In 2005, the UCI, the governing body of cycling, created the Pro Tour in an
attempt to form a season-long competition involving the premier European pro
races. Unfortunately, the organizers of the premier European races such as
the Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana, known as the grand tour
organizers, were skeptical of the real reasons behind the UCI forming the
Over the past three years of its existence the Pro Tour has been a rocky road.
At the end of 2007, the UCI and the grand tour organizers agreed to remove the
grand tours and the other races put on by the grand tour organizers such as
Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Milan San Remo from the Pro Tour. So,
instead of the original 30 races, the 2008 edition of the Pro Tour will have 16
races. Is this divorce and new version of the Pro Tour a good thing for
professional cycling? I think it is and for a lot of good reasons.
First off, the UCI needs to prove that it can manage and promote a premier
race series on its own. Trying to latch onto races like the Tour de France,
Giro d'Italia and Paris-Roubaix, which are already wildly popular, is like
coming in to close a game with two outs, two strikes in the ninth inning with a
ten run lead. It doesn't prove the UCI's capabilities to deliver what they
promised with the Pro Tour, notably to grow cycling by increasing it's
popularity and sponsorship.
Secondly, the Pro Tour was an huge burden to the already established events
because its 20 team format severely limited the wild card invitations a race
organizer could offer non-Pro Tour teams. This caused a real have and have-not
situation. If you weren't a Pro Tour team, your squad was unlikely to get the
opportunity to prove yourself on the world's stage. A few teams, like
Barloworld at last year's Tour, got the chance and they stepped up their game
several notches and were one of the real bright moments in France last July.
This is great news for the two US teams, Slipstream-Chipotle and BMC Racing,
who are trying to gain a ticket into Europe's big races. Slipstream just
received an invite to the Giro. Would that have happened under the Pro Tour
system last year? BMC and Slipstream are also looking for a slot in the Queen
of the Classics, Paris-Roubaix. With 2004 winner, Maggy Backstedt on his
roster, Jonathan Vaughter's Slipstream squad should get an invite. It would
be great to see the BMC boys alongside them at the start as well.
And for those of you used to seeing a US-based team at the Tour, the removal
of the Pro Tour restrictions means that Slipstream could be lining up at the
start come this July.
Don't get me wrong. I am not a Pro Tour hater. One of the things I really
liked about the Pro Tour is that if a team held a multi-year Pro Tour license,
it was guaranteed entry into the biggest races. With such a guarantee, a team
could approach a potential sponsor in, say 2007, with the promise that they
would be at the Tour in 2008. Unfortunately, there were just too many Pro Tour
teams and they basically sucked up all the spots at those same big races.
Again, this was the case of the haves versus the have-nots.
It's extremely early in the season, the first Pro Tour race, the Tour Down
Under in Australia has just started, but I have a good feeling that this new
arrangement is going to force both the UCI and the grand tour organizers
to bring their A games which will ultimately be the best for professional
cycling. What do you all think?