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UCI’s Cookson Rejects Proposal for New Global Cycling Series

Nov. 26 (Bloomberg) -- Cycling’s top official said he opposes the so-called World Series Cycling project that was aiming to generate more revenue by holding races in Asia, South America and the U.S., and he’ll look for other ways to support professional teams financially.

Brian Cookson, who ousted Pat McQuaid as head of the Union Cycliste Internationale in a Sept. 27 vote, said in an interview that “imposing a new league isn’t the right way forward” for a sport that has more than a century of tradition in its European heartland.

An executive of British Sky Broadcasting Group Plc, the U.K.’s biggest pay-television provider, met with a dozen teams on Feb. 13 in Geneva about the proposed championship, which would have given the squads half the revenue. In a pitch to investors, the project organizers, led by former Manchester United sponsorship manager Jonathan Price, had proposed as many as 10 new races on four continents in 2014.

“The heritage of cycling is very important,” Cookson said by telephone. “You could have, say, a race from Paris to Lyon but it wouldn’t be as exciting as Paris-Roubaix,” he added, referring to the race over about 250 kilometers (155 miles) known as the “Hell of the North” which was first held in 1896.

Cookson said the UCI is still talking to BSkyB among other organizations about ways of developing the sport, which was rocked last year when Lance Armstrong was stripped of his seven Tour de France titles for doping.

Team Sky

BSkyB helps bankroll Team Sky, whose riders Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome won the last two Tour de France titles. BSkyB said in a statement it “maintains an open mind about whether there’s an opportunity to extend its relationship with cycling as a broadcast partner.”

As many as three elite teams -- Euskaltel-Euskadi, Sojasun and Vacansoleil -- are unable to continue next season after their main sponsors pulled out. Currently, cycling’s TV income goes to race organizers such as the family-owned Amaury Sport Organisation, which controls the Tour de France. Teams have to rely on sponsorships to survive.

“We have to find ways of giving the teams a more sustainable economic situation, otherwise we’ll go into a spiral of decline,” Cookson said, adding the UCI is “looking at” teams getting some television revenue.

The proposal for a World Series Cycling was being led by Price and Thomas Kurth, the former head of the G14 lobby group that represented soccer clubs including Real Madrid. They allied with Czech billionaire Zdenek Bakala last year.

McQuaid had also criticized the project, calling it a “breakaway” league that threatened the future of existing races such as the Tour of Switzerland.

Kurth said in a text message he is no longer involved with the World Series Cycling planing and declined to comment further. Price didn’t respond to a phone call and text message.

To contact the reporter on this story: Alex Duff in Madrid at aduff4@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Christopher Elser at at celser@bloomberg.net

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