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Cookson: ‘We don’t want a war with ASO’

ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — UCI president Brian Cookson expressed a mix of frustration and optimism in cycling’s ongoing turf war with Tour de France organizer ASO.

Speaking to the media Saturday during a visit to the Santos Tour Down Under, Cookson downplayed the growing conflict, but expressed his frustration that ASO decided to pull its quiver of events out of the WorldTour in 2017.

“It was a surprise and disappointment after two years of talks and consensus building that one major player decided they didn’t want to be part of it,” Cookson said of ASO’s sudden departure. “We’re not about to enter into a war with ASO. The UCI’s been down that road before.”

Cookson’s comments come after ASO’s sudden decision in December to the pull the Tour de France, Vuelta a España, and its mix of one-week and one-day classics out of the WorldTour calendar. The French race organizer said it opposes the UCI’s proposed renewal of the WorldTour system that centered on giving up to 18 WorldTour teams three-year licenses. Teams say they need that three-year guarantee to be in the calendar’s major races to help provide financial stability in their quest for sponsorship backing.

“I don’t think [three-year] licenses are a big deal, but this is something that ASO has been challenged by,” Cookson said. “What we’re trying to do is encourage teams to have greater financial stability. One-year licenses are a recipe for instability.”

ASO, however, pulled the carpet out from underneath the UCI’s reforms when it decided to run its events under the European calendar, which gives it more power to decide which teams start its races, rather than having 18 guaranteed places for the WorldTour teams.

Cookson voiced his frustration at ASO’s play. “It’s regrettable that they are not being cooperative with the new plans,” Cookson said. “The latest set of proposals are not radical, but a step forward in the right direction. The other stakeholders are happy with what was proposed. ASO perhaps can be persuaded, and there could be some ground for movement. We are not ruling anything out.”

A chance to meet face-to-face was scuttled this week when Tour director Christian Prudhomme abruptly cancelled plans to make a trip to attend the Tour Down Under, citing last-minute travel conflicts. Many wondered if Prudhomme purposely canceled his trip in order to avoid meeting Cookson.

“I was hoping Prudhomme would be here this week for an informal chat. I hopeful that we can find a solution,” he said. “I wouldn’t have thought so [about Prudhomme’s cancelation]. I don’t think they’re afraid to talk to me. Let’s not put too much into that.”

Cookson is hopeful ASO can be wooed back into the WorldTour, but admitted he was puzzled by its move.

“It’s not impossible to run the WorldTour without the ASO events, but they are some of the biggest and best events. We do want them to be part of it,” he said.

“I am not sure how much movement there is about what they’re unhappy about. The teams haven’t gotten everything they wanted, and when I hear from other organizers, they’re quite happy,” he continued. “They feel their interests are threatened, but there is no proposal to challenge any of their rights. No one’s proposing to share their profits. Cycling is a pretty small cake, and ASO has the majority of slices, but we have to make the cake bigger, without taking anything away from ASO.

“I think we can work together. This kind of attitude of taking my football home with him, that’s not helpful to anybody,” Cookson said. “There are a lot of people inside ASO who want to work with the UCI. I am hopeful we can work together.”