What’s the difference between a team riding the UCI World Tour and a UCI ProTeam? Why do the three grand tours award wildcard invitations but other races don’t? If the first division World Tour is capped at 18 teams, what is the maximum size of the second tier Pro Continental bracket?
All these are trick questions. Cycling’s prime calendar and its top teams are in system that takes a lot of time to understand and if you want to find the info, it’s hidden inside a dated website. Does it have to be so complicated?
There’s talk about visions for 2020 and calendar reform butwhat if we started by improving the basics today? Take the branding and labels of the World Tour, it’s still confusing:
- Strictly speaking it is the UCI WorldTour with no space between world and tour
- We often talk about a “World Tour team” to describe a top team but 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 WorldTour replaced the Pro Tour years ago
- Don’t confuse all of this with the UCI World Cycling Tour which is a series of UCI-approved gran fondos
- It’s the UCI WorldTour but the logo – pictured above – features different graphics and fonts to the UCI’s standard logo which has the famous rainbow stripes
- There’s talk in UCI documents of “the first division” but the promotion and relegation criteria are very complicated
In summary “pro” and “world” seemed to be used confusingly and the WorldTour logo doesn’t remind us of the UCI. It’s not a big deal, your enjoyment of the sport isn’t related to any of these labels. It’s just for all the talk of sweeping reforms, today’s prime calendar should be an obvious asset yet remains an elusive idea that many struggle to understand. Any branding agency would love to have a go at fixing this.
Easier Said Than Done
But it’s not so simple. If a marketing team arrived in UCI HQ they’d have to confront other structures. We have 18 teams in the top tier and they get to ride all the big race. But there’s no limit on the second level, called UCI Pro Continental teams who can ride races on the World Tour via invitation but also ride races on the various regional circuits. Quickly the sport resembles a Venn diagram where teams overlap with calendars. You might know the World Tour but after this come races in different races that are grouped by region, with the UCI Asia Tour, UCI America Tour, UCI Africa Tour and UCI Oceania Tour and UCI Europe Tour. The bulk of races on the calendar are in Europe with races like the Het Nieuwsblad, the Criterium International or the Tour of Denmark but we also find races like the Tour of California (America Tour) and the Tour de Langkawi (Asia). Then amongst these races come labels like 1.1 or 2.HC.
- The 1.* or 2.* prefix means one day and stage race respectively
- *.HC is the next level down and up to 70% of the teams may come from the UCI Pro Teams but UCI Pro Continental and UCI Continental teams can be invited
- *.1 is another step down where up to 50% of the teams can be UCI ProTeam with the rest from Pro Continental, Continental and also national teams
- There is also *.2 which excludes the UCI ProTeams but lets Pro Continental down to amateur squads compete
If you’ve made it here you might have an uneasy feeling. Perhaps you can grasp the idea but could you explain it to someone during a ride, along the lines of the “the UCI ProTeam has to ride all the WorldTour races but can ride the 2.HC and 2.1 races”? Maybe but you’d have to explain all the labels, like what an *.HC race is, a label that just isn’t as catchy as obvious sporting labels like “Premier League”, “Serie B” or “Top 14”. If you struggle then how can a TV presenter explain it to an audience?
So where do you go to get the info? If you’ve reached this niche of the web then you’re surely into your pro cycling. But I still find I have to have explain terms because labels like Pro Conti aren’t as familiar as bidon, echelon or wildcard. So where do you go to find out more? The UCI has a website for the World Tour… but you probably didn’t know this: http://www.uciworldtour.com. It is a bit of a relic. The header does have a photo of Chris Froome… but in the days before he was famous and with HTC Colombia riders on his wheel. The last news item is more recent dates from December and the main text explaining the concept of the World Tour says “The 2012 UCI WorldTour begins in Australia on January 22nd” which indicates just what a forgotten corner of the web this is.
Now I don’t think the UCI should try to compete with the likes of cyclingnews.com for content but you’d think the website should prove easy info on teams, riders and more. There’s no mobile version, essential these days given how many users access the web via the small screen. Currently the info on race participation is buried inside rulebooks on the UCI website and just to make things more confusing, the UCI breaks the rulebook up into sections meaning even a determined fan has to trawl through PDFs to find the relevant rule. Have a look at tennis’s atpworldtour.com for a good example.
But this chaotic system has its purpose, it creates flexibility for big and small teams to ride more local events, for example Team Sky can ride the Tour of Britain alongside the domestic pro teams. Similarly if the top-18 teams could only ride the World Tour races then this single calendar wouldn’t bring that much, after all Joaquim Rodriguez won’t ride Paris-Roubaix just as Mark Cavendish has little interest in Il Lombardia: a single calendar contains diverse races and the sport is better for it. It’s like an ecosystem with different beasts for different environments.
Where does the money go?
The sport is complicated and trying to unite it all under one brand and make it explainable in sixty seconds isn’t easy. But the UCI is spending a significant sum on marketing and PR as the accounts above show. The sums aren’t huge but all the same the results seem invisible.
Most viewers just want to a watch a race and the qualification system or the particular UCI status of a race is irrelevant to the action and entertainment. But plenty of fans do want to know more and if they’re used to the sophisticated race tactics, such complexity shouldn’t apply by default to the organisation, structure and calendar of the sport.
The World Tour is the biggest calendar of all the best races and should be one of the sport’s prize assets, promoted as much as, say, tennis celebrates its World Tour, proportional to the finances available of course. But the World Tour concept isn’t widely understood and those searching for explanations have to work hard to find the info. The labels confuse, there’s no coherent branding and the website is dated with zero presence on social media. There’s talk of a 2020 vision of the sport but why not get the basics right before trying anything bigger?