The UCI has approved its own reforms to men’s pro cycling. In a press release issued in the middle of the women’s time trial race yesterday it announced several changes to the World Tour regarding team licences, the calendar and the rankings.
As part of the changes, three year UCI WorldTour licences will be granted to a maximum of 18 UCI WorldTeams for the 2017-2019 seasons. It is hoped that this will encourage investment leading to increased stability in team structures. Licences will be granted based on ethical, financial, sporting, administrative and organisational criteria.
First up is a three year licence for World Tour teams. The idea is stability for teams as they’re not looking over their shoulder worried about relegation to Pro Conti status and losing sponsors who could flee should this happen. Nice but we need to see the detailed rules to really understand the mechanisms at work. For example being able to buy a start in the Tour de France and other top races for three consecutive years is valuable ticket so will the UCI charge more for this, or will it leave the value on the table for the teams to exploit? What happens if a team buys a three year licence but doesn’t have sponsorship for three years, would the team be expelled if it cannot pay wages? What happens if a team owns a three year licence but has a roster of turkeys, has-beens and losers – the Epedex scenario – that has no place in the big races but rides on knowing it’ll get publicity: is there a way to eject them?
In a sense we’ve seen long licences already, the current system promises serenity subject to the annual review of a team’s ethical, financial, sporting and and administrative criteria whereby the team knows if it meets the minimum requirements then it will ride on year after year. Even with longer licences it’s likely, desirable even, that a team with ethical or financial issues can have its licence shredded so the durability aspect is probably related to the sporting criteria meaning once a team gets a World Tour licence for 2017 it need not fear relegation for three years.
To further strengthen team integrity and anti-doping measures, the UCI has also developed the team’s internal operational requirements (known as the “Cahier des Charges”) which will be mandatory for all UCI WorldTeams from 2017.
The Team’s Cahier des Charges centres on ten main rules designed to ensure that all riders are properly supported and supervised. Already trialled in 2014, further testing of the system is taking place this season and next in advance of its mandatory application as a licence condition.
The integrity and anti-doping measures will be well-known to loyal readers as the ISSUL Audit, the socio-cultural analysis of team management, structures and practices. It’s a good idea in theory and the UCI sees it as working in practice after trials with several teams and is designed to ensure teams have minimum coaching and support: to ensure pro teams are professional. The UCI refers to the “cahier des charges” when this French label simply means “specification sheet”, “terms of reference” or “minimum standards”.
a limited number of new races will also be added to the UCI WorldTour from 2017, with an application process opening later in 2015. It is hoped that the addition of new high quality events will help the UCI WorldTour re-inforce its global profile as the elite series of the sport.
“Global profile” is the key phrase here. At times the UCI World Tour is like baseball’s “World Series”, a misnomer as it ignores most of the world. There’s nothing in the USA nor Asia as World Tour remains very European yet even within Europe it’s patchy: 2016 will see more racing in Andorra (population 80,000) than Germany (population 80,000,000) which deters large sponsors wanting pan-European marketing. We can expect monied events like the new Abu Dhabi race and the Dubai Tour to seek World Tour status. A paragraph mentions “current participation rules will be maintained for existing UCI WorldTour events but new rules will be set for new events” which should help the conumdrum faced by the likes of the Tour of California and Tour of Britain where they’re interested in joining the World Tour but this means they’d have to exclude many local teams that live for the TV publicity. Again we’ll have to see the detail.
New and existing UCI WordTour events and races which apply to join the series will be assessed against strict organisational standards by event organisers (the Organiser’s Cahier des Charges), ensuring the best events are included in the tour giving the calendar a more robust structure.
Some minimum standards for World Tour races would be good and we’ll have to see what these are, whether improved safety standards, better hotels or more fan-friendly things like functional websites. The test is whether existing events get pruned because they don’t meet the standards.
A reform of the rankings for men’s professional road cycling has also been taken forward with the Individual Rankings becoming universal across all events from the top to the third tier
A new rankings system is coming to replace the unloved and misunderstood systems in place at the moment with World Tour and various continental tour rankings. All this was supposed to happen for 2015 but the UCI sprung it on the teams – many read about it here first – and it was agreed to push this back. There will also be specialist rankings for the “top climber, top sprinter, top one-day rider and top stage racer”.
Like many press releases it’s interesting to read the content to also to consider what’s not being said. We’re missing all the detail, we only have the press release to go on so seeing the detail is crucial. Even if the 200 page PDF rulebook has yet to be drafted it would be helpful to have some kind of presentation about what the sport is supposed to look like in 2020 rather than two sides of A4 as it’s hard to sell this vision of the future.
Some of the bolder plans seem to have vanished, at least from the press release. You’ll remember the bigger and more controversial ideas which saw team sizes being shrunk from 30 to 22 and a first division of 16 A teams and 8 B teams, I’m reliably told all this has been binned. If teams are to get three year licences then presumably this will be on a stable basis rather than seeing the squad shrunk mid-term. Also the mooted calendar reform isn’t obvious, the plans to stop World Tour races overlapping meaning people don’t know which one to watch aren’t mentioned.
Some incremental reforms and confirmation of what we knew was coming like ISSUL audit and new rankings. Teams look set to get three year licences but there’ll surely be mechanisms to strip a licence if a team slips up. Having more races on the World Tour around the world isn’t really reform but a perpetuation of the sport’s attempts to spread around the world. It’s all going in the right direction but we need to see the detail next.