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.
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.
“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:
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?
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?
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.