Team rankings: UCI conspiring against riders?

Wednesday, 27 April 2011

UCI plans

I’ve long wondered about the UCI ProTeam licence criteria. They rely on four pillars: sporting, ethical, financial and administrative but it’s a grey area. One example, we’ve seen teams like Pegasus can push back administrative deadlines whilst all along there’s no money secured. Or take the ethical component, it’s very hard to enforce, a suspect team can only really get ejected if senior management are directly implicated in scandal and even then it’s possible to keep the team going if the management changes, we saw this with Astana in the past.

Secret rankings
The sporting element of a team is determined by a points-based ranking system that has been kept secret… until now. Even teams and their sponsors did not know what was involved but lobbying by the teams has made the UCI open a bit here, after all teams trying to convince sponsors need to know the rules of the game, rather than sending off the paperwork and crossing their fingers that they’re ok. I’ve found this secrecy very odd and it’s something team managers openly criticised.

What’s interesting is that the UCI has given the scheme’s details to the teams. And a great scoop by Cyclingnews.com’s Daniel Benson and Stephen Farrand means they can reveal the way this works. The piece refers to the UCI saying:

The UCI has always refused to reveal the complex tables and points scales used to award the licences, claiming riders would use them when negotiating their contracts.

Just imagine that, a rider with points being able to negotiate with their team! This reticence by the UCI suggests the poor rider is a long way down the pecking order.

Giving the details to teams but not to the riders is a strange idea. Namely it’s ok to give the employer details of such a crucial scheme but not to inform the employee. This asymmetry of information gives teams a big negotiating advantage over riders. Imagine a team in need of points, they might be able hire a rider with a decent haul of points on the cheap if the rider is not aware of his value to the team, not just for his potential but the past results means he could qualify his new team for the top flight.

Points for races… or racing for points?
Modify the incentives and rider behaviour will often change too. When points become valuable, there’s a risk they distort the racing. Instead of racing for the win, some get want to hunt points instead of wins, banking perhaps a few points instead of throwing caution to the wind to land a gutsy win.

As Benson and Farrand write, “a minor placing in a WorldTour race could become more valuable to a rider than giving their all for their team leader, especially if their contract ends that year.”

If you do it, do it right
But if we accept that a reliance on points distorts riding and results then if you are going to have this system you might as well be transparent. Giving information to a select few means it can be used at the expense of others. That’s suspect, no?.

Plus there’s a wider point about secrecy. There’s little to be gained by keeping such information under wraps, beyond riders and teams the media and fans have an interest here too. Why hide?

Culture change
Riders have a couple of representatives with the UCI, whether Gianni Bugno or existing riders like Dario Cioni. Rumours say plans are afoot to form a stronger union for riders, to create better collective power.

But what’s really needed is for pro cycling to be just that: professional. Either the workplace is open or not, you can’t have secret documents getting leaked to cyclingnews.com as the only way for riders to learn of their wealth.

Ronan April 27, 2011 at 6:19 pm

I think it’s also important to point out the potential for abuse or harm for race organisers. It could be seen that, for example, the Tour of Beijing – a UCI promoted event – is getting a greater haul of points than a new race of that stature deserves. The UCI could be accused of skewing the emphasis on certain races and forcing a team’s hand. In the process they could also strangle the life out of older, more established races while they award more points for new races they are trying to promote.

Roxanne King April 27, 2011 at 6:28 pm

The real fear for the UCI, the teams, the organizers and the sponsors is that the riders will band together and demand a minimum wage and compensation package. Release of this document adds fuel to that fire. So does the recent development in disallowing riders to participate in non-UCI Gran Fondos and lesser races – which denies the rider income from the appearance fee.

It’s all about money, and the riders aren’t getting their share of the pie, and they’re starting to realize just how big the pie really is, and how much they aren’t getting. Why should Bjarne Riis or Johan Bruyneel get $1M+ (or 1M euros) when 20 of 25 of their riders are out there earning 10% of that? I expect a lot of team managers may take a pay cut this year in order to keep their riders mollified.

Still, riding a bike competitively for money beats stocking shelves at WalMart, or fixing some kid’s bike in a LBS, eh? And that’s what the teams, sponsors, UCI, et. al., are relying on.

grolby April 27, 2011 at 9:27 pm

Roxanne, there is a minimum wage; I don’t know about benefits. Whether that minimum wage is, from a rider’s perspective, sufficiently great to justify the work load and provide an acceptable standard of living, though, is the question.

James April 28, 2011 at 12:53 am

What is it with the UCI? Every time I read an article about them I just want to throttle Pat McQuaid! Is there any organization as f**ked up as the UCI (well other than the one I work for)? The UCI reminds of a kid who wants friends to play with him but won’t share anything. I really think the pro teams have to seriously consider their own organization and cast off the UCI. At the very least mount a coup d’etat and take over the bloody UCI!

Big Snoz Oz April 28, 2011 at 1:27 am

James, my sentiments exactly… something needs to be done and I almost choked on my cereal the other morning reading the Pat the Rat was considering standing for another term!!!! Somebody help!!!! I’m all for the teams breaking away, even if it only lasts for a small amount of time, to try and claim back some of the ‘hand’ in the whole relationship.

REG April 28, 2011 at 2:08 am

It’s nice to see that out in the open. I always imagined the UCI used animal sacrifice, bones, nails, roots, candles, incense, and voodoo dolls to sort that out.

leif April 28, 2011 at 10:21 am

The Tour of Beijing points are so slanted, really…can it be more obvious?
It is always exciting to see the slayers slay and they deserve all of the points for their wins.
It is equally exciting to see a team execute a plan, but unfortunate those assists will not add up.

GreaseMonster April 28, 2011 at 12:04 pm

The UCI tries so hard to compete with FIFA and UEFA in being corrupt, it’s as if sporting bodies have a secret league table based on who can give out the best backhanders, pocket the most and show complete disregard for the sport.

Nick April 28, 2011 at 2:37 pm

If the UCI and team owners are worried about the release of this information effecting the racing then it’s up to them to find solutions. Free agency is not an issue faced solely by Pro Cycling, learn from other sports guys.

One idea, off the top of my head, would to be have a clause in a contract, that would only be triggered in the final year, which would reward riders racing selflessly for a team leader. Knowing full well they could earn more points for the next year by disregarding team orders, some monetary incentive to not do so would certainly go some way to counteracting this temptation.
As the prime example you want to avoid is a Roach/Gadret style encounter!

asb April 29, 2011 at 11:33 am

I think it should be pretty obvious that all stakeholders in cycling should have access to information regarding any points system in place. As others have pointed out, and as illustrated by the events Pegasus, secrecy and ambiguity surrounding team licences cannot be good for the sport. Along with putting off potential sponsorship, all this smoke and mirrors can only lead to accusations of corruption.
Put it another way; would it make sense if rugby teams were awarded more points for tries in certain stadia? No, of course it wouldn’t. I understand the notation that ‘bigger’ races should carry more points, as they, in principle, should be harder to win and carry more prestige etc. However, with making the points system public, and awarding points to races by a logical and transparent means- eg field size- then would it not promote more aggressive racing across the board? Whist also giving riders who are generally domestiques the chance to shine without jepordizing the aspirations of the team?
Just a thought.

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