The World Tour of Confusion

Thursday, 24 January 2013

Bernhard Eisel Sky

The UCI World Tour is the calendar of top races with the best teams. Only each mention of the World Tour often comes with this definition attached, as if we constantly need reminding. The sport’s premier series of races can be confusing.

Back in 2011, Bernhard Eisel said the World Tour wasn’t a clear concept. Two years later and when asked again this week it seems little has changed. In an interview with cyclingnews.com, the Team Sky rider says he’s not sure of the rules. If a senior pro says this, what’s a casual fan to make of it?

Whether it’s the rankings, the branding or the very concept, the World Tour confuses. Yet it’s a good idea only it needs some work to make it more understandable. Let’s look at the words, logos, challenges and the money spent. Plus, armed with the rulebook, try to answer Eisel’s questions.

First a look at the language because even this can confuse:

  • Strictly speaking it is the UCI WorldTour with no space between world and tour
  • We might talk about a “World Tour team” to describe a top team but did you know the official label is UCI ProTeam?
  • Confusingly each of the 18 UCI ProTeams holds a UCI WorldTour licence
  • The Pro Tour phrase is sometimes used but it’s a redundant term as the UCI World Tour replaced the Pro Tour
  • Don’t confuse all of this with the UCI World Cycling Tour which is a series of Aigle-approved gran fondos
  • It’s the UCI WorldTour but the logo features different graphics and fonts to the UCI’s standard logo and no rainbow stripes
  • There’s talk in some UCI documents of “the first division” but the promotion and relegation criteria are very complicated

It might help if everything was unified: the UCI WorldTour with 18 UCI WorldTour teams and a series logo featuring the distinctive rainbow stripes. Then move to clearer promotion and relegation rules. But this is just the start.

UCI world tour

Back to Eisel’s interview with Jean-François Quénet . The Austrian is a member of the UCI’s Athletes Commission, a body set up to supplant the CPA rider union build dialogue between the UCI and the pro peloton. It comprises riders from all disciplines with Marianne Vos, Judith Arndt, Philippe Gilbert and Dario Cioni joining Eisel to represent road cycling (note Cioni is an ex-rider, now part of Team Sky’s PR staff). Eisel asks several questions out loud in his interview and I needed the rulebook to find the answers:

“If I’m asked what is the WorldTour, I’d say it’s like the Champions League of cycling, but there should be a proper presentation somewhere. Is there a leader’s jersey?

There’s no leader’s jersey but there was one in the past when we had the UCI Pro Tour. Confusingly there is still one for the smaller tours, for example the UCI Europe Tour although – to mess with your mind – the leader can only wear the jersey in some races. When Thomas Voeckler had the white jersey of the Europe Tour he could not wear it when he was doing a World Tour race. All this confuses because the jersey sounds special but it’s there for lesser races and not the big one.

“Does the individual ranking or the team classification determine the order of the team cars at the next one day race?”

This might not be obvious for TV viewers but the order of cars in the race convoy is a big deal if your job involves fetching waterbottles. The first team car can sit as little as 50 metres behind the peloton but the 22nd car can be half a kilometre behind, perhaps more meaning a lot of ground to recover as riders shuttle between the peloton and team car for food, drink and clothing. As it happens the cars are ordered as follows:

  • first by the UCI WorldTour individual classification of the starting riders
  • then the cars of the any teams with riders without riders on the individual rankings
  • next the cars of teams which failed to confirm their starting riders within the time limits set out in the rules
  • finally the cars of teams who failed to show up at the pre-race meeting

“Is the World Tour a league in its own or is it part of the UCI?”

It’s part of the UCI, remember the official term is UCI WorldTour and the governing body is the exclusive owner of the UCI WorldTour concept and trademark.

UCI top secret

“The sporting evaluation system is very confusing. We need clarification”

The sporting evaluation system isn’t just confusing, it’s confidential. This time I can’t use the rulebook as the scoring system for teams and riders is not displayed on the UCI website. But it is explained on inrng.com.

If it’s hard for me to understand which races are in there, how can people who are out of the sport understand?

Some races are there by accident of birth and history but a few have crept in for commercial reasons. Whether the UCI should be rushing its own races on to the calendar is a debate for another day. But I think we could unify things a lot more. Start with the basics: every race should have a clear website with the route, profile, startlist, prizelist and past winners displayed, ideally with the roadbook available to download. Now even big races have financial pressures and running a website could be another burden but all the same it should be obligatory and if it’s too much then uciworldtour.com could host all the information one single place.

“I’ve realized that the UCI has also done many good things for cycling, but their PR has been so bad that they never got any good publicity out of it.”

Ouch. He’s right and there’s been plenty of good work especially when the teams and their AICGP grouping are not warring with the UCI. We’ve had a minimum wage for riders, rules on employment contracts and more to protect the riders. The UCI’s licensing process is thorough and has helped to put an end to teams vanishing mid-season with a pile of unpaid wages, only squads with real cash behind them get a licence… although there’s plenty of scope to fix the system and reduce the opacity and risk – just ask Katusha.

Follow the money
Eisel says the UCI’s World Tour chief Javier Barrio “had so much work at the office that he only managed to attend two races last year” although we should note other officials were on hand. But the problems sound a lack of resources. Let’s look at the UCI accounts:
UCI World Tour finances
The World Tour is turning over two million Swiss francs (US$2.1 million at today’s rate) and spending 292,000 francs on marketing and comms, about 15% of the annual spend. It’s a sum large enough to hire several full time staff or deploy a slick PR agency but have you noticed? Following the money brings us to a dead end.

But it’s not an easy task, for starters how do you promote the World Tour when each race within it is trying to promote itself. Indeed we should ask how far should the UCI stray from rules and regulations into promotion and PR?

The Future?
Eisel’s raised some valid questions and I’ve put some answers above in case people wanted to know. But it’s not so much the technical details like the race convoy order that need fixing, it’s the broader concept and identity of the Tour. Some of this is being worked on by Zdenek Bakala, the billionaire owner of the Omega Pharma-Quick Step team who’s signed an exclusive agreement with the UCI to redesign the calendar. There’s not much to go on so far but some of the plans do make the heart sink but at least it’s an attempt to reformulate things, although it seems to go too far. Perhaps they’re just painting a scary scenario so that when they announce the plans everyone sighs with relief?

The big question is TV. We have the World Tour only broadcast agreements are local. Compare this to Formula 1 where fans know that a particular channel will show all the races and can be sure of watching every race and where sponsors are assured of the same. Even in European countries where cycling is mainstream you still get local coverage, for example French TV shows the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix but doesn’t offer Milan-Sanremo or the Giro. Yes there is Eurosport but my point is that the coverage is scattered across channels.

Now a race organiser won’t surrender the broadcast rights to the UCI as they’re so valuable. Big races get TV channels bidding for the right to broadcast and in turn the audience will pay for this, whether through ads or subscription. But I wonder if there is a way to include a compulsory video streaming clause in the broadcast contract where there’s a low-fi video stream for all international viewers to ensure the race can be seen worldwide?

Conclusion
It should be simple: the biggest races and the top teams. But it’s never so easy. Sometimes I like the way cycling offers sophistication and complication, for example I think it’s great that there’s no obvious answer to the question of who is the best rider in the world. The variety and unpredictability are to be celebrated.

Only Eisel raises some good points and it’s clear that if sporting variety is good, there’s also business risk for sponsors and impenetrable rules that riders and fans alike struggle with. If pros sitting on a UCI commission and rulebook-quoting bloggers alike get confused, what chance for more casual followers?

It is said that Albert Einstein set an exam for his students. A colleague looked at the paper and warned him the questions were the same as those used the previous year. “Yes, but the answers have changed” replied the professor. Here’s hoping that if Eisel is interviewed again about the World Tour then he, along with the rest of us, can know the answers.

Anonymous January 24, 2013 at 4:58 pm

Another great article, thank you

In the follow the money section, I think you mean they spend 292 thousand francs
I wish they had 292 million to spend
Maybe then the Worldtour would be in better shape

The Inner Ring January 24, 2013 at 5:41 pm

Ha, true. Thanks.

BC January 24, 2013 at 5:29 pm

Well the old saying is ‘money corrupts’. Best hope the UCI can be persuaded to keep their hands of any future developments then !

Julie @julesmpg January 24, 2013 at 5:43 pm

Amazing research. Still complex and complicated to the lay fan. My head is still jumbled with the information. The money part of it seems to be the most intriguing section.

Brian January 24, 2013 at 5:49 pm

@inrng the research and story are great per usual!

They need to find a way so the casual viewer does know what teams are the best throughout the year. Have a Team Points Competition etc. for World Tour teams. Maybe have a classification table so we know which teams have the most points. Points can be counted as wins, days in the lead of Stage Races, sprints points, KOM points and add them all up and you can see which teams are strongest. With that you could have viewers “choose” their team like a football club and cheer for them to be at the top of the classification each year.

Just a thought aloud, but my friends that watch cycling only when I do, just do not know how teams are ranked, which are the best or why even have teams.

Brian January 24, 2013 at 5:51 pm

You could also a Manufacturer classification, such as NASCAR has, so if you own a certain bike brand and are loyal to it you can cheer those teams to have your “bike” ranked at the top.

The Inner Ring January 24, 2013 at 6:47 pm

I can see the idea but is it possible. Is there a best team? For example a couple of riders can score loads of points for their team and put the team near the top of the rankings, Rodriguez did this for Katusha. Is the team’s ranking a good team result or because of an individual… and is the individual’s ranking the result of the team support?

I quite like the way we can’t answer these questions.

Tom January 24, 2013 at 7:28 pm

One advantage of focusing on a team competition is that you can have a podium ceremony at every race that there will be participants to give the award to. It’s awkward to award the season ending jersey to a rider who has retired to vacation a month earlier. Since every UCI ProTeam that holds a UCI WorldTour license attends every UCI WorldTour event, it makes a little more sense.

Julius Kusuma January 24, 2013 at 6:11 pm

“Legal and financial matters” count for over 1/3 of their expenses. I’m surprised you haven’t applied your magnifying glass on this yet :-D.

The Inner Ring January 24, 2013 at 6:47 pm

I’ve tried but you can’t get much further. I wonder if this includes all the licence vetting work and fees by auditors Ernst and Young to vet the teams.

Gus January 24, 2013 at 6:32 pm

It is confusing and blogs like this help navigate the way through.

I worry that Bernie risks being woken early every day by early morning anti-doping controls for daring to criticize the UCI in public.

no one really January 24, 2013 at 7:30 pm

gus, i was thinking the same thing. no doubt he’s on a “watch list” now.

The Inner Ring January 24, 2013 at 8:22 pm

Hopefully his points are well taken, he’s not being too critical, he just wants to see things improved for everyone from teams to riders to fans.

Patrick January 24, 2013 at 10:00 pm

the uci should actually be pretty grateful for the praise eisel has given them – even if it came as part of a criticism its better than what virtually anyone else is offering.

i think most sports fans like the concept of rankings and “my team is beating yours” over the course of a season as well as in a given race. virtually every other major sport has this so cycling is seen as odd without it. the points system is basically there, it just needs to be refined a bit and publicised – a leaders jersey would be great and something for the leading team too eg the coloured numbers as used in many tours.

the other big problem is of course that these rankings don’t necessarily mean much – we see the rider who would have won the season points competition last year and his entire team relegated from the competition for the next season. in principle it is a great thing that the uci place importance on ethical and financial standards as well as performance – i think many sponsors and organisers have been culpable of focussing too much on performance (i’m thinking nike, rabobank…) – however it needs more clarity and consistency. that would then reduce the pressure for points to ensure survival in the WorldTour

the mtb series last year was a great example of what it could be:
– coverage on redbull tv
– leaders jerseys
– starting positions based on ranking
– series winner
of course mtb doesn’t have the same historical races as road (which are important to retain) and the internet tv risks losing the vital broadcast dollar but how do you expect fans to follow a sport when half the time they can’t watch it?

its a tricky one for sure, balancing the unique factors including the parcours, history and identity of individual races which make the sport special against the commercial forces that favour standardised product. i don’t think road cycling can ever hope to compete with the mainstream sports head on so we must keep the unique aspects that attract dedicated fans but as eisel suggests add some packaging on top to appeal to a wider audience too.

if the uci can stop spending all their money on management meetings, lawyers and accountants, instead directing some of that into marketing in collaboration with the event organisers we could see some big improvements. unfortunately at the moment it seems the lawyers will be the only ones seeing big improvements – that’s why its important to clear the mess out

AK January 24, 2013 at 11:18 pm

‘i don’t think road cycling can ever hope to compete with the mainstream sports head on’

In some places, cycling is mainstream sport. I’ll admit that Belgium is the only place where it can seriously compete for the absolute top spot but there are a number of others countries where cycling still makes headlines even if it isn’t about doping.

Darren January 24, 2013 at 10:41 pm

The complexities, including structures/definitions that appear to overlap do speak of a political system of governance, rather than a business structure (which ever form that may be)! An internal audit on the basis of structure would be able to identify how to better apportion resources such as manpower, money, etc.

As for tv coverage, in Belgium we have excellent coverage through Sporza, broadcasting races from all over the calendar, both on tv and live-streaming on their website! God bless Sporza!

AK January 24, 2013 at 11:09 pm

I think the main problem with the World Tour is that it’s a label thrown over a bunch of individual races. There’s no competition for the World Tour itself. Rodriguez had the most points, but was there ever really suspense about that? Were you watching the Lombardia thinking: ‘ooooh is Joaquim going to pass Bradley or not’?
BUT. If you want to make the World Tour the big event, it also means you want to make Paris-Roubaix -and even the Tour de France- stages in a year-long race. I’m not sure that is such a great thing. Formula 1 is a commercial success, but to translate that concept to cycling you would have to make the races very similar, more like a series of criteriums.
In this sense, cycling is more like tennis. Sure, there’s the ATP ranking, but in the end people care about who won Wimbledon or Roland Garros this year.

Duluth Baptist Clydesdale January 25, 2013 at 6:34 am

Actually, Tennis fans *do* care who is ranked #1, though not as much as who wins the majors. Even tennis is an imperfect comparison to cycling, though: Everything stops for the Slams, and there are a lot of smaller tournaments sprinkled around them that are similar but not quite as significant. Other than clay court specialists, everyone pretty much plays everywhere.

Cycling is completely different from any other major sport in its distribution of races and competitors. It’s not like Formula One, where each race is important but the main goal is the points title at the end; the individual races are the top goal. JRod would give his left arm to trade his meaningless points title for Bradley’s Yellow Jersey.

It’s not Tennis, where everything important revolves around the slams–there are three GTs, but there are one day races that matter a lot more than a Vuelta to certain people, and there are races that happen at the same time that people cannot enter simultaneously.

It’s not soccer/football, which does have parallel competitions but has a championship that everyone is working toward through the season.

It’s a sport unlike any other. Perhaps this is a weakness of sorts, but it also provides a lot of enjoyable diversity to its audience. The transition from the spring classics to the Giro is always a bit jarring to me–not only is the race stretched over multiple days, but you watch in a completely different way and on a different schedule.

And in this environment the UCI is trying to build a brand to elevate a number of races and teams. It’s never going to be a Formula One World Championship, but if UCI is ok with this, then no problem; don’t expect big results. If the main purpose is to stir some interest in cycling in areas like Australia and California, then no problem. It already works.

And, frankly, I think it’s better to keep it that way. As @inrng said, some of the ideas to “improve” things are pretty scary. You’re not going to elevate a Pro Tour type series to a higher, F1-like level without doing some serious violence to the fabric of the sport.

The Inner Ring January 25, 2013 at 8:33 am

The move to create a more harmonious series of races is sensible but also scary. Proposals for new stage races could supplant existing races, trashing the heritage of the sport. I can’t believe the Bakala/Gifted Group proposals would be so stupid to do this… but the only statements we’ve got so far do sort of suggest they would.

I think the reform of the calendar and other big structural changes are one thing but the World Tour as it is today needs reform and rebranding. First a better ID and explanation so riders, teams, sponsors and fans actually know what’s going on (think clear language, a proper website etc), second some adjustment to the licensing process so we don’t get the Katusha mess and teams are sitting around in December waiting to learn if they’ll get a licence. Moves to add new races and reform the calendar are beyond this, we don’t need to go so far to fix some of the existing problems.

haps January 25, 2013 at 12:37 am

nice article – thanx!
I like the idea with live-streaming – giro-style.
All UCI WorldTour races live streamed from their website –
technically it should be possible – even though broadcaster will disagree – I think its a win-win-win situation –
we fans win – when we cannot watch a race on TV – the UCI site – I watch many races from pirate sites –
The organiser wins – when more attention about the event
And the broadcaster – well they might not win – directly but – I dont really see them loosing neither – afterall – most fans prefer TV to streaming when we have the chance, is there any comment on the Giros experience—-

The Inner Ring January 25, 2013 at 8:36 am

Yes, I think this is a good idea but doing it is hard. Internet broadcasting rights are valuable but it can’t be that fans are left to find pirate websites just to follow a major race.

Note the Giro have done a free stream for the last few years but I think this has stopped and won’t happen in 2013. Hopefully this isn’t so but I fear it is.

Tommy B January 25, 2013 at 9:03 am

If it’s true that the Giro have dropped the free stream of the race it’ll be a real shame. The overall quality of the broadcast last year was excellent, & a good way of opening up access to pro cycling for those less familiar with the sport.

Are they stopping the stream on cost grounds?

TheDude January 25, 2013 at 5:09 am

Roughly $2 million US… total annual revenue. Wow.
That seems painfully small to operate an organization charged with administering a global professional racing tour. Goodness, at a notional fully burdened staff rate of $100k/year salary and benefits, that gets you 20 full time employees. I’m sure the top brass earns salary and benefits that far exceed $100k, and of course, there are many other expenses in addition to staff. So maybe, 10 full time staff at best. A much smaller operation than I expected. Am I missing something? There must be other divisions in the UCI that are funded separately and display a higher gross revenue?

USA Cycling total revenue in 2011 was $11.5 million U.S.
http://www.usacycling.org/forms/governance/2011-USA-Cycling-Financial-Statements.pdf

The Inner Ring January 25, 2013 at 8:24 am

Yes, this is only the World Tour. It’s just the admin and promotion of the calendar of races.

You can see more on the UCI’s finances here:
http://inrng.com/2012/09/uci-financial-accounts-2011/

Bundle January 25, 2013 at 8:07 am

Off with the WorldTour! There should only be two kinds of players here: riders and race organizers. Teams and regulators should have nothing to say about race organizing. Teams and regulators take too much sponsor money that should go into sponsoring races, so that we can have more races, which is what the spectator wants.

The Inner Ring January 25, 2013 at 8:38 am

I think a calendar of races and a group of top teams is essential, if only so teams can be sure of riding the Tour de France. But we’re still at a halfway point where, say 12 or so teams know they’ll ride the Tour but by autumn each year the next 6 start fretting about relegation only they can’t see a league table to measure themselves against meaning they are nearly blind as they sign riders and negotiate with sponsors for the following year.

toe strap January 25, 2013 at 12:42 pm

Just a question on the order of team cars.
I thought stage races (certainly TdF) places team cars in GC order, rather than WorldTour order.

Ronan January 25, 2013 at 1:21 pm

It seems strange that nobody has ever attempted to group sell broadcasting rights globally under a WorldTour umbrella. It would seem that this would help protect the incomes of the smaller races and allow a more even distribution of the product.

As it stands, does each individual race negotiate with individual broadcasters from individual regions/territories? If so, it’s a huge waste of time and manpower and an opportunity missed for the sport to consolidate and grow.

The Inner Ring January 25, 2013 at 2:31 pm

The trouble is that each big race wants their own right. If you’re the Tour de France you want to control your own broadcast rights.

Ronan January 25, 2013 at 2:45 pm

They might want his, but at the end of the day all the want from broadcasting rights is to maximise their revenue. Collective bargaining has been proven in other sports to drastically increase the total pot of broadcasting rights and it is in the interests of the races and the sport to have a stable and reliable broadcasting income for all WorldTour races.

The issue is to get all the races to agree and then to apportion out the revenue in a way that is acceptable to all.

thetobyjug January 25, 2013 at 5:11 pm

…but that in itself is a huge issue. The collective bargaining argument helps to support “smaller” participants (see the Premier League TV rights deal, whereby the league strike a collective deal and money is then shared between the teams – admittedly the bigger teams receive larger amounts (by being on TV more often), but it does help the teams towards the bottom of the league to achieve more than they would otherwise be able).

The flipside of the coin is demonstrated by the TV deal in La Liga – Barcelona and Real Madrid are free to negotiate their own TV deals, separate from the rest of the league. This is much more financially beneficial for them, as they are far and away the most marketable teams overseas.

Taking the analogy across to cycling, the TDF, Giro and Vuelta (especially the TDF) currently enjoy greater financial benefit from negotiating their own deal than they would by taking a slice of an – albeit larger – overall pie. I can’t see how you would get ASO to agree to lose their independence in this regard, when it is not likely to benefit them in the long-run.

Ronan January 25, 2013 at 6:06 pm

The benefit in the long run is the stability of races. The ASO is a case in point. There may be some level of sacrifice for the Tour, but there is also the benefit of their other races being incorporated into a group negotiation.

I don’t think that an unwillingness to upset the status quo is a valid reason to look for a more stable sport and better funded races.

If you look at the comparison between the Spanish and English football leagues, which is more stable, always pays its players and doesn’t have top clubs forced to fire-sell assets every few years?

Thetobyjug January 26, 2013 at 2:05 pm

I totally agree, I’d prefer to see a collective deal as it would protect some of the historical races from the risk of being lost, I just think that the organisers of the bigger races may take some persuading

Håvard January 25, 2013 at 6:01 pm

I think we have to define the overall goal here. More professionalism? More money?

Most cyclists make a decent living, and from an audience point of view I don’t think the excitement of a race changes proportionally with the rider’s wages. There’s all this panic going around about the sport being “destroyed” by the flight of sponsors, but ultimately I believe all the great races will have the best cyclists competing, regardless of what they earn.

If you compare it to football, I did enjoy that sport more back in the 80’s when the Premier League was full of chubby alcoholics, rather then the über-professional approach you got there today. Most players won’t even speak their honest mind, as PR-agents are consulting them of all the sponsorship money they might lose if they say something stupid.

I remember a couple of years ago when R.Ricco was hospitalized and Cavendish responded “I hope he does recover well, but I also hope he’ll become someone’s bitch in prison”. Arguably Cavendish is cycling’s biggest name this days, could you imagine Messi uttering these words? And would you be without them?

My point is that I think part of cycling’s beauty is the vicinity between the participants and it audience. And I don’t think a more “professional” approach will help that. Rather the contrary

Ian January 29, 2013 at 9:12 am

Really fascinating article and comments. I for one have struggled to get to grips with the concept of the World Tour – I’m interested in the best races with the best riders however that is branded across a season. I do think the calendar needs rejigging as for me it’s confusing but I don’t want to see this rejigging result in a homogenized series of races – the diversity of the various races is cyclings key strength. The issue of a league table of teams and how points are scored is one of strangest aspects of the sport for me and needs to be clarified and open so that there there is clear route into the top flight of the sport.

I quite like the idea of jeserys across the season (i.e. who is the current best climber for example) but not sure how you could do this without clashing with the individual races.

Finally access as a fan to view the races is critical – I’m lucky in that Eurosport covers most of the races (and last year I discovered Sporza on the web) but a World Tour needs Global broadcasting (and global branding – can’t believe the bit about different logos etc).

Great Article

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