The UCI’s 2020 Vision

Amidst the adjustments to the BMX calendar and a reminder about new time trial position rules in the UCI’s Sport and Technical bulletin for October was a half a page on the future shape of men’s pro cycling. It’s the first sighting in public of the plans to remodel the calendar and it promises radical change with fewer race days, fewer top teams and fewer races.

Less is More
This idea was mentioned ahead of September’s UCI Congress. As you can see from the slide above the big idea is a calendar is capped at 120 days of racing, compared to a total of 153 days of racing for the World Tour in 2014 to which teams can currently add many more days by picking racing from UCI European Tour and other continental circuits.

Promotion and Relegation
The other big idea is a clearer system of promotion and relegation. Teams can go in and out of the World Tour today but the rules are opaque. The reform proposes clearer promotion and relegation criteria with two divisions although it seems these will still race the top races but on a reduced basis, perhaps only getting a few invitations to fill their quota of 50 days per year.

Below this will be a third division with all the other teams and all the other races, a giant warehouse for teams and races that won’t fit in the sport’s shop window for 2020.

The slide above shows some of the calendar. The start moves to February which means the Town Down Under will get bumped forward. There will be no overlap between events meaning no based on today’s calendar it means Tirreno-Adriatico would not be run the same time as Paris-Nice, nor would the Canadian races in Québec clash with the Vuelta. That’s sensible but not without complications.

Note the “stage races cut to 5 or 6 days”. It does not mean the Tour de France is changing. But it’s possible to imagine the Dauphiné starting on a Tuesday in order to finish by Sunday and then being chased by the Tour de Suisse the following Tuesday.

There will be 16 teams in the first division and with no overlapping races there is no need for a team of 30 riders as you don’t need to field two teams of nine riders along with team cars, soigneurs, mechanics and more so the team size will be reduced substantially. Fewer riders, fewer staff.

Another slide and more a statement of the obvious. But note “quality accommodation” is mentioned, cycling’s a sport where millionaire riders stay in cheap motels to do their work. It’s part of the job but riders do notice it when they stay in a swanky starred hotel in Doha or Montreal.

All Good
Cycling’s calendar and structure is a jumbled mix that has grown up over a century. It’s dysfunctional, confusing and often unsustainable. Any consultancy firm tasked with looking at things would see the obvious problems of overlapping races, confusing rules and so from afar.

But this mess is also charming, open and varied. It might take newcomers more than a moment to learn the intricacies of the calendar but this is part of the sport’s heritage. Imagine a wild wood with ancient trees compared to a forestry plantation with its neat rows, one is a healthier ecosystem than the other.

Unintended Consequences
Streamlining the calendar makes a lot of sense. Ever since this blog’s been going I’ve said overlapping races on the World Tour calendar is wrong. But at the lower level hasn’t been too much of a problem. For example the Tour of Austria runs in July but everyone wins. Those not selected for the Tour can get some racing and locals in Austria enjoy a decent race on their doorstep. Bring in exclusivity and it’s Adieu to the Tour of Austria because with no big teams taking part the interest could dry up. Whether this is pruning back weak races that are slowly dying or an enforced execution remains to be seen.

One Race at a Time
The calendar will have blocks of racing where if a rider wants to race then they will have to do what is on at the time, rather than say, picking between the Tour of Britain or Vuelta as part of their pre-World Championship plan. It means there won’t be different pathways to the Tour de France, no longer can some opt for the Dauphiné whilst others try the Tour de Suisse. But funnelling all the best riders into the same race won’t guarantee the best racing, just because the Tour of the Basque Country stops overlapping with Paris-Roubaix won’t see Nairo Quintana try some cobbles or Tom Boonen scale the Alto de Arrate either. The variety of races will still require specialist skills and abilities.

Sponsor Offering
A reduction in the number of races needs to be matched by a careful offering of races. Most of the big sponsorship in pro cycling comes because of the media coverage offered by the Tour de France but each team has subtle preferences for the rest of the calendar. Take Argos-Shimano, Argos sells fuel in the Netherlands and surrounding countries but it doesn’t operate Spain or Italy. So it will chose to race in its own countries if possible when it can elect to ride events outside of the World Tour. Scrap a lot of these races and you reduce the exposure on offer for such a sponsor. By contrast if you want to bring in genuine multinational corporate sponsorship the you need to offer a genuinely multinational calendar to match. But easier said than done, especially as pro cycling has such a varied audience demographic. In Europe the typical viewer is a senior citizen, in the US it’s a much younger male.

Cui Bono?
Who profits? The cake is getting smaller. Riders as a whole won’t gain if there are fewer of them at work but it should place a greater emphasis on those who win, a “rich get richer” scenario. The same for the calendar where ASO and RCS own the Giro, Tour and Vuelta which alone will account for half of the calendar (assuming the Vuelta stays three weeks) so they’ll win whilst smaller races are consigned to the rump of the third division. Team owners too will expect big coverage but won’t need 90 people in their employ.

In short anyone with an asset in the sport, whether an entrenched race franchise, a team licence or just DNA suited to stage racing will gain.

Change is coming and all this will be in place by 2020 at the latest. Some of this makes sense but reshaping the calendar without harming other races will be tricky, the proposals appear to create a top tier that becomes distant if not entirely separate from the rest of the calendar. This elite will also be a lot smaller with fewer riders and a small entourage as well although whether this achieves cost savings is another thing.

For now we’ve got a glimpse of the future hidden inside a small PDF newsletter, as if the UCI is shy about these massive changes. It’s like looking at a faraway land through a telescope, we can see a long way ahead but the field of vision is narrow. All the plans and powerpoint slides are the easy part, reaching this distant land and appealing to fans, sponsors and TV executives alike is much harder.

53 thoughts on “The UCI’s 2020 Vision”

  1. Very interesting first look, thanks for the heads up. I know a lot of people won’t like the idea of races such as Paris-Nice or the Dauphine being shortened but I can’t say it overly bothers me if the end result is more concentrated action.

  2. Its what happens in the Corporate World, it is a typical consultantexpertisemanagementmove. And it has the potential of disaster. Because all these words sound always so good and so convincing and make indeed so much sense. But the danger of backfiring is huge. Because we are human beings. We are not predictable and we give our heart often in the most unlikely ways to the most unlikely things. By trying to streamline a company, a product, events etc. often the very emotions which make us give our heart, time and money are eliminated. As always it will depend on the people in control. They need to really see and embrace the responsibilities they have. For all the people who make a living out of cycling, for the fans, the past and the future. But I must admit, I am really worried.

  3. Who needs the UCI? This scheduling proposal would effectively turn the top level of the sport over to ASO. Ho many race dates do they/UniPublic/RCS control now? This proposal will be forgotten by the end of this year.

  4. Interesting take and I agree with your conclusions. The UCI is risking the fall into the ‘Law of Unintended Consequences’. A similar problem of globalization and control of races happened with NASCAR and the result is that interest in the sport is way down, something that cycling cannot afford. They would be much wiser to manage the race calendar without making such rigid rules.

  5. For me the first question is who had input into the 2020 vision?

    Was it just the UCI? Or was it a broader ‘church’ of interest groups?

    This will give a better answer to if this vision will ever come about, or how much change will occur by the end of it.

      • I’ve no idea the relatively influence of all of those people, nor how much consultation they did, but in the face of it, I’d say it means it is more likely to come to fruition then… I guess it depends on how much the smaller organisers / teams are up for it.

        • It worries me slightly when ‘management consultants’ get involved – my own personal experience is that it tends to end in lots of money being spent and a jumbled outcome. On the flip side, from a business point of view the sport of cycling is run in a truly shambolic way and it could probably do with a bit of ‘expert’ input.

          Very interesting article and the ‘all good’ section sums up my own mixed feelings. On the one hand, the proposals seems logial (broadly speaking) but one of the reasons i love cycling is the history of the races and the emotions they conjure up. Pro cycling is often a complete shambles but at the end of the day it’s our shambles!

  6. The Tour of the Basque country does not overlap with Paris-Roubaix, or indeed the Tour of Flanders. It specifically runs from Monday to Saturday to avoid those two races.

    • I know… but ride the Basque Country and almost nobody does Paris-Roubaix, flying late on Saturday to Paris so they can start in Roubaix.

      Fans can watch both but the peloton happily splits across these two races.

  7. This is a nightmare. Who needs all these limitations and regulations? What about a race organiser’s freedom to do what he wants with his race? Sorry, but ASO, RCS, Unipublic, Flanders Classics and the rest should tell the UCI to stuff it, and to stop trying to run their business.

    • Note the balance of power. ASO and RCS get to keep their grand tours so they own over half the calendar with three races and they’ll own other events on top Roubaix, Lombardia, Liege, Sanremo etc. They’ll end up with a much larger % of the sport.

      • Sure. But that’s another problem, the concentration of the historical race heritage in fewer and fewer hands. That would be more something the UCI should be up to: oblige ASO and RCS to sell races. (If they don’t, the EU will end up doing it one day). More independent organisers, like IMG/Tour de Suisse, or Volta a Catalunya are cornered: not only do ASO and RCS use market dominance to sell their TV rights in take-or-leave packages, but they also get the regulator to work to their advantage.

        • 7:22am “This is a nightmare. Who needs all these limitations and regulations? What about a race organiser’s freedom to do what he wants with his race?”

          6:47pm “But that’s another problem, the concentration of the historical race heritage in fewer and fewer hands. That would be more something the UCI should be up to: oblige ASO and RCS to sell races.”

          So you want UCI to give more freedom to race organizers, yet force them to sell “heritage” races? Interesting.

          • And it’s not only the calendar: the UCI regulates, to the detriment of a race’s appeal, total and daily mileage, rest days and many other things it shouldn’t regulate. If ASO thinks it fit the TdF to run for 32 stages, over 5.000 kms in total, and with some 350km stages, it should be free to do it. But it shouldn’t be free to demand that people buying the TdF be also obliged to buy Paris-Nice and Dauphiné and whatever Arabian race.

    • This doesn’t prevent them from doing so. The organisers simply have to decide whether they want their event to count for the Division 1 or 2 standings, or whether they’re happy for it to be in the continental circuits. It’s arguable that some make this call already – e.g., the Tour of California staying as an HC event, so it can keep its May slot in competition with the Giro.

      • So that some races will see themselves relegated if they don’t comply with the general downsizing, right? Why not throw the “Divisions” away instead?

  8. “Be careful of what you wish for” comes to mind. In many respects events have grown organically over time by national, regional and local sponsorship or group or individual enthusiasm. To remove this important aspect of the sport leads to the danger of taking away historical context, removing the potential for new promotions and reducing the regional interest of supporters. The Law of Unintended Consequences is indeed something that should cause pause for thought.
    One question INRNG. One would suppose that this proposal was formulated pre Cookson, by another of the UCIs non cycling corporate advisors. Does it still have legs ?

  9. What does “responsibility for environment” actually mean here? I laughed a bit last Sunday as I watched Mr Hollywood grab sticky gels from the support car every two minutes only to find them to be of the wrong kind and throw them into the gutter immediately while cursing profusely.

  10. Fun to discuss but in reality getting too het up about any aspect seems a bit previous. It will no doubt go through a lot of changes before implementation. Also when looking at something like this, to really understand it needs context and explanation from the authors, via presentations, additional written collateral etc. Otherwise there’s a lot of extrapolation and second guessing at play.

    One thing is for sure – and thats the UCI is introducing the cap on the number of race days per year for riders – with effect from 2014 or 2015, INRNG?

  11. Sent a tweet may as well double up here.

    120 race days division 1 with 16 division 1 teams fighting for the division 1 title

    and here is what has been missed 50 race days in the division 2 with 8 teams fighting for the division 2 title

    I assume there will be relegation, promotion due to these results

    there is no way there can not only be 50 division 2 race days if we take qatar, Oman, Dubai and the hearld Sun tour in Australia as 2 division races at 5 days each that will be 2o days before a pedal has been turned in Europe add Utan , Pro cycling challenge and California at 5 days each and we are at 35 which would leave a grand total of 15 left for Europe division 2 and San Luis is expanding so 5 more days and we have 10 left for Europe . Plus the expense of being a division 2 team would be greater than division 1

    As a side not I expect the will be less teams than the 22 riding GT´s , which may not be bad

    • I expect it means a div 2 team will be allowed to race 50 of the 120 available Pro Tour race days, not that there will be 50 second tier races.

  12. Interesting analysis thanks – particularly liked this view of the season – “Imagine a wild wood with ancient trees compared to a forestry plantation with its neat rows, one is a healthier ecosystem than the other”.

  13. Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico are overlapping just two days with place in the calendar to put them a week earlier, same with Tour de Suisse and Dauphiné. The problems I have are:

    1. Cutting to six days would only concerne Paris, Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse (Tirreno is already down to 7 days and cutting either the TTT or the final TT would ne no problem), but that would destroy the charme of the races and be espacially for Tour de Suisse an existentially Problem (less stages, less sponsor money).

    2. Due to the shorter season and moving of big races we will have a lot more overlapping circuits, additional to the expected smaller team structure, The WT will be able to send Teams only to certain events. So we will have a big “surviving-of-the-fittest” situation and I fear the new financial strong oversea races will wipe out the traditional Europe circuits. But maybe they want this in times of globalisation.

    3. The Calendar loses because of globalisation his roots. The overlapping circuits and diffrent race agendas in a year were part of the charme. Cycling was unlike any other sports and thats what I love about it. But the Managment Comiteé needs to look that they don’t lose old fans when they desperatly try to gain new.

  14. Am going to go out a limb here and say I really like some of the ideas here. Racing every Sunday, with high quality tv coverage and the big names in the peloton – sweet! Maybe it won’t play out like exactly, but these things don’t have to be set in stone. The main thing is the calendar stays together. Having watched two sports split (rugby league here in oz and indy cars in the states) I honestly think that would the most damaging thing. I guess, and other commenters have noted it, is we need more background. Such as what were the terms of reference for the review, like what are these recommendations trying to solve. The calendar itself may not be the problem directly, but indirectly may force teams into larger and more expensive entities than they would otherwise be.

    Also, and I may be going out on limb here, but why don’t teams offer regional sponsorship. So when racing in oz a team might be sponsored by say Commonwealth Bank, and then when in uk they become sponsored by Barclays. Anyway, stability of the teams is something that needs to be looked at. I have noted the teams themselves don’t exist as ongoing concerns by having naming rights available. Man United is always Man United regardless of who their title sponsor is. Ferrari is always Ferrari, etc. If we want stability of teams I honestly think you to have a team first in the minds of the fans, then in the minds of the sponsors. I still think having club based teams makes the most sense. Now you can have proper promotion and relegation, which you only get when you have ongoing concerns. Perhaps fewer teams support stability, perhaps there are also other avenues which could be explored.

    • Interesting idea, maybe one that could be supported by reverting to National teams?
      Regional Sponsorship could still effectively take place, as a fan would root for their nations interest and any local sponsor wanting local exposure could still achieve that, via the TV footage even if the race was 1000s KM away.

  15. ” just because the Tour of the Basque Country stops overlapping with Paris-Roubaix won’t see Nairo Quintana try some cobbles or Tom Boonen scale the Alto de Arrate either. The variety of races will still require specialist skills and abilities.”

    This seems easy to solve: make let’s say three categories of races based on the amount of climbing they contain and make the rule less strict so that only races in the same category cannot overlap. So it would be a problem that the Tour de Suisse and Dauphiné overlap, but not the Tour of the Basque Country and Paris – Roubaix.

  16. The more I look the more this reads as a 2 tier WT system , with 120 race days which must included the 16 div 1 teams and 50 race days which must include the div 2 teams.

    Everyone seems to be assuming that the 50 days come out of the 120 , If we have 120 + 50 equals 170 races days from Feb to October .

    anyone who thinks that the 50 come from the 120 want to explain how the UCI can fairly decide who won div 2 and thus get promoted to div 1 .

    The only way it works is if the div 2 race days must have the div 2 teams racing

    ie think football . win div 2 and get promoted to div 1 , the matches mean everyone plays each other an equal amount home and away

  17. Considering the sponsoring: when Greg Lemond and Steve Bauer started to put North American cycling on the map, there was a race organised in the US (after some googling I think it must have been Coors Classic). Although I was a kid, I clearly remember the riders wore different jerseys than usual, probably because a lot of the sponsors had no interests in the US. Can’t this be done again? Different sponsors for different races?

  18. It will kill a lot of interest of casual observers in cycling. The Tour de Luxembourg for example (it’s my local race), would only ever get 2nd and 3rd tier teams as the new, slimmer, world tour teams would be otherwise engaged. In 2012 we had 6 world tour teams and lots of local interest. I can tell you without a doubt that the preceding women’s event and the fleche du sud are not covered in the local press in any similar depth and it the less likely it is for big teams to come to what is a quite successful 2nd tier race, the less likely it is that cycling will get any coverage.

    For the sport itself, a lot of riders on smaller teams appreciate the shop window they have at races like that where they can show to other teams what they have or even junior riders for scratch/local teams showcasing themselves in order to become a stagiere later in the season.

    I think having no world tour races clashing isn’t a bad thing but the overall picture needs to be considered.

  19. I understand the intent, but it is based upon false premises, and is aimed at propping up something that the public doesn’t care about; a season long competition.

    Pyramids are broad at the bottom and narrow at the top for a reason; if they weren’t they’d topple over. The 2nd and 3rd divisions need to be progressively larger. There needs to be an incentive for 3rd division teams to become 2nd division teams, and for 2nd division teams to become first division teams. Guaranteed entry into races helps, but if a 1st division race can accept 20 – 24 teams (depending upon the allowable team size) and the combined 1st and 2nd divisions are set at 24, most teams will have the ability to race the top races, so why move up, particularly if you are restricted from competing in lesser races?

    It seems to me that the UCI should be focused on expanding the sport as a whole, not constraining it. Growth can be managed, but trying to manage a consolidation seems fraught with perils.

  20. Just trying to clear something up. Where does it say that the Division 1 and 2 teams can’t start other races outside of the ones they have to race? I mean, having only 50 race days for a Division 2 team is a ridiculously low amount for instance and are you suggesting that only 8 teams will start those races?

    The 120 race days for Division 1 teams is less than half of the amount they have at the moment. I’m pretty sure they’ll still be able to ride other events too.

    • The limited details available don’t say that. My own inference is the same as yours: teams will be able to race in more than the 120/50 days, but those days will be compulsory and will be the only ones that count towards their Division standings. So, for instance, a Division 2 team will be allowed to race in a Division 1 race, and in a Continental circuit race, but those will only count towards the individual/national standings, and won’t count towards the team’s Division 2 standings.

      So, for instance, Cofidis may be required to ride in the Eneco Tour, but this won’t prevent them from racing the TdF or the 4 days of Dunkirk. However, only their result in the Eneco Tour would count towards their Division 2 standings.

      • Exactly, that would seem the most sensible way forward otherwise you’re just going to kill off dozens of races in the Europe Tour, America Tour etc with none of the top riders able to attend them.

        I think it’s incredibly poorly thought out. I mean assuming the grand tours remain three weeks long then Division 1 teams will still need 20+ riders on their team to handle three grand tours plus specialists for the cobbles races etc. But with only 120 race days in total there will be nowhere near enough racing for those riders outside of those events.

        • We only know that it’s poorly thought out *if* the Div 1 teams can’t race outside their Division. If they remain able to compete in other races, though poss not in competition to a Div 1 event, it should be workable.

  21. James it never says that, that’s why I think there will be 2 divisions of races.

    Div 1 16 base teams plus wildcard probably from div 2 120 race days

    Div 2 8 base teams plus wildcards from div 1 and pro conti 50 race days.

    There is still continental tour races so might ride 200 ish days a year Feb – October. There is only 273 days available.

    • Yup, you’d have to assume Division 1 and 2 teams can still ride H.C and 2.1 events outside of the races then have to be at. Doesn’t make any sense otherwise.

      • Maybe my reply was as poorly worded as this outline is vague.

        I fully expect that this is a definition of the season long competition, not that this is a restriction on racing. If they keep the x.hc, x.1, & x.2 designations, and the same rules in place, then the Div 1 & Div 2 teams can compete together (in almost all circumstances, since there will be only 24 teams), and Div 2 & 3 can compete together in lesser races, and there will be certain races where the field will comprise all 3 divisions.

        My point was that there need to be more Div 2 teams than there is now, not fewer. If you have 16 Div 1 teams, and hundreds of Div 3 teams, why squeeze the middle by only having 8?

        And if there are races outside the World/Pro Tour, then this won’t do anything to reduce team sizes or budgets, other than that these races will not be compulsory, but they will be commercially necessary, as the sponsors need exposure, the riders need racing miles, appearance fees, and prize money.

  22. So there’s going to be less riders at WT/Division 1 level, but wont there be more overall as the UCI are essentially proposing putting into another level between Pro Conti and WT?

  23. It’s a shame there’s no mention of how this new plan will coordinate with the women’s pro racing scene. It seems to me that that should be part of the equation as a means of further promoting and developing the sport…

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