How many times do we need to repeat this? The ProTour is dead.
I still see some of the top cycling news sites talk about such and such a team hoping to join the ProTour by 2009. Are people not paying attention?
Ask Team Unibet about the value of a ProTour license.
For that matter, ask Discovery Channel.
International Cycling Union (UCI) president Pat McQuaid now says that the Grand Tours of France, Italy and Spain do not need to be part of the ProTour. Some may interpret this as a truce (The UCI and Grand Tour organizers have been fighting over the future of cycling for three years). Nothing could be less sure. Rumor has it that the UCI is still demanding that all ProTeams (teams with ProTour licenses) be automatically allowed to race the Tour de France. At best, this is the way things have been operating, more or less, since the introduction of the ProTour in 2005. But Tour organizer A.S.O. seems less interested in continuing down this path and is even considering throwing some national teams into the mix.
A number of title sponsors are leaving the sport and it is unlikely that new sponsors willing to buy into the ProTour, dead, can be found. Indeed, I believe the primary reason for Tailwind Sports’ (owner of the Discovery Channel team ProTour license) upcoming complete withdrawal from the sport is because they were likely told they would not be welcome at the Tour de France in 2008. Team Slipstream, which quite significantly was invited by ASO to the 2007 Criterium International last spring, likely will get a Tour invite in 2008. ASO has indeed made a point of saying that invitations will be based more on team ethics than on results. Surely, someone from ASO took Vaughters aside in the French Ardennes (site of the Criterium International) last spring and gave him every reason to believe a 2008 Tour invite is in play. Vaughters has been building the team like he knows it….and Tailwind Sports/Discovery Channel are just weeks away from disappearing. That’s the way ASO likes to operate, both for the selection of teams and the selection of Tour stage host towns. Handshakes and politics.
I’ve always thought that Discovery Channel uncharacteristically brought its A team (Armstrong, Ekimov, Savoldelli, Popovych, Azevedo, Beltran, Rubiera) to the 2005 Paris-Nice (photo above), the very first event in the ProTour, as a favor to Hein Verbruggen and the UCI to help drive interest in the new “super league”. Ironically, the death of the ProTour, and its “guarantee” of a Tour invite with it, seems to have provoked the end of the Tailwind Sports/Discovery Channel team franchise.
The ProTour is dead. Long live Team Slipstream.