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.
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?
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.