It was day 16 of last year's three- week Tour de France. The Radio-Shack team of elite cyclists had just completed a punishing 101-mile slog through Alpine foothills from Saint-Paul-Trois-Chateaux to Gap.
The town of Gap is remembered as the dramatic scene of one of Lance Armstrong's more acrobatic Tour rides: In 2003, another cyclist's rear tire skidded on the melted tarmac in front of America's most successful Tour racer.
To avoid a collision, Armstrong veered off-road, careerning downhill through fields before rejoining the peloton of riders - and going on to win the race.
As rain fell on Gap last July, the manager who oversaw Armstrong's unprecedented and unmatched 1999-2005 winning streak was trying to bring another messy race day to a close. Johan Bruyneel had already lost four RadioShack team members to crashes or illness.
Tempers were fraying. Bruyneel bristled when a reporter brought up a sore subject: the relatively paltry sums the teams get from Amaury Sport Organization (ASO), owned by a family that has run the Tour since 1947.
The 50,000 euros ($63,000) or so his team would be getting from ASO wouldn't even cover expenses for hotels, meals and gasoline, the Belgian said. It was time for the riders, the stars of the show, to get a bigger chunk of ASO's television revenue.
"You have to take a stand at some point," he said. "It's normal that someone who gets the biggest part of the cake doesn't want to share it, but the riders and the teams are the key players."
As cyclists gear up for the start of this year's Tour on June 30, the rebellion that stirred in Gap continues to build against ASO, which owns the Tour and the Criterium du Dauphine and Paris-Nice events in France and has a 49 percent stake in the Vuelta a Espana, Spain's biggest bike race.
ASO is a unit of Editions Philippe Amaury, whose chairman, a 71-year-old widow named Marie-Odile Amaury, is the little- known grande dame of the most important cycling event in the world.
Amaury, who has run Editions since her husband, Philippe, died of cancer at 66 in 2006, faces assaults on her family's dominance of the Tour from two fronts.
Managers of some of the race teams - including RadioShack and Garmin - have become increasingly outspoken in their pursuit of ASO's money.
The teams want a share of the TV rights, event sponsorship and corporate-hospitality fees, as well as more of a say in the management of the sport, says Jonathan Vaughters, president of the teams association, which is known by its French acronym, AIGCP.
Vaughters says cycling's competition model should be brought in line with team sports that spread the winnings around, such as the National Football League in the United States and English soccer's Premier League.
Under the current system, ASO hands 450,000 euros to the winning Tour rider, who traditionally shares it equally among his eight teammates. Riders get an additional 3 million euros or so in prize money spread out over the Tour.
A second challenge to ASO comes from an upstart championship format called World Series Cycling.
As in Formula One auto racing, the champion racer would be determined by a points system among riders participating in the world's most competitive races: the Giro d'Italia, the Tour and the Vuelta a Espana as well as six one-day races across Europe and up to 10 new ones around the world.
A 12-page pitch to investors drawn up by London-based N.M. Rothschild & Sons Ltd. for the WSC promoter, Gifted Group, a London-based sports marketing company, projects an annual profit of 1.8 million euros per squad in 2017.
Bruyneel's RadioShack Nissan Trek team, as it is now called, and two Spanish teams sponsored by telecommunications companies - one by Movistar, the other by Euskaltel SA - are among eight to 10 squads interested in joining the WSC scheme, according to Euskaltel team president Miguel Madariaga.
For an event with a limited following, the Tour draws a sizable audience: In 2009, 44 million TV viewers tuned in for a single mountain stage, helping to make the Tour the year's 12th most popular televised sports event, according to Initiative, a London-based media-buying agency.
Amid a booming market for TV sports rights, the Tour could be worth as much as $1 billion, says Conor O'Shea, a media analyst in Paris at Kepler Capital Markets SA.
ASO runs the Tour and reaps revenue from broadcasters such as France Televisions SA and Comcast Corp.'s NBC. Pat McQuaid, president of Aigle, Switzerland-based Union Cycliste Internationale, world cycling's ruling body, says ASO's TV deals are worth about 30 million euros a year.
Editions Philippe Amaury Managing Director Philippe Carli declined to give a figure. AIGCP's Vaughters, who is also manager of the Garmin team, is convinced that ASO's take is higher than 30 million euros.
"I think it's a lot more than that," Vaughters says. "I've heard all kinds of numbers."
The Tour's commercial appeal has attracted suitors in the past.
Armstrong says that in 2005 he and about a dozen of his team's backers discussed buying the Tour while meeting in a private room at Spago restaurant in Palo Alto, Calif.
He says he raised the subject again in March 2010 in Murcia, Spain, with Arnaud Lagardere, chief executive officer of the media company Lagardere SCA, which owns 25 percent of Editions. Armstrong says the talks went nowhere because of the cost of a controlling stake in Editions, which he estimated at up to $1 billion.
"It would need a big number for the Amaury family to be interested in selling," Armstrong says.
The first Tour, in 1903, was dreamed up by staffers at L'Auto newspaper to boost circulation.
Photographs from the time show competitors in culottes and woolen sweaters, some riding with spare inner tubes over their shoulders.
The first winner was Maurice Garin, a former chimney sweep. The race caught the public's imagination, with villagers dragging hay bales to the roadside to get a better view.
The Tour was suspended during World War II. Afterward, Emilien Amaury, Philippe's father, set up L'Equipe, which took over running the Tour. Marie-Odile married Philippe in 1969 and joined the Editions board in 1990.
All signs suggest that Editions will remain a family enterprise.
Amaury appointed her son, Jean-Etienne, 35, chairman of ASO in 2008. His sister Aurore, a lawyer who turns 38 next month, is also on ASO's board.
Vaughters, 39, says the teams aren't trying to stage a coup against the Amaury family. He says it's important to work with ASO as well as McQuaid's UCI to update the economics of competitive cycling.
"We need to convince them to see the advantages of reforming the system and the sport," he says.
Vaughters says he tried to broach the subject of sharing TV revenues with Madame Amaury at a cycling dinner last year. He says she referred him to her executives - politely.
Getting what he wants could be as tricky as Armstrong's famed descent into Gap all those years ago.