Having covered how points are calculated using the UCI’s secret rankings the other day, now it is time to see how these points are used in conjunction with other criteria to award a licence to a team. Because once the teams are ranked in order of their sporting value there are more steps to follow before the squad qualifies for the World Tour and its prestigious calendar of races.
The first 15 teams pass the sporting test but teams ranked 16th-20th are subject to a review to determine their position in the top-18. This year the UCI is deciding between 16th placed Argos-Shimano, 17th Lotto-Belisol, FDJ in 18th, Europcar in 19th and 20th ranked Team Saxo-Tinkoff for the remaining three places. We can delete Europcar from the list because the French squad does not want a licence with the obligation to ride three grand tours, its squad is not deep enough. So we have four teams racing for three places. What determines this? The UCI rulebook explains:
2.15.011b …the licence commission will inter alia ascertain whether there is a clear gap in the classification or whether particular circumstances have had an effect on the team’s results. Such particular circumstances shall include any injuries to riders, the types of event which the team has ridden and the homogeneity of the team.
This is sensible in that a subjective analysis helps in awarding the final places. The trouble is making the decision, who to promote and who to demote. Teams are invited to the process and can make representations to the UCI’s Licence Commission, a group composed of four UCI staff (Paolo Franz, Hans Hoehener, André Hurter, Pierre Zappelli – all Swiss). However there are three more criteria to guide the decision:
Financial: the team has to submit financial information like funding sources, any bank balances and the forecast outgoings for the year. All these are assessed by an independent auditor. If a team has been up and running then audited accounts for the previous year have to be submitted as well as interim accounts with more recent data as well as forecasts for the upcoming year right down to monthly budgeting and the business plan for the duration of the licence.
The idea here is that only teams with funding for the full year ahead can get a licence, to prevent unpaid wages and a team limping into financial limbo.
Administrative: this relates to all the paperwork that accompanies the application for a licence. A range of documents has to be submitted and the UCI’s Licence Commission looks for compliance of the application with the rules to ensure a complete folder and even notes teams for the “professionalism and rapidity with which this documentation is assembled, and respect for deadlines.”
Ethical: it’s worth sharing the UCI rule in full for clarity:
The ethical criterion takes account inter alia of the respect by the team or its members for:
a) the UCI regulations, inter alia as regards anti-doping, sporting conduct and the image of cycling;
b) its contractual obligations;
c) its legal obligations, particularly as regards payment of taxes, social security and keeping
d) the principles of transparency and good faith.
This might be the most contentious point but note it is still an absolute test. It is not about opinions or hearsay but has to rely on proven evidence.
For example some readers might raise their eyebrows at Astana getting a team licence given Vinokourov has been linked to Doctor Ferrari but the example is useful. For now he might be named but there is nothing more. The UCI could and probably should investigate but being named in a document or a newspaper is not enough, a conviction or at least overwhelming evidence is needed otherwise the team could call the Court of Arbitration for Sport and insist on the presumption of innocence. This matters because the process has to be firm but fair and the last thing we want is teams being ejected because the UCI doesn’t like the team and starts rejecting some teams because of bias and preference.
- Note there is a general test applied to all team staff in the sport on their past, the new rule was introduced to ban staff with a past of doping from working in the sport, from managers to doctors, mechanics to rider agent. However an ex-doper can get back into the sport if they were caught only once, if the ban was not for two or more tears and if five years have passed since they were caught.
But this means it can be hard to review the teams, perhaps the financial criteria and auditors can detect things but it was not that long ago that the Russian mafia created a cycling team as a money-laundering front.
The Licence Commission is part of the UCI but the work is done separately, the idea is the commission gets on with the job rather than having the UCI and its road race staff run the process. How far the separation actually is remains to be seen.
Licence suspension and withdrawal
A licence can be granted for four years but is conditional on meeting the sporting, admin, financial and ethical criteria each year. As said the other day this makes the licence more an option for four years rather than a certainty, especially as the sporting rankings move up and down. But the ethical, admin and financial points matter too and if the UCI has been misled or if the facts change then the licence can be withdrawn.
Who holds the licence?
A “paying agent” normally holds the licence and this can be an individual team owner, it could be a company set up to run the team and rent out space on the jersey, for example Slipstream Sports or it could be the actual team sponsor itself, for example Euskaltel. But the rules say any team member can hold the licence. The “paying agent” is the person or entity in charge of running the team, the go-to contact.
Teams are named after their sponsors. The naming rights are very valuable and often rare across sports. In cycling it is limited to no more than two names like Vacansoleil-DCM or Team Saxo-Tinkoff. Of course teams will have other sponsors and some like Garmin-Sharp try to drop in Barracuda or Radioshack-Nissan refers to itself as Radioshack-Nissan-Trek in its communications. Meanwhile many fans or outsiders will just say “Radioshack” and clearly the first name is the one that has paid for the privilege.
The Bank Guarantee
Before a pedal is turned a team must find at least 975,000 Swiss Francs (about US$1 million) which is held in reserve by a bank should the team collapse. This is to cover unpaid wages and other liabilities. It’s a big hurdle for new teams because it represents the single largest use of cash, way more than buying and fitting two luxury team coaches. But given the habit of vanishing teams it’s a useful barrier to sort out the teams with real money and those pretending.
Off You Go
With all the paperwork in place and a good roster of riders under contract everything is set for the team. There’s still more to do like taking out civil liability insurance for all riders and staff connected to their work. Plus a top team has to commit to development work with young riders. We see this with development teams like the Rabobank U-23 squad or the Itera-Katusha team that’s the kid partner to the Katusha team.
Oh and there’s the money. A team will have to meet several other costs during the year. There’s the minimum wage of €36,300 per rider or €29,370 for a neo-pro, there’s contributions to the anti-doping effort, there’s the cost of a licence and more in order to comply with the UCI rules.
Is it worth it?
Having explained the procedures and rules, is it worth it? This depends, there are a lot of expenses involved in obtaining the World Tour licence that don’t exist if you apply for a UCI Pro Continental licence, the tier below. UCI Pro Continental teams can still do the very biggest races but rely on invitations. If you are a French team then invitations to the Tour de France are likely so long as you have some decent riders, bonjour Europcar and probably Cofidis. Non-French teams have to be very strong to ride the Tour de France but it’s impossible to imagine Team Saxo-Tinkoff, were it to be demoted to Pro Conti level, to be left out of the Tour.
The World Tour licence’s prime attraction is an automatic entry into the Tour de France but it also comes with invites for all the other big races. FDJ are an interesting case because they want the licence to ride other grand tours. The sponsors don’t have much to gain but the team is keen to test its young roster during a three week race whilst being careful to pick its best riders for le Tour. By contrast Europcar has a lighter roster and doesn’t want to spread itself across as many races and so it doesn’t want the licence.
A sackful of money and plenty of box-ticking will get your team into the World Tour although it’s hard to pick a precise sum, a factor that can frustrate potential sponsors. But it’s not all about money, Garmin-Sharp’s budget is the same as Ag2r-La Mondiale and one of these teams wins more and gets their brands noticed around the world better than the other.
The Sporting Value assessment is the hardest part because it is a moving target, a team can sign riders with points only to find rival squads have made new signings and the game starts again and in the worst case the team ends up pleading its case with the Licence Commission. Plus the count is secret, fans and even the riders are not supposed to know.
By contrast the other criteria are predictable and published. There’s plenty of paper to print, accounts to prepare and bank guarantees to draft. Even the ethical aspect can be passed with planning. Indeed with a few accountants, lawyers, admin staff and a supportive sponsor all the above points are easy compared to running a pro team on the road for a year.