L'Equipe names 11 teams involved in possible breakaway cycling super-league
Cycle sport's biggest teams amongst those alleged to be looking to break away from UCI control
French sports daily L'Equipe has published a list of 11 teams that it says plan to break away from the UCI and form their own rival to the UCI World Tour. The two men it says are at the heart of the project are Johan Bruyneel and Jonathan Vaughters, managers of, respectively, Team RadioShack and Garmin-Cervelo.
L'Equipe names five teams as being the most engaged, and six as being followers. Those most closely involved in the project are said to be RadioShack, Saxo Bank-SunGard, Quickstep, Movistar and Garmin-Cervelo; the other six that make up the potential 11 breakaway teams are Omega Pharma-Lotto, Leopard Trek, HTC-Highroad, Liquigas Cannondale, Rabobank and Britiain's own Team Sky.
We're therefore talking about big teams that between them employ most, though not all, of cycling's major stars. Seven teams with UCI ProTeam status are missing, however. Those are BMC Racing, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Astana, AG2R, Vacansoleil DCM, Lampre-ISD and Katusha.
It could be that some are sitting on the fence and waiting to see how things turn out, but Katusha manager Andre Tchmil, speaking to L'Equipe, had forthright views on the issue: "The UCI is master of the calendar, the organisers master of the races, and the riders masters of the results. How would a league be useful? The attitude of these teams goes against fundamental democratic rules. Their reaction is suicidal."
In order for the plans to get off the ground, co-operation would almost certainly be needed from Tour de France organiser ASO and Giro d'Italia organiser RCS Sport. The former, which also part-owns the Vuelta, organises Paris-Nice plus other leading races such as Paaris-Roubaix. The latter owns Tirreno Adriatico and Milan-San Remo, among others.
Giro director Angelo Zomegnan appeared non-committal on the matter, telling L'Equipe that while he'd shared a coffee with the people in question, the issue hadn't really come up. Relations between ASO and the UCI have in the last couple of years entered a calmer phase, but that is not to describe them as good.
That Bruyneel and Vaughters are alleged to be named as prime movers should not come as a surprise. News of the planned defection was made public last week by UCI President Pat McQuaid in his open letter to riders in which he named Bruyneel as one of the architects of the scheme.
Vaughters, meanwhile, is President of the pro teams' association, the AIGCP, which has been involved in a row with the UCI over the latter's phased ban of two-way radios. However, it has become apparent in recent days that there are much more fundamental issues at stake.
As we reported at the weekend, the Garmin-Cervelo manager unveiled a 10 point plan for the future of cycling, one of the central tenets of which is to devise a competitive format that might elevate cycling to the status of Premier League football or Formula 1 motor racing.
One issue that sounds a discordant note, though, is that of two-way radios; if, as McQuaid asserts, part of the reason for banning them is because broadcasters, led by France Televisions, want cycling to become a more exciting spectacle, then that would introduce an immediate point of conflict between the breakaway teams and the media they would need to be on board for the project to work.
One sport with which there is perhaps a parallel is cricket, and the revolution ushered in by Kerry Packer's one day circus during the late 1970s. Packer, unlike Bruyneel and Vaughters, had the advantage of owning his own TV station, and had the vision of developing a format that would increase the sport's appeal and boost the earning power of participants.
Many of the changes Packer introduced are now been taken for granted and even extended - even he did not foresee Twenty20 - and the cricket world cup was itself first launched in response to the perceived threat from the Australian businessman. The game was transformed, and the episode resulted in a stronger sport, despite initial fears of an irreparable split.
Whether cycling will go the same way remains to be seen. Two groups of people, however, will be awaiting developments with trepidation; riders, who on the one hand could see their earning power increase, but on the other may well wave goodbye to any chance of competing in the Olympics or World Championship events.
The other group is the fans, long used to seeing cycling in the headlines for the wrong reasons, and who surely must be resigned now to the possibility of a struggle for power between the UCI and the sport's leading teams, which could possibly lead to a schism in the sport at the top level.
However, it may not come to that. A league needs races, and it seems unlikely that Bruyneel and Vaughters haven't been talking to race promotors for quite some time – indeed McQuaid's revelation could well be seen as evidence that the UCI is rattled. Should the breakaway teams get the backing of enough race organisers they will have a league and if they have the big races it is inconceivable that the other teams will stay outside for very long. We would hazard that there is very much more to come out on this one yet.
Finally, it is worth noting that this story was broken in L'Equipe which is owned by ASO.