The New World Tour

Christian Prudhomme

The UCI announced it had reached agreement with teams and race organisers for the upcoming World Tour reforms in a press release this week. Tomorrow’s World Tour will look a lot like today. A lack of vision or sensible stability?

Three Year Licences? Maybe
Teams will get three year licences. Confusingly some teams have had four year licences but they’ve always been subject to an annual review. The review has four pillars:

  • Admin: having all the paperwork in place
  • Ethical: an undefined set of criteria relating to fair-play and anti-doping
  • Financial: having enough money to cover the projected team budget, especially wages
  • Sporting: the team’s ranking, is it among the top-18 teams in the world?

What’s new for 2017 is that a team with a three year licence can ignore the final point, the sporting criteria. It can be sure of a start in the Tour de France, the golden ticket, as long as it satisfies the other three criteria. This provides some stability to a team but it’s not absolute, for example if a team loses a co-sponsor in 2018 then it could still trip up on the financial criteria; a doping scandal could trigger the ethical aspect and so on.

As well as risks to teams there’s also risk to fans and race organisers. Imagine a team that has a three year licence but loses a sponsor early and, unable to secure another backer, it has an exodus of talent leaving it with a rump of riders, just enough to meet the minimum criteria. Normally it would get relegated to Pro Conti faster than you can say “Europcar” but now this ghost ship can sail on in the World Tour until its licence expires. In fact it doesn’t have to happen by accident, a team could lose some talent and decide it’s not worth the bother of signing riders with points or results since they can ride on with a duff roster for a year or two. Now if we get one weak team it’s not that bad but should this happen to three or four squads then it’s a genuine problem with berths being hogged by weak teams. Unlikely, but the risk is there, can it be mitigated?

Perhaps the greater reassurance to sponsors comes from the other plank of team reforms, the so-called ISSUL audit element referred to by the UCI as the cahier des charges. Too often sponsors don’t come into the sport for fear of doping scandals but the ISSUL scheme is an innovation designed to provide reassurance and reduce the likelihood of a rider going rogue.

Three Year Licences? Yes…
One area where a three year licence can be promised is the calendar with race organisers sure of a three year deal in the World Tour. Existing events are promised this and new races, if approved, will get this. The Tour of Poland seems very happy with this.

Outsourced calendar
It’s hard to have a vision when the picture is still incomplete. Some areas of the canvas are a work-in-progress. See the the creation of the Professional Calendar Working Group announced in the press release. Whether the PCWG becomes a must-know acronym remains to be seen but the point is that this body will discuss calendar reform. This signifies this area is unresolved. It’s going to have “two representatives each from the AIGCP (teams) and AIOCC (event organisers), plus one observer representing the riders” which suggests the UCI is retreating from setting the calendar.

Same Calendar
The existing races on the World Tour calendar will remain and new events can apply to join. This means no streamlining or reduction of events, instead there will be more races if they want to apply to join. It’s not yet clear if the number of races remains whether there will be a reduction in race days for some events but given the race organisers now sit on the PCWG they’ll surely vote against shorter races (fewer days = fewer TV rights, stage hosting fees etc).

Cycling Isn’t Formula 1
The UCI uses the phrase “strengthening the pyramid” as part of its objectives and this means the top races are part of a wider calendar. Here’s the Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme speaking to Velonews:

we remind everyone about the idea of a pyramid structure. Cycling is not like Formula 1. The top of the pyramid is more solid when the base is bigger and healthier. When a champion like Vincenzo Nibali, who’s won all three grand tours, can win a race like the Coppa Bernocchi, that’s fantastic. This connection between the top races and the regional races is fundamental and should continue to exist

The significance of this shouldn’t be underestimated. It means there’s not going to be any breakaway league and attempts to engineer this will contradict a central plank of the policy. The World Tour won’t be an exclusive circuit, à la Formula 1, instead it’s a premium calendar but riders and teams can elect to compete elsewhere as well. This suits cycling where a rider on the comeback or with local interests may want to prefer a major World Tour race and ride a lesser event on the same weekend.

UCI World Tour

We’re promised a new visual identity of the UCI WorldTour for 2017, hopefully this includes a dedicated website. The UCI already has a new World Tour logo and is using this on its website although it’s instructed teams to use the old logo on their 2016 jerseys.

Where’s the vision?
Brian Cookson wrote in last week that when the original 2013 version of the reforms leaked they went down badly with France. This maybe true of the design it’s surely a procedural fault too because the UCI didn’t own its reforms and make the case for them, they either emerged inside a PDF buried on the website or leaked to Tuttobici. The same thing is happening again with the UCI’s press release which is all we get. There’s no accompanying presentational video and not even a dry set of PDF slides to set out what it’ll look like.

Steady tempo
If the reforms above are timid and gradual that’s not necessarily a bad thing. Look around and the sport isn’t broken. There is a problem with sponsorship but a large share of the blame lies with the doping scandals of the past rather than the administrative designs of the UCI rulebook. Even if you wanted to see big change who in the sport could deliver this?

ASO and the UCI haven’t filed for divorce

The UCI has announced reforms to the World Tour and the future will look a lot like today. For all the talks, meeting and seminars the World Tour in 2017 looks more like a tweak to the rulebook rather than a reshaping of the sport. Some wanted bolder change but they never made a strong case in public for it. Visions of a Formula 1 system of a closed circuit have gone, if anyone wants this they’re going to have to form their own breakaway league.

If you’re feeling underwhelmed by it all, think of the counter-factual where we get the teams, races and the UCI at war with ASO threatening to take its races off the calendar, Velon boycotting the Tour and more. Far-fetched? Only a few years ago the UCI was threatening riders who dared to start ASO races. The 2017 World Tour might not look that different but better small change than big failure?

46 thoughts on “The New World Tour”

  1. Well done. Thanks for pointing out the sport’s not really broken, but badly wounded by the continuous drumbeat of doping scandal. If they can’t get a handle on this to the point team sponsors who are not the usual crew of rich chamois-sniffers, bike industry, etc. things will muddle along as they are for the most part. I think those who wish for the glory daze of multi-national, big-money involvement (basically the late LeMond and all through the Tex era) need to realize those years were far from the norm and are likely not coming back. I don’t see this as a bad thing. Finally, thanks-be-to-gawd that at ASO doesn’t support the wet-dream of pro cycling following F1’s example of how to ru(i)n a sport!!!

    • As is so often the case, I find that I agree with what Larry says.
      What cycling needs to focus on is the doping issue. That will largely sort out everything else.
      Most of the ideas for ‘improving’ cycling that we’ve heard over the last few years would be detrimental to the sport.
      Also, the actual aim of most of these ideas is to put money in a very select number of pockets.
      Yours, Statler.

      • +1 and +1
        today’s depressing news out of the UK about a junior and a masters champ being busted highlights how far we have got to go across the board to get any credibility back. If comprehensive testing is always going to be too expensive (and behind the science) I can’t see any alternative to lifetime bans and prize money clawbacks to create a deterrent that makes the choice to dope a far more difficult one than it is now.

      • Ironically, J Evans, if the doping issue was sorted out, it could improve the sport’s value and be a catalyst for further change.
        If they don’t, reform / financial input may be necessary anyway.
        Change is-a-coming and it’s when and not if, in my opinion (rightly or wrongly).
        Wang Jianlin is courting both ASO and RCS for a reason – there’s potentially money to be had in the future.
        This ‘reform’ that Inner Ring has described is merely a holding response and the UCI know it. The sport’s future direction does not lie in their hands, so they’re not rocking the boat.
        ps Oleg Tinkoff’s taste in team kit is bizarre!

        • Mercifully, ASO makes money now and has strong cultural reasons to hang on to their races. I’m hoping that’s enough. I’m more worried about RCS, due to their parlous financial state.
          As Wang Jianlin has about $30 billion, he could be after these purely for vanity reasons. Seems most likely really: if you have that kind of cash you are never going to add to it signifcantly through cycling.

          Noel’s points about ‘lifetime bans and prize money clawbacks’ are what cycling actually needs – and all teams could have a clause in their contracts whereby dopers have to pay a a large sum to the team. (None of this is flawless, obviously – just look at Androni – but what else can you do?)

          Reform should be about making the sport better – not making money for people who are already wealthy.
          I fail to understand why so many fans think that profitability is the primary aim – I suspect it’s because that’s what our societies drill into us is the aim of everything.

          • Mr Jianlin is reportedly making similar overtures in various sports, as well as cycling. Whether it’s vanity or a grand master plan, but he’s been described as a “man of Napoleonic ambition”.
            That sounds rather ominous.

          • Sport wise, Wang Jianlin probably has more passion for football. He once owned the most successful Chinese Football team. Snatching up Triathlon/Iron man corporation is a logical move for him as these are gaining popularity quickly in China’s new middle class. Unless he’s planning to suck up the excessive capacity in Spanish real estate however, can’t really see him buying the Grand Tours.

          • Apparently he is eyeing Sky sport as well. Would be fun if he actually buys Sky at the end of the day. Though owning a club/team wasn’t his cup of tea as you lose money with clubs (he’s had his fun with the football club. Whilst he did by 20% of Atletico Madrid, according to himself, it was offered to him at 40% discount on evaluation). According to interview in Chinese, He’d much prefer companies that own/ran sports events as they create intellectual properties. Companies with board casting rights would do though he is worried about not being able to keep those rights.

            Neither was his sports company shopping spree a vanity project. He only buys companies that are profitable (so Tour is more likely than Giro. Though it depends on whether Giro makes money pre-financial costs). He’s investment in winter sports, for example, compliments his snow themed tourism/real estate investment in Northern China. He’s planning to hold top level events in his Ski resorts in China.

            Can’t really see Grand Tours helping tourism/real estate in the same way as winter sports can. The only reason he would buy the races is the fact that sports are very hot for investors in China. Buying top level events and package them to be IPOed in China could make him tons of money.

            Look at the IPO theme from the brighter side, he may invest some of those money back. Also, him recouping the cost of acquisition quickly only means more stability for the races should he end up buying the races.

            Buy the way, he does have a few choicy word to say regarding the closed door, mafia-ish nature of international sports federations based in Europe (specifically Swissland).

          • Good info – thanks.

            ‘Buy the way, he does have a few choicy word to say regarding the closed door, mafia-ish nature of international sports federations based in Europe (specifically Swissland).’
            Is he unaware of the concept of irony then?

          • “Buy the way, he does have a few choicy word to say regarding the closed door, mafia-ish nature of international sports federations based in Europe (specifically Swissland).”

            Can’t help but chuckle at this, because presumably ownsership by a single wealthy man is better, right?

          • “Buy the way…” And he’s aware that his CEO Mr. Blatter, is the nephew of the Mr. Blatter who took significant bribes? Would his Mr. Blatter have learned how to do business from his uncle?

            It sounds more like he’s aware of the mafia-ish nature of International sports, has learned how to play the game, and is willing to play the game.

  2. Good outcome, although one would think an administratively expensive process generating a lot of hot air and bluster based on some poorly conceived ideas for changes going forward. The sport has always found its own pathway, either through team or event sponsorship plus the determination of individuals, without the interference of meddling organizations who bring no additional money to the table.

    The UCI should concentrate its efforts on one of the roots of the current problem. How to deal with debris of the post LA years, in order to regain the confidence of everybody.

  3. Sad that they’ve dropped promotion and relegation, though I can see why if they don’t have enough applicants for the top tier.

    The thing that looks weird to me is that we now have “the World Tour” and “the Women’s World Tour”. It’s a small point, maybe, but shouldn’t it be “Men’s World Tour” to match?

    • Re “Women’s World Tour.” I assume women are allowed on World Tour teams, although we have not yet seen a female rider who would be up to it. Similarly for tennis, golf etc. A proper distinction might be “Open” vs “Women’s.” Of course the debate about “what is a woman [for sporting purposes]?” has already been broached in Track and Field.

  4. I would use tennis as a good example of how you can create a ‘world tour’ type structure (and how to do a website).

    If you look at the schedule section of the website for a start ( There is a clear narrative to Grand Slams (Grand Tours?), Masters (Monuments?), ATP500 (other classics?) ATP250 (the rest). There are also challenger series as well.

    The best players appear at Slams and Masters events but there is often clashes with the ATP500 events (Queens and Halle before Wimbledon for example) but you get a good spread of top players across them.

    They also manage to have a glitzy end of season tournament that doesn’t have the history but ticks all the sponsor and fan boxes so the players appear. Finally there is a good correlation between men’s and women’s events.

    (oh and let’s not start on doping controls in tennis…)

    • Great point – can anyone tell me why cycling is the only sport with a publicly obsessed doping problem?!? Didn’t Operation Puerto’s (for one example) ringmaster say he treated many non-cyclists too?

      Do tennis players get tested?!? How many 4-6-hour battles have we seen in major grand slams? There’s no way that endurance-based doping wouldn’t make a huge impact on these athletes.

      • Great point – can anyone tell me why cycling is the only sport with a publicly obsessed doping problem?!?

        Basically. Tennis has historically been played as a leisure sport, by upper-class people. Cycling has historically been a lower-class competition.

        This has two repercussions.

        1. There’s the incentive factor. When you have a trust-fund and a chateau, there’s less incentive to cheat, and less incentive to test, because you still have the trust-fund and chateau, whether you win or lose. If you need to have a day job as a coal miner in the Nord if you don’t do well, (viz Stablinski), there’s way more incentive for some people to cheat, and even more incentive to test by people who don’t want to cheat.

        2. What I like to call, the “Buffy would never do that sort of thing” defense. Tennis has historically been a very clubby (literally) affair, and the referees, and the umpires would all sit down at the bar of the club and drink together after the competition, whereas in cycling, the riders go to their crappy hotel rooms, and the UCI commissaires go back to their chateaux, and don’t generally associate with each other outside of the race.

        • haha, that’s not what I meant. Cycling will get stronger and stronger if we continue to clean up our doping image. At the same time, the skewed public perception that cycling is the only sport with a doping problem is grossly unfair.

          • DMC- You’re right that there is a lot of doping in other sports. It makes sense that the least lucrative sport (which also has the most decentralized organizational structure) would be the first to become unable to hide its problem from the public by “controlling the narrative.” But besides that it should be said that sheer physical prowess– the thing that gets enhanced by doping– is more closely related to winning in cycling than it is in other sports. Of course there is more to cycling than putting watts onto the pedals, but superior physical strength goes an awfully long way. In cycling there is really no analogue to the kind of otherworldly skills possessed by someone like Tiger Woods or Rafa Nadal, and those skills are the primary factor that determines the winner in their respective sports.

          • Tennis and more specifically Rafa Nadal aren’t the best examples when defending a specificity of cycling regarding *actual* doping ^__^
            Obviously tennis – as most major sports – has less conflict among social agents than cycling, and those conflicts are what produces a “doping problem” instead of just… more or less formally allowing doping like tennis, NBA and many other *skills sports* do.
            Besides, as a totally marginal note, I’d add that my personal experience of the sport would suggest that the supposed dichotomy between “more physical-prowess-oriented” and “more skills oriented” sports is quite weak, hard to support from a theoretical point of view (to start with, marking a difference between skills and physical capabilities). “Endurance sports” might be an option to broadly define something, but it tells us more about what *kind* of doping you’re taking, than about the relative importance of any doping as such in the sport. There’s quite a lot of doping in boules… or chess.

      • DMC – Are you not following the current athletics furore? Cycling is certainly not the only sport with an embarassingly public doping problem. The sport with the most banned participants in the UK… rugby….

        • Absolutely, I am following it. And, while I’m not happy to see that these sports are making bad headlines, I’m glad that people are FINALLY seeing that other sports have a big issue.

          My only issue with the Athletics situation is that this was not uncovered by any international drug testing. It was initiated by two whistle-blowers who were caught and banned by russian sports.

          If you ask me, this is just as bad, or worse than what Lance did. This is an entire ring of doping run by the Russian Federation, involving every sport they control. Look at the 2014 Sochi Olympics medal table – Russia won these olympics, and dominated endurance based sports, eg. they swept the men’s 50km cross country skiing podium (but, haha, Canada killed them in hockey, proving it takes skill, not doping to win at that game).

          This goes back to Inrng’s post a few days ago. Cycling needs a union to protect the image of its athletes. Our athletes get a tainted/tarnished reputation and all the blame goes on them, which makes sponsors reluctant to touch our sport. Sponsorship only comes when large companies want to get involved in people/athletes. It is the stories of the athletes that brings $$, sponsors, fans, etc. into a sport. No one in our sport really seems to get that, and that’s why we’re a third-tier sport. Our richest company (ASO) only makes $30M per year (after-tax profits), whereas that’s the same salary that 1 baseball player makes.

          PHEW… and breathe. sorry for my rant.

          have a good day people.

          • Uhmmm… I don’t know much about hockey, but I know enough about doping to grant you that if Canada’s players who were proving those wonderful *skills* are NHL athletes, they weren’t probably less juiced than the Russian (quite the opposite).
            Something about NHL’s apparently laughable antidoping program can be read here:

            Nice point about personalities bringing the money in. Sponsors have never been very much afraid about doping and doping scandals as such.
            (Like Armstrong’s was the first cycling ever had ^__^ To start with, Lance himself brought in huge money and sponsors right after… Festina… in a moment when everyone with a minimal knowledge of the sport knew how business went, and therefore what kind of stepping up was implied by USPS domination).

            Sponsorships went on scandal after scandal, front page after front page… and many times the sponsors themselves were very aware of the “ways of the world” and quite happy with it.
            Sponsors walked away only when they felt they weren’t allowed, for any reason, to… *get away* with the implications of the victories they yearned whatever the health price for the athletes. I acknowledge that there’s a narrative now on about uncertainty of the investment and so on… perhaps that’s a part of the problem, indeed, but without doubt there must be something more.

          • Yes, NHL has a pretty poor drug policy – i shouldn’t have mentioned it.

            Anyways, you say that “sponsors have never been very much afraid about doping and doping scandals”.

            What? How many sponsors has cycling lost because of doping scandals? T-Mobile, Rabobank, US Postal, Discovery, OLN, Festina. You’re right they didn’t initially mind the doping, but one thing you’re completely wrong about, they did mind the scandal.

          • quite surprised Nike haven’t stepped right in to fill the gap – the muckier the better seems to be their mantra… Justin Gatlin? sure, why not!
            I guess all those geeky looking skinny white guys doesn’t quite fit their ‘urban vibe’…

          • @DMC
            It depends on how much you tend to believe to press releases… 😉
            Many corporations use the doping excuse to step out from team funding programs which despite being – sometimes – “private” have sort of a “national”, “State” spirit – hence quitting the funds without a *noble reason* might have image consequences within the broader public.
            Another example: same goes for German TVs, we’ve speaken about the subject on these pages some time ago.

            However, I was really referring to a previous phase (like the previous fifty years of cycling or so)… and not as much to individual sponsorships as to the fact that even if a sponsor went out under a doping storm, others were usually ready to replace it, which apparently isn’t the case anymore. And *that* is the problem.

          • @Gabriele
            The speed and reach of social media has probably changed the picture for sponsors. Bad news spreads very quickly these days.
            Amusing point about Nike, and probably some truth in that too.

          • @XNight
            Interesting POV. Nevertheless, it’s not really like that… the internet/social networks numbers remain generally well below the impact of traditional media. It won’t be like this forever, obviously enough, but for now what we observe is a widespread overrating of 2.0 news among the public and the stakeholders, mainly generated by a sense of relative novelty and some shocking single situations. Stll, a lot of the material which is (re)circulating through the social media has been produced and spread by traditional media (possibly through their electronic version). However, I still consider interesting what you suggest because – sadly enough? – many decision-makers just don’t make decisions based on any assessment about the “state of facts”: they’re easily won over by supposed *trends* and cheap rallying cries. If enough high-placed people believe something is relevant, it will become such… irrespective of its actual social or economic impact.

        • A little unfair, as “rugby” is actually two different sports with different governing bodies. But it is fair to say that the 2 sports with the most banned participants in the UK are the 2 different flavours of rubgy.

    • I’ve used the ATP website in the past as an example of how the UCI could do a website for the World Tour to help with a hub of news, the calendar, rankings, previews and more rather than the sleepy page on the UCI website and it looks like we’re getting the UCI gala now which could tie the women’s and mens’s calendars together, more so if they obliged a Women’s Abu Dhabi Tour.

        • My point about the end of season event is that it can be the most boring race of the season – it doesn’t matter. Its purpose is to get everybody together with sponsors, perhaps try some new ideas for race types and Tv coverage.
          They can have a play with this and leave the grand tours and monuments alone! 😉

          • They can have an end of season gala, and have a new race, but they should do it somewhere that is

            a) not pancake flat
            b) has actual fans

            Montreal and QC are brand-new races, and there are tens of thousands of fans lining the course cheering wildly (I know, because I’m one of them). The race in Abu Dhabi was miles of desert roads, ending in an empty F1 stadium. It’s just not a good idea.

  5. Tennis is very much an individual sport with a minor deviation too doubles as a consolation event.
    Thus it can be segmented with little lose of sponsorship!

    A cycling team format going in that direction may make for a round peg in a square hole?

  6. I feel quite relieved after reading this article. I was imagining all kinds of races in deserts, 2 weeks grand tours and a cut on all races in Europe! Or something to that affect. This seems quite sensible. Cycling isn’t broken, it’s hugely popular. There’s room for teams to make more money, but as in every aspect of life those who have their hands on the money aren’t keen on sharing it. The tennis parallel seems like a good one. Big events that all the big boys turn up to, long standing events that are basically used as prep and smaller events that you can turn up to if you want to. Prudhomme’s words are sensible, having big stars like Nibali turning up to the smaller Italian classics, or any one of the Belgian stars doing the smaller Belgian one day races is definitely a good thing. There is room for some tweaking, such as a competition for classic specialists like the old World Cup and some races in the US, even an end of season glitz fest in Abu Dhabi or wherever, but largely things are good.

    • Agreed – I love the current format of cycling. Every season, month, week usually has a really great race to follow. But, the complexity is really overwhelming at first, so I understand the kneejerk reaction people had to try and simplify it, a la Formula 1.

      It took me years to really appreciate the calendar as it is, but I’m so glad we’re sticking to a Euro focused calendar.

  7. These small UCI changes are surely better than before.

    Tinkoff bailing is a big deal.
    I think we are knew this was coming, and Sagan tried to bring it up, but then stopped have way through his victory speech. Perhaps Tinkoff is bluffing to force a show down with ASO/French biking.

    To beat a dead horse – The finances just don’t make since for teams or for events.

    It would not surprise me if there if the networth of cycling enthusiasts in the US is greater than Tennis.. or at least within the same magnitude… but what difference does it make if no one is really in charge.

    Hell it wouldn’t surprise me if video gaming as a sport starts having more money than cycling.

    • Just a greedy show-off, who people have paid far too much attention to.
      His decision is indicative of nothing in cycling.
      The sport is what matters, not the profitability.
      Sponsors will come back if they sort out the doping issue. The UCI needs to deal with the big thing, not all these little – and generally bad – ideas they have.

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