sport

UCI consider calendar changes

The UCI has confirmed it has held discussions over the restructuring of the international calendar with the World Series Cycling project.

Cycling's world governing body insisted it would retain control of the race calendar, but announced a memorandum of understanding has been signed with the group, which plans 10 four-day events, which would run alongside the three Grand Tours - of Italy, France and Spain - and six of the established one-day races.

The grands prix would include a time-trial, rolling stage, mountain stage and sprint stage, with all events taking place from Thursday to Sunday. The world-wide series could be in place as soon as 2014.

Financial backing is being provided by Czech billionaire businessman Zdenek Bakala, who owns Mark Cavendish's Omega Pharma-QuickStep team.

Bakala has led talks with the UCI, and, despite the world governing body being occupied by the ongoing fallout of the Lance Armstrong scandal, a conclusion to negotiations is close.

The UCI said in a statement: "The International Cycling Union (UCI) confirms that it has been in discussions with Omega Pharma-QuickStep owner Zdenek Bakala and his business partner Bessel Kok since late 2011 about the possible development of the professional road cycling calendar.

"These discussions have included their potential financial investment in a new joint venture company with the UCI and other cycling stakeholders that would promote and organise elements of this new calendar.

"The UCI has signed a memorandum of understanding with them as the initial investors in the joint venture and will now enter into extensive dialogue with the teams and race organisers before any final agreement is concluded."

The UCI insisted the project was part of the consultation titled 'A bright future for cycling', which will take place early next year, and that no agreement had been reached.

It added: "This consultation will have a considerable bearing on this proposed joint venture and the future road cycling calendar."

After three and a half years of planning, World Series Cycling, registered as a company in Luxembourg, is close to implementation.

The first meeting with teams was held before the 2010 Tour de France in Rotterdam, with eight contracted teams confirmed yesterday as Garmin-Sharp, Liquigas-Cannondale, Movistar, Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Rabobank Cycling Team, Radioshack-Nissan-Trek, Team Saxo Bank-Tinkoff Bank and Vaconsoleil-DCM.

Jonathan Price, chairman of London-based sports promoters the Gifted Group, told Press Association Sport: "We want to see races up and running in 2014.

"We've already had discussions with broadcasters, we're confident there's a real appetite for this product.

"We're now going to start some serious discussions with potential host locations to get our first race up and running."

The structure can be compared to that of tennis, where the top male players feature in the ATP Masters 1000 events and the four grand slams, with the WTA Tour running alongside. In cycling, plans are similar, with a commitment for a parallel women's series.

The Giro d'Italia, Tour de France and Vuelta a Espana would be part of the project alongside one-day races Milan-San Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Amstel Gold Cup, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Tour of Lombardy, with a points system to award the leading rider and team at the end of the season.

Riders would race a maximum of 88 days per season, while there is a commitment for an anti-doping programme in a bid to eradicate the use of performance-enhancing drugs from the sport.

Tour de France organisers the Amaury Sports Organisation, who also run races such as the Tour of Qatar and Paris-Nice, have not yet been consulted. It could be a potential stumbling block.

Price is confident a restructuring of cycling's calendar will only improve the sport, with many races on the current calendar struggling.

He said: "A lot of those races are dying and they're not dying because we've come up with a concept of a format that's driven by what television, sponsors and fans want.

"They're dying because the marketplace has cast judgement on them.

"If you want to progress as a sport and if you want to develop, you need to respond to what the marketplace want and if you don't you die."