Private league project in the works again

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[November 25, 2014]  By Julien Pretot
 PARIS (Reuters) - The prospect of a private cycling league raised its head again on Tuesday when 11 top teams announced the creation of Velon, a venture they say will help the sport further develop -- without saying how exactly.

The 11 teams -- Sky, Belkin, BMC, Garmin, Lotto, OPQS, Orica-GreenEdge, Giant, Lampre, Tinkoff-Saxo and Trek -- say they want a new calendar, plan to introduce new technology, such as on-bike cameras, and create a "better economic future for the sport".

"The existing, sponsor only, business model is fragile for all teams," Velon CEO Graham Bartlett said in a statement.

"We need to change this to a more rounded one with fans at the heart of it, investing in new technological initiatives to generate greater excitement from the races and bring the sport closer to its fans."

The statement, however, remained extremely vague, giving no details on how Velon will operate and how they will achieve their goals.

Among the teams who are not part of the venture are Tour de France champion Vincenzo Nibali's Astana, as well as the three elite French teams (Europcar, AG2R-La Mondiale, FDJ).

Velon said they were looking forward to working closely with the stakeholders of the sport, including the International Cycling Union (UCI) and the race organizers, who cash in the television revenues.

In a statement sent to Reuters, the UCI said that it "has been in regular contact with Velon and looks forward to continuing that constructive dialogue throughout the current reform process and beyond."

Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), the super power of cycling and owner of the Tour de France, Tour of Spain and other races including Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Nice, said it would not comment.

Reading between the lines, Europcar manager Jean-Rene Bernaudeau told sports daily L'Equipe: "There is always the will to create a NBA style professional league and I'm against it."

Russian outfit Katusha and Spain's Movistar have also opted against joining Velon.

At the end of 2012, eight teams founded the World Series Cycling (WSC), a breakaway league project that failed to materialize.

(Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Justin Palmer)

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