Who understands the UCI World Tour?

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?

48 thoughts on “Who understands the UCI World Tour?”

  1. Agreed, we know there’s a list of races but how many races the teams ride is a mystery.

    The UCI website is like going back in time, do other sports have pages so bad?

    • I’m sure other sports have old websites too but a look at triathlon, IAAF, ATP and others seem better. It’s more once you start looking at the more obscure sport like the International Luge Federation or World Curling that you find sites that visually resemble the UCI site. In a way the UCI can have an old-fashioned website for people looking up the rules and information on boring things like committees. But the World Tour is a consumer idea and should have something more consumer-friendly.

      I gather the UCI has been looking at improvements but not sure what has happened. Similarly the UCI’s organigram has vacant spots in communication and PR, presumably they need to hire people before any of this gets fixed.

  2. Apparently J-Rod won the WorldTour individual rider points prize : which is so well publicised, I’d not realised until I looked at that UCI website…

    What’s his prize ? I remember a couple of years ago (in days of ProTour ?) the points leader throughout the season wore a white jersey, but what now ?

    • A jersey would be good, if the UCI want to push the points prize. Froome could have won it this year if he’d turned up to the last event but declined – shows how much the riders are interested?

      • The trouble with the jersey is that it is the result of arithmetic more than anything else. Riders win points from the classics and grand tours when these races are really for different riders.

        It’s like trying to reward the best track and field athlete from 100m to javelin to marathon when instead the athletes are trying to do their thing rather than worry about other events; the same in cycling, trying to argue whether Froome, Cavendish, Cancellara, Boonen, Sagan or Martin is the best athlete is fine for amusement but each is the best in a particular type of race. Trying to find the best rider of the season can be intangible, about more than points.

        • I see your point there INRNG, but the situation you’re describing also sets up the sport for an (in my opinion) dangerous direction.

          While it is evident that professional road cycling today has many specializations, I think it’s important for all these specializations to stay linked together using a combination of means (such as points jerseys as well), or we risk having the sport fall into a multitude of niche disciplines.

          We already have cobbled classics, hilly classics, grand tours, time trials, team time trials, prologues, sprint stages and more. On top of that Six Day racing and Cyclo-cross are seperate events and sports as well. Back in the day we had champions like Merkcx, De Vlaemink, van der Poel and Robic dominate a multitude of facets of the sport, Now, we see more and more specialisation, with few allround champions, with the only exception perhaps being Marianne Vos (i’d love to see you do an article on women’s cycling by the way).

          I think it’s important for the UCI and race organizers to promote the development of such allround riders by having these points systems in place, so cycling remains a single sport where all riders are challenged in a multitude of ways.

          • Fair point but I still say a season-long award is dependent on the allocation of points, eg is Cavendish better than Rodriguez etc?

            But another point I was getting at is that the World Tour needs consistent branding, obvious labels and an attractive website which could all help link the calendar together, uniting Roubaix with Beijing, Catalonia with le Tour etc.

            I think sites like procyclingstats.com are great but should third party websites be the go-to source for a startlist given all riders have to be registered with the UCI in the first place? (selfishly the calendar page on here is very popular, presumably because it’s more accessible and user-friendly than the UCI’s own version)

          • I can’t seem to directly reply to your reply, I guess this is because the reply chain has reached its maximum, so I hope this works.

            I fully agree with you on the branding, calendar presentation and startlists etc, it’s definitely the UCI’s job to add value here by making the system presentable, accessible and competitive. It can definitely learn from Formula One racing and Tennis in this.

            In terms of the allocation of points to riders, you are right, the scale is arbitrary and not a great way to measure the better rider. Then again, the same thing happens in the GC of every stage race, where a minute lost on the flat (except for arbitrary bonus seconds) is apparently an equal sign of a lesser rider, compared to a minute lost on the mountain.

            I guess in the end, trying to somehow quantify the performance of riders between multiple specializations will always remain a poor solution but an inevitable one as well.

        • > It’s like trying to reward the best track and field athlete from 100m to javelin to marathon when instead the athletes are trying to do their thing rather than worry about other events.

          In athletics the Diamond League (and the Golden League before it) seems like an interesting approach to this. Athletes are assessed against their event specific competitors over the season but the system also allows comparison between events. A bit like trying to measure if Cancellara was dominant in the Classics as Cavendish was in the sprints for a particular year.

  3. I guess the WorldTour is primarily about money – for the UCI. I would be in favour of having just pro teams, with organizers being able to select the most appropriate teams for their event. This would stop the present crazy situation, where for example, riders not suited to certain types of event are forced to take the start line with little chance of seeing the finish.
    As far as I know there are no sponsors or cash prizes for the overall competition. The real question should be what is the sporting value of this competition ?

  4. The cofusing structure adds to the fun- I like that top level teams take part in races with lower level teams, keeps things interesting- and every so often a rider from a lower level team wins big.

  5. and I thought trying to explain cricket was complex 🙂 Great article and in short no I don’t understand it and couldn’t explain it. I really like the idea of an ecosystem with different events suitable for different riders and the top teams and riders being able to take part in local / regional events. However if a global sport really wants to be taken seriously then they need to sort out branding, coverage, social media, website etc. I can’t see why this can’t be done and still retain the diversity in the sport that many of us enjoy.

  6. Now you’ve got me all curious about how the other races add Continental teams if there’s no wildcard selection? Or do they not get to?

    You’re right, it seems like this shouldn’t need to be quite so complex. Are there a given team (say a Continental level) might compete in one venue with the top level, and in another venue with amateur teams? (My knowledge of non-US focused sports other than cycling is even worse than my knowledge of cycling beyond getting on my bike and feeling happy.)

    • Certainly this happens with Conti teams – a Conti team can often be racing against amateur teams and inaffiliated riders in domestic races during the season, as well as racing in 2.2 and certain 2.1 races, and 1.2 and certain 1.1 races (at home and overseas).

      Conti teams apply to a race organiser to register their interest, and the race organiser will invite them – or not. Take a Conti team like AN Post-Chain Reaction – because of the Sean Kelly connection they get invited to a lot of overseas races and as a result have a really solid race programme each year. Whereas another Conti team might not have that (they might also lack the necessary budget to support sending a squad to many overseas races)

      There’s a fair amount of leveraging of team owners and managers’ networks amongst the race organisers, to get invites to a lot of these races – though a decent track record at that race, or a good run of recent results will also help!

  7. Though the different types of races aren’t hard to understand in principle, the labels for them are arcane. It reminds me of reading an Assos catalog. (Is this a Swiss things?) Seems like a simple taxonomy should be possible and then I won’t have to look up the difference btwn .HC and .1 races every season!

    • Given that many of the races have long established names all they need is coding system to tell us their ‘level’ and .HC, .1 or .2 seems quite straight-forward to me. The confusion is perhaps more the initial number to tell us if it is one day or multi-day. A -M at the end of multi-day and nothing for one days is simpler and gets away from having the same number twice for different things. HC or HC-M, 1 or 1-M and 2 0r 2-M. Ultimately the categories feed into rankings as well as race field selectors of course although not all HC races are equal of course.

      • Do you know what HC stands for? I believe it originally was for historical calendar. (Remember that gem?). This is not an intuitive labeling system as far as I’m concerned and this contributes to the difficulty of explaining the system.

  8. I don’t see it as a problem to have people in different specializations going for one prize. I think the jersey even adds to it. If you look at alpine skiing they have an overall competition that gets awarded it’s own equal prize at the end of the season for the racer with the most points acquired. I find it really fun watching a GS specialist entering a downhill with the hope to just sneak into the points. Not all racers target the overall but it adds to the event following the ones who do. Throughout the season you’ll have athletes “racing” each other without even being on the same hill. They’ll know that a rival in the overall had a good race on the Saturday in a slalom and they know they have to have a good downhill on the Sunday to stay in the hunt for example. I will say the broadcasts, announcers and the governing body do a much better job highlighting it than cycling does and that makes a big difference.

  9. I didn’t realize there were two Shawns commenting with the best spelling of Shawn. I’ll use Shawn C in the future and I only made the skiing comment. The other ones were from the other Shawn.

  10. simple… get a production studio to do a quick 1.5 minute video for each and every race on the calendar where a narrator explains the history, location, rating and what teams are invited.. then have an accompanying infographic in multiple languages. make those videos appear on the splash page for current and upcoming races. make these all shareable by social media, so when P-R is on, I can tell my facebook friends why I care about the race so much and maybe some new fans will come around..

    I see this as a minimal investment, with costs probably mimicking the business model of Behind THE Barriers…

  11. As well to add to confusion we have races which are controlled by private entities ( ASO, Amgen, etc)
    This adds to problem of branding and cross-marketing.

    • Agreed and the private and fragmented race ownership is a big issue the sport with competing races and different TV rights deals. But you can still promote the calendar as a whole without stepping too much individual races. If anything explaining the system should enhance each private race.

  12. Right, the coding is unique but it also retains consistency with another categorization: climbs. Race categories more or less match climb category assignment(s) within a race which, as far as I gather, are easy to understand once clarified since I don’t see too many blogs decrying that process. In most cases, climb category assigments only have to be explained once and it is clearly understood with little confusion after the fact (save the healthy banter surrounding actual “over-categorizing” certain climbs in a particular race to give the appearance of difficulty to attract viewers/sponors/augment prestige, or the understating of climb category for other strategic reasons). Take wire gauge numbers for example: the smaller the number, the thicker the wire. Done. May not make sense at first but once you know the rule then you are informed and can work with it and it ain’t so bad. Now I’m wondering about an HC-gauge wire…yeesh!

    All that said, I applaud this discussion because it shows people are interested and care. The nomenclature could change to trendy terms, or any other process, but it’s all just semantics and for me personally it all comes down to tradition. How many other aspects of modern-day cycling are driven by tradition? I’m not saying I’m not open to change or sport reforms over time because that has so many benefits but labelling race (and climb) categories the way it is done now gives a sense of timelessness, and I like that because it connects us to when this all started. It also requires that I TAKE THE TIME to learn about the sport, which leads back to the point about ease of sourcing information which I agree is not easy under current guises; perhaps if it was then maybe the actual category assignments (2.HC, 2.1, etc) would be more embraced/less criticized. Of note, when reading a race calendar the current method of categorization info is easily digested. If long-winded, funky, (supposidly) easy-to-understand terms were used they might have to be listed with acronyms/abbreviations in order to fit the chart size, accompanied by a legend to explain/clarify. Twice the effort.

    Now, the idea of a UCI points leader jersey is a cool idea and would help to highlight riders/teams in the peleton from afar (especially in 2014’s all-black jersey-ed peleton it would seem). But now we are talking about yet another colour floating around out there. Will it be a different colour for different races, just like the individual race leader’s jersey is (yellow = Tour de France, pink = Giro d’Italia, red = Vuelta a Espania, etc)? At one point last year then, J Rod could’ve worn both at the same time, so which one? In those cases typically the “other” jersey not worn is handed to the next contender but then the realtime, at-a-glance, view would not be a true representation of the status quo and yet again, an explanation would have to be attached to as to why. More confusion. Perhaps instead a different coloured race number for the current UCI points leader.

    Speaking of which, I’d like to see a unique race number for the person who won the previous day’s stage, even if they happened to also the most combative (I see Chavanel, Voekler, Gerrans here…). In these cases, one of the two numbers could be red (combative) and the other, say, black (previous day’s winner) with yellow digits. I can hear you asking already: what if that person was also the current UCI points leader, where does a special-coloured race number fit in under your proposed system? And the answer is: I have no clue. Maybe instead of a coloured race number for the previous day’s winner there was a checkered band across the top of the race number: discrete and effective.

    Going for a ride. Time for some CAT 3 climb intervals…at least I’ve been told it’s a 3. We’ll see…

    • +1

      Although – as a relative newcomer to pro cycling, I do find the discrepancies between what is and isn’t an ‘HC climb’ and the differences between climb categories between races a bit confusing? Is there an international standard to these things? Cheers!

  13. it all gets very complicated when you look at the big picture! i think this is the UCIs problem – they’re tying to get everything right but that means nothing ends up happening as you can’t get everything to line up together. some great ideas in this thread but so many posts contain contradictions in themselves, let alone relative to other posts.

    cycling is quite unique with this complexity both within race tactics and the nature of the calendar. its both part of the sports appeal and one of its worst issues. and we’re really only talking about road cycling, not cycling as a whole which includes road, track, mountain bike, cross – each of which has numerous sub-divisions/variety of events. plenty to please everyone, but if you try to talk about “the sport of cycling” or “the best cyclist” then you’re going to get confusion pretty quick and the mainstream media/public don’t like that.

    i think the main point is that perhaps the UCI just need to deal with the simple things in the short term, tidy up the mess one bit at a time until you get to a point where its manageable to start looking at the big picture – yes, there will be contradictions and confusion while you do it but that’s nothing new

  14. The WorldTour concept seems better suited to rewarding teams as a whole rather than individuals. The UCI are trying (not very hard, going by their website) to ‘brand’ something that is very hard to quantify: “Who was the best rider for the season?”.

    Would it not work better to realize this should be a team-based competition and actually award real ‘prizes’ (for example: monetary rewards, or something like first choice of hotels on a grand tour…may not seem like much but it could mean more to the riders who have to do the work )?

    I don’t know….there isn’t really a clear answer, but our sport should try to bring a more concise presentation to the world at large but still not forget the roots that make it so epic.

    • Agreed but note these sports have way more money and also more control over the calendar. But it’s the standard to aim for. I went for tennis because the ATP doesn’t run Melbourne, Wimbledon, Flushing Meadow or Rolland Garros but it still provides a compelling website.

  15. I agree with DaveR, the whole WorldTour, with its different specialities seems to point to being a team prize, rewards could be financial, motivational, extra stripes on team jerseys etc.. It doesn’t suit individuals for the reasons mentioned in many comments. In Stage races, the winners of individual stages could be rewarded, with the overall winner getting more, stages could be classified in difficulty, or just an even spread, whose to say a glorious breakaway on a rolling stage is less worthy than a HC summit finish.
    Top finisher per team gets the points.

    • But we’re beginning to redesign the whole sport. My worry is that the UCI needs to show it can handle the basics first before it ventures into anything more complicated.

      What if we just stuck to the sport as it is today, only with clearer labels, a rainbow logo and a proper website?

  16. FYI because it’s not the first time you make this mistake
    Country: Colombia not Columbia
    Team: HTC Columbia not Colombia

    ps: great article, huge fan, thanks

  17. It just needs a bit of brand marketing.

    Nothing seems complex to an insider though i agree that nothing is explained well either.

    .HC, .1 etc matches the climbs within a race – understand one and the other becomes obvious.
    Even WorldTour, ProConti, Pro seems understandable but needs brand marketing.
    The structure of one calendar with varying elements is no different to a stage race either, TT, Climbs, Sprint days etc.

    The years calendar and teams competing in it, mirrors the GrandTours like TdF…..marketing could do with understanding this. Most likely, UCI struggle to find a marketing team able to understand it.

  18. Thanks for explaining the different levels and race code as I find it difficult to follow. Why use 2 instead of s for stage races? It makes difficult for the casual viewer & those we need to get from casual viewer (or just TdF viewer) into avid fan. I also think the world tour doesn’t know what it wants to be. Is it about inviduals? As cycling at one level is an individul sport- an individual wins the race or is it about the team? The more I watch it the more it becomes a team sport even though we always concentrate on the individual. Watching cavendish or kittel or froome or nibali being delivered to the finish line is like watching Barcelona setting up a goal for Messi to finish. I think the world tour should be more about the teams. The top individual points scorer should be like the top goal scorer with real recognition given to the top teams & also the introduction of proper promotion & relegation would help.

    As already mentioned It needs better branding from what level races are through to the website.

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