The ProTour was a great idea but poorly executed. An published list of premium events with guaranteed entry for certain teams based on open criteria is a winner for fans, riders, teams and sponsors alike, especially combined with additional rules on a minimum wage, safety and improved administrative standards.
Only the ProTour collapsed after the biggest races on the list refused to take part. The UCI ended up selling licences to teams who found they couldn’t ride the races they want. Not getting the likes of ASO and RCS onboard was an epic fail.
New and Improved
Now the idea is coming back for 2011. A full calendar of races with transparent qualification criteria. Here’s the UCI press release:
from the beginning of the 2011 season, all the world’s biggest races, which from now on make up the “UCI World Tour” , will be subject to the same participation rules. The UCI ProTeams, the number of which will be limited to 18, will have the right to and be obliged to participate in all the UCI World Tour events, whereas organisers will be able to invite UCI Professional Continental Teams of their choice for the remaining places. Although the conditions of registration for UCI ProTeams remain unchanged (sporting value as well as ethical, financial and administrative criteria), the sporting value will now be calculated each year according to a precise points system.
Again, race organisers will be able to pick additional “wild cards” from the Pro Conti ranks, to showcase domestic teams or to allow an exciting team into the race.
So what’s new?
You might think all of this is unchanged, what’s the difference? Well the UCI ProTour some classics like the Ronde van Vlaanderen but not Paris-Roubaix and no grand tours, the longest stage race on the ProTour was the forgettable ENECO Tour. Instead a seperate “historic” calendar of the big races existed alongside with entry guaranteed to a bunch of teams happening to hold an old ProTour licence.
Now all of this is being merged and the 18 Pro Tour teams will have the right and the obligation to ride every race on the calendar. In some ways this entrenches the big teams but the sport has been crying out for stable rules on participation.
The Tour de France is the big ticket and sponsors need to be able to know what is required to get a ride. In this case, “sporting value” takes a premium, teams will need to remain high in the rankings to keep their World Tour status. Take Footon-Servetto, currently languishing in 29th place in the UCI rankings, this would be grounds to see the licence removed and given to a squad with a better ranking, for example Team BMC, which sits in 10th place but is not currently in the big league.
This is not without its downsides. Teams needing ranking points… need riders with points. Sometimes this means loyal domestiques can lose out to a “poacher” who has racked up points with a string of top-20 places simply by sitting in all race. For example, not to pick one a rider but did you know Roger Hammond has more points than Teejay Van Garderen or Filippo Pozzato?
Finally, a team struggling in the rankings might rush to buy riders with points without asking too many questions so they can climb up the rankings, instead of nurturing young talent. Hallo Vacansoleil.