UCI Rule Changes – The Latest

Vuelta a Espana 2016

If you race you might know that moment when the pace is so furious that everyone is lined out and you’re struggling to hold the wheel in front. All you can think of is preventing a gap opening up, until the moment comes when you wonder who on earth is at the front making life so hard for you and everyone else? Well it’s not just during a race that this happens, anyone trying to follow the rules that underpin our sport must also be struggling for breath as the UCI keeps churning them revisions and new rules.

Yesterday saw the second set of rules issued this year, the new version (PDF) replaces those published on 1 January. Cyclingnews.com has picked up some of the novelties and changes but there’s more to examine.

Now a lot of these rules aren’t going to alter the racing, so skip this post if you’re not bothered about technical topics like relegation, rankings, appearance money, capping the number of race days and the status of the new World Tour races.

First let’s address the rankings, the new system was released just before Christmas. The very idea of rankings is dubious in pro cycling because riders and their race programmes are hard to compare. Is Romain Bardet better than Alexander Kristoff? Is Giacomo Nizzolo better than Richie Porte? In both cases the current rankings say yes but the table is is an exercise in arithmetic rather than the direct comparison of riders with different body types, career goals and race programmes. It’s like trying to rank track and field athletes regardless of their chosen speciality or to list the world’s best wines in order. By all means have a go.

As a recap the UCI’s World Tour calendar has bloated expanded this year with ten new events comprising 28 days of racing added without much rhyme or reason. For clarity in this piece let’s call term these New World Tours or “NEWTS”.

Now the secondary status of the NEWTS is confirmed twice over by the new rules. For starters they have fewer ranking points so a win in Dwars door Vlaanderen, a NEWT, is worth less than the E3 Harelbeke which has been in the World Tour since 2012; victory in the Tour of California, a NEWT, earns fewer points than the Tour of Poland. This is understandable as it reflects the tradition and prestige of the established events but complicated too because fans can’t be expected to look up whether the Strade Bianche or the Eneco Tour is a great race or a newbie NEWT.

To confuse things further, the new Rule 2.15.011b (pictured) says that when it comes to determing the team’s continued presence in the World Tour they’ll be ranked on sum of points earned from races that were on in the World Tour last year, so any points gained in the NEWTS don’t count. Now this is being done to ensure teams are ranked on a comparable basis, that their status and survival isn’t based on doing more races but derived from the days when they all went head-to-ahead. But it means the public UCI World Tour ranking is not the one that necessarily drive the riders and teams, they will continue to be pre-occupied by this hidden ranking because their existence depends on it.

Another big change with the new system is that points go down to 60th place in races, the idea being to reward more riders with the valuable currency of UCI points. This is true but there’s an steep gradient with only crumbs on offer for 30-60th places. But there are points to be earned by adopting stealthy strategies, for example placing 11th overall in a NEWT stage race is hard but probably unseen but it’s worth as much as glorious stage win. Similarly Finishing 20th in the Ride London Classic and you’ll get as many points as you do for wearing the sacred maglia rosa for a day in the Giro. So look out for races where a big breakaway is away for the day and contests the win… and then 10 minutes later riders surge off the front of the idle peloton in a bid to secure 17th place and some points.

Who is paying who?

The next big change is the participation rules for the new World Tour races. Traditionally the World Tour teams have raced all the World Tour races, a compulsory factor that ensured the best teams at the biggest races. This is no longer the case as Rule 2.15.191 says the new events must invite all the World Tour teams. Only if a World Tour team declines to start can the event issue an invitation to a Pro Conti team.

If the event fails to secure a minimum of 10 World Tour teams on the start line “during two consecutive editions, the registration of the said event shall be withdrawn from the UCI WorldTour calendar”. Did events applying for World Tour status know this would happen and do they pay a lower UCI calendar fee given their inferior status?

1-800 Velon: the need to invite and woo ten teams in order to keep a NEWT race in the World Tour opens up a curious political aspect. The Ride London race takes place next year on the busiest weekend with the Tour of Poland and the Clasica San Sebastian also on, and all just the week after the Tour de France has ended. If the British race can’t get 10 World Tour teams then it’ll be dropped out of the calendar, what to do? Well it’s done a deal with the Velon group of teams meaning they’ll all start and so the race’s status is assured. Now any new World Tour event will be thinking of doing the same otherwise they’ll be dropped from the calendar which gives the Velon group considerable bargaining power considering it represents 10 of the 18 World Tour teams. Now many teams want to ride the Tour of California because of the TV reach and audience demographic but the same can’t be said of the Tour of Turkey who will have to start waving some lira to swell the start list or get bounced out of the World Tour. It doesn’t have to be Velon but of the ten members act as a block then it does because if they don’t go the race gets demote. Indeed if the Velon teams wanted to up their beef with ASO they could refuse to show up at the newly promoted GP Frankfurt which has just been bought by ASO and thus relegating ASO’s new acquisition. That’s speculation but back to reality and new rules (2.15.239-241) say that teams must now declare appearance fees, at least in private to the UCI and their auditors. The creation of this rule seems to hint that appearance fees are becoming a thing and need to be accounted for and monitored but exact drafting isn’t watertight so creative types may find a way to avoid declaring these.

Shifting sands et cetera

Team Licences and Relegation
Team licences have traditionally been awarded on the basis of four criteria: sporting, admin, financial and ethical. Now comes a fifth one with the “organisational” criteria (Rule 2.15.011) which are detailed in a separate annex to the rules (PDF). This is a big change which involves several points:

  • preparation: World Tour teams must employ full time trainers and work out an agreed training and race schedule with riders which allows for training, competition and rest periods during the season
  • coaching: sports directors and coaching staff are to be separated, the rule says only “qualified” sports directors can train riders
  • care: teams must have a doctor and written policies on medical access and the use of internal data
  • workload: a rider can’t do more than 85 days of racing a year. In case you’re wondering last year 32 riders did 86 days or more
  • certification: people occupying roles within a team need to back up their role with qualification or certification, eg a team doctor needs to show the UCI their medical papers

These points incorporate much of the ISSUL audit principles explained here before which is good. But these new rules are woolier than a warehouse of merino undervests. For example they stipulate a rider can’t do more than 85 days of racing a year but the very next paragraph says if this happens it needs to be explained. Here it is:

We go from “must not” racing more than 85 days to “may be required” that the rider had rest if they exceeded in in the space of a few pixels. Similarly what does “qualified” mean when it comes to coaching? Do you need a paper certificate, a sports science diploma, can years of empircal experience count? Can Jonathan Vaughters coach Pierre Rolland and Joe Dombrowksi, can Steven de Jongh can train Alberto Contador because they’re managers, not sports scientists or qualified coaches.

Relegation: currently there are 18 teams in the World Tour and the rules confirm the plans to shrink to 16. When? It’s up to the teams because if a team stops then a berth will be taken away, currently no team will be relegated. In other words were an existing team to fold then it takes its licence with it, so, for the sake of illustration if the Abu Dhabi sponsors back out as quickly as they appeared then there would be 17 teams and eventually the maximum number of teams can be 17. So is relegation off the cards? Not quite. It is off the agenda for the 2018 season as any World Tour team among the existing 18 is secure but for 2019 and beyond then the lowest ranked team will be placed alongside new applicants, be they Pro Conti or teams starting from scratch, and the best squad gets the licence. Best squad? That’s on the basis of their best five riders by points.

Confused? There’s a lot to digest and it’s complicated too. As a package these changes are clumsy, you can see why some have occurred but they feel like a temporary design before further reforms. Some things make sense, others confuse and bits of them are drafted in ambiguous terms. This constant regulatory tinkering, some of it announced the week before the season starts, means everyone has a hard time trying to keep up.

The good news is that a lot of this is behind the scenes, you don’t need to know about rule 2.15.011 or worry about someone’s definition of a coach to enjoy a race. Most of the above doesn’t alter the fundamental premise of a bike race being, in the words of Marzio Bruseghin via Eddy Merckx – The Cannibal, “200 idiots trying to cross a white line” or more poetically a dash across the landscape. Most of the above won’t alter the racing, even if the rankings shake-up could play on the tactics at times.

But if you want to understand the structures behind the sport then it’s to keep up. You might wonder if your preferred team faces relegation or whether your local World Tour race will thrive or fail. The answers aren’t obvious. Even close study of the new rules – reading the PDFs so you don’t have to – is frustrating: first because they keep changing which means even avid bloggers give up investing their time in following what’s going on (why master the latest rules if they’ll be revised within weeks or months?); second because the changes are contradictory and complex. If it’s bad enough for you, imagine if you’re a team manager handling sponsorship?

28 thoughts on “UCI Rule Changes – The Latest”

  1. Agree with Inrng’s conclusion, these rule changes might be positive, but the delivery is confusing at best and at worst shows how amateur our sport is. Would one of the world’s top professional sport make sweeping changes to in this fashion?

  2. One concern for me is the points available for finishing 55th [etc.] I see more finish line carnage as domestiques push on to ensure the team gets extra points. A better system would be to award team points to all riders of the top finishers team to recognise their contribution to a win.

    • My take on the points revision, allied to the restriction of race days, is that the teams become more professional and structured in their outlook and decisions.
      So that each rider has a tailored plan to his season – training, racing, resting – and, in theory, the DS’ could look to target goals for each rider individually and the team as a whole, be they wins, podiums, or even just ‘X’ number of points from the race.
      That’s a good thing.

      The NEWT races having to attract (pay) for WT teams participation – well, there was the complaint of teams being taken away from their regular sponsor responsibilities (*cough* the French *cough). At least this move would provide financial recompense if they choose to take part in the new events.

      The reforms are positive on the whole, I feel – we should have two years of stability now, and that seems to be as much as anyone can expect in this sport – though their timing, as has been pointed out, is cutting it fine to say the least.

      • ‘teams being taken away from their regular sponsor responsibilities (*cough* the French *cough)’ or ‘French WT teams riding small French races, thus supporting cycling from the bottom up, rather than being paid to race in deserts’?
        Two years of stability? We’ll be lucky if we have two weeks before they change the rules again.
        And, as Inner Ring says, if a lot of those new races want any stability they’ll have to link themselves to Velon – and on Velon’s terms.

  3. If teams are ranked by their top 5 point winners, what’s the point of giving points to the 60th placed racer on a stage? How will these points ever be valuable to either a team or the individual?

    • It looks to me that, say, a A GC rider could roll in on a Sprint stage and not lose time due to the 3km rule, but could be more inclined to fight for ranking points – it was a common observation in last years Tour and Vuelta that GC teams were too far up the road and clogging the sprint, so we may see more of that sort of thing. Same for a domestique or gregario for that matter.

  4. On the individual rankings, these are largely irrelevant to most fans. Other than possibly Sagan most leaders couldn’t win without the support of their team, more so in a stage race. For most domestiques if they have done their job well they shouldn’t be near a top 60.

  5. Another triumph for the UCI.
    (Every time, they make an alteration, Larry T’s opinion that the whole World Tour should be scrapped looks better and better.)
    So many issues with all this, as you’ve pointed out (not least the idea of riders ‘racing’ for 17th).
    The only thing to do, as you intimate, seems to be to ignore all this and watch the racing – but one does wonder if there’ll come a time where the camel’s back is broken and they manage to ruin the sport completely (look at F1).
    And how odd to see the UCI making rules that specifically help Velon…
    But what I really need is someone to explain to me why this isn’t Brian Cookson’s fault, as per the norm.

  6. Someone on here a while ago had an actual sensible suggestion whereby you have a World Tour but with only the three grand tours and five monuments appearing every year, and other events rotating through as needed. That way the UCI wouldn’t have to, with a straight face, try and argue that the Tour of Turkey is more prestigious than the Giro del Trentino, or that the Vattenfall Classics (or whatever its called) is a much more important one day race than Kuurne Brussels Kuurne. So have these 8, and then another 17 stage races and one day events for a total of 25, and that’s your lot. This would also eliminate overlapping races like P-N and T-A as they could alternate years, and that one weekend where there’s supposed to be the Clásica de San Sebastián, Ride London and the Tour of Poland, and all while race days are supposed to be limited.

    Another thought, wouldn’t it make more sense to have just one “Tour of the Gulf” event rather than multiple smaller Middle Eastern races that can be too samey? The Gulf states are small and proximate, and transfer times would be less than on European stage races, and you could have your windswept echelon stages in Qatar, some sprints and TT/TTT events in UAE and then some climbing stages in Oman. Do it once at the start of the year and make it a proper 8 day event.

    • On the Tour of the Gulf: That makes sense, but don’t forget that part of the point is how those nations and emirates are big rivals and have been engaging in a decade long pissing contest to see who can waste more money on big events. For example see how Qatar has a night race to start the MotoGP season, while Abu Dhabi has a night race to finish the F1 season.

  7. A max of 85 race days. What counts as a race day, only uci registered events, or others too? Do criteriums? Or, our local hill climb often gets a local pro starting. Would that count towards his race days?

    • As per UCI rules, a rider who has a national cycling licence affiliated to the UCI is forbidden to participate in a sporting event that is not UCI scantionned. Are your local hill climb raced UCI sanctionned with a licenced commissaire ? If not your local pros could be sanctionned.

      Still this is a rule that is not always enforced and some event organizers use the words “training races” to enter in a sort of loophole where everyone can enter regardless of their licence and/or federation*.

      *in some countries there are more than 1 cycling federation with only one affiliated to the UCI.

  8. Its funny , they’re ( in an attempt to promote ? ) possibly , by any standards , messing things up ? . . . and every where as greed creates greed , it continues , and we can all see it

  9. No more than 85 race days in a year sounds good but I’m curious how these are defined.

    Is a post-Tour criterium counted as one? Very interesting as these bring in money for the riders so they’re not very willing to trade these for other races.
    Similar is the new Velon race in Valkenburg. If these are counted as UCI race then the teammanagers under Velon will have to do some additional planning as they likely have an agreement to send their hard hitters.

  10. Thanks again INRNG, great insight as always. The whole thing does make me wonder if the UCI have taken a leaf out of the Trump school of PR hence ”This constant regulatory tinkering, some of it announced the week before the season starts, means everyone has a hard time trying to keep up”.

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