Posted by Editoress on 09/22/06
The UCI conducted blood tests today on riders from the Netherlands, Belgium, Italy, Spain and Kazakhstan. All riders were declared fit to race.
The CCA held a dinner of appreciation at their hotel in Seekirchen on Wednesday night, attended by representatives from sponsors H&R Block and Louis Garneau, as well as the Mayor of the town. In addition, CBC dropped by to conduct interviews with many of the athletes.
Today the UCI held its annual Congress (sort like an Annual General Meeting). Among the many items discussed were the state of the ProTour and Continental Tours system and the Anti-Doping fight. Below are the highlights of the reports presented by UCI staff and Committees. Keep in mind, that this is all the UCI's prespective...
However, before moving on to the reports, a brief note that Fred Mengoni was recognized by the UCI with an Award of Merit for his years of service to the sport. Mengoni (among his many contributions) funded the team Steve Bauer rode for as an amateur in the 1980's before winning silver at the Los Angeles Olympics (1984) and turning pro. Mengoni was moved by the award (presented by UCI President Pat McQuaid. "I have done everything because I love the sport, not because I expected to get anything like this."
In the presentation, the UCI pointed out that they began anti-doping measures as early as 1960, with the first sanctions imposed in 1967. The 1990's brought the introduction of EPO, which took the doping problem to a whole new level, culminating in the Festina team scandal at the 1998 Tour, with the UCI instituting a urine test two years before WADA.
The UCI (in its presentation) pointed out that cycling is the only sport to have introduced limits for plasma haemoglobin and reticulocytes to combat synthetic haemoglobin. They have also introduced a Code of Conduct for ProTour teams and are working with political and sports authorities (such as WADA), which has led to outcomes such as Operacion Puerto.
Moving forward, the UCI says it is active on a number of fronts:
Implementation of medical evaluation systems for national federations, to build up blood profiles for all riders.
Improving the quality of doping controls, increasing the number of out of competition tests and implementing a chaperone system for doping controls.
Further study of the effects of doping substances on the human body, to determine the effects they have at genetic, biological and metabolic level.
Inclusion of blood parameter screening in the World Anti-Doping Code.
Closer collaboration with teams, encouraging them to take greater responsibility.
Continued prevention campaign, through workshops and seminars.
ProTour and Continental Circuits Assessments
The ProTour/Continental Tours structure began in 2005, in response to a number of problems that the UCI saw with the system as it existed in 2000:
Calendar confusing, with hundreds of races and no clear hierarchy.
70% of races took place in 4 countries (Spain, Italy, France, Belgium).
Team dependence on single sponsors (whose withdrawal caused team collapses).
Lack of guarantees that teams would receive entry to major events.
Uncertainty of TV coverage (and increasing competition for coverage from other sports).
The ProTour had the objectives of creating a very high level of competition (best teams and the best riders in the best races), to give stability to teams and riders, and to develop TV coverage and commercial opportunities for the top level of the sport. The Continental circuits were designed to stimulate the development of cycling (outside of Europe).
The outcomes for these objectives have been as follows:
High level of competition - New high level races such as the Deuschland Tour, Tour of Poland and Eneco Tour have been created. At ProTour events, the level of participation by the top riders (top 20 ranked) has gone up 17% since the start of the ProTour.
Stability - Quality controls and strict requirements for team licencing have created stability, by guaranteeing participation in major events for sponsors. Currently 14 teams have sponsors through 2008 and further. New sponsors (Milram, Caisse d'Epargne) have joined the sport, and more have requested licences for 2007. Young riders are being picked up by ProTour teams, and wildcard entries (86 in 2005) mean that non-ProTour teams receive the opportunity to participate in major events.
TV Coverage - The ProTour label has increased recognition of cycling. However, opposition by organizers of the three Grand Tours has impeded progress. Despite this, the UCI says comparing the first 14 races for 2005 and 2006 shows an increases in coverage of 34.5% and an increase in TV audiences of 17.4%.
Stimulate world development of cycling - For the Continental circuits there has been a substantial increase in the number of races:
Americas (2006 vs scheduled 2007) - Teams have increased from 23 to 33 (+43%), and races have increased from 29 to 42 (+45%). (Editor's Note: Most of the increase has been in South America)
Asia (2006 vs scheduled 2007) - Teams have increased from 11 to 16 (+45%), and 4 new races have been added.
Europe (2005 through scheduled 2007) - 7 new pro teams have been added (+16%), and 32 new races have been added (+9%).
After the UCI presentation, Jens Voigt was invited to speak as a representative of the ProTour riders. Voigt stated that, in the main, riders were happy with the ProTour, seeing increased security and stability of teams, plus things such as insurance for riders. It has also meant that riders feel more confident that they will be able to start the largest races in the world. The ProTour also has a type of race for every type of rider - one days, time trials, etc. - and the riders have been made a larger part of the decision-making process. Also, it has helped concentrate the fight against doping.
Voigt also said that there are still concerns to be worked on. For the 600 riders on the ProTour teams it means secure jobs, but that is only half the number which were on the former ranking system. The Operacion Puerto situation and the ongoing problems with the Grand Tours are creating uncertainty, and need to be solved as soon as possible.
He stressed that wildcard entries into events are very necessary for the continental level riders and teams - 80% of their TV coverage for the year comes from being in a ProTour event! This means that more needs to be done to help this base level of the sport, such as having more wildcards. He suggested not requiring ProTour teams to be at every event - so a French ProTour squad with no local Polish sponsor connection could skip the Tour of Poland to open space for a local Polish squad, for example.
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