour’s launch in 2004 was the catalyst for the dispute, as McQuaid wanted the three Grand Tours guaranteed on the ProTour calendar, but the Tour, Spanish Vuelta and Giro d’Italia united to oppose UCI.
During the years of bickering, cycling increasingly struggled to find global sponsorship deals for teams. Compounded by doping scandals, the popular sport was in retreat by failing to present a united front, a clear calendar and guarantees for financial backers seeking worldwide exposure.
The disputes over the rights of race organizers to have the fullest control possible over the income from their events, and that of the UCI to oversee the distribution of money across the world for development, almost brought a full rift within the sport.
The agreement should allow the French federation to fall back within the UCI fold after it sided with Amaury in the dispute over the Tour.
Over the past years, the dispute crystallized over one issue — whether major race organizers would have to accept top teams imposed on them by the UCI system, or whether they were at liberty to take or refuse whom they wished.
The UCI said such entry guarantees were necessary for global sponsors to pour money into the sport. Such companies could not accept the risk of being refused on the whim of single organizers and see major investment efforts end up without substantial exposure.
At times, UCI officials urged riders to boycott an Amaury race like the Paris-Nice spring classic.