Organizers of the three major cycling races - the Tour de France, Tour of Italy and Tour of Spain - have pulled out of the Pro Tour circuit because of a dispute with cycling's governing body. The big three also are removing from the Pro Tour eight other shorter races that they organize in Europe.

The big three have been deadlocked with the International Cycling Union over how the Pro Tour Circuit races are organized and funded.

The major tour operators were angry that Pro Tour events award the same number of points regardless of the length of the races. They said the system did not recognize that the best athletes would compete in longer Tours rather than shorter, one-day races.

Under the current format, teams pay for the right to race in Pro Tour events and have to lock in plans to participate years in advance. The International Cycling Union set its 2006 calendar in September saying all 20 teams in the Pro Tour series would be obliged to take part in each event.

Some information for this report provided by AP.