The Shrinking Peloton

Movistar announced a men’s squad of 25 riders for 2018, down from the 28 rider squad they had this year. BMC Racing go from 28 riders down to 24. The peloton is getting smaller and the men’s World Tour peloton will shrink by 16 riders, not as much as initially feared but still a trend across most teams.

  • This is the post from 3 November updated now that all the 18 teams have confirmed their rosters for 2018.

All teams have confirmed their rosters for 2018 with Cannondale-Drapac on 25, Dimension Data on 27 and Orica-Scott on 25 too. The UCI stipulates a minimum team size of 23 riders in the World Tour. Here’s the rule:

2.15.110 Riders The number of riders in each UCI WorldTeam may not be fewer than twenty-three (23).

Here is a chart of the team sizes for 2017 and 2018 for all the 18 World Tour teams:

As you can see a team’s headcount of racers for 2018, the right column, is often down when compared to 2017, the left column. These numbers say 16 fewer riders in the World Tour, the mean average team size shrinks by 0.9 riders.

It seems there is a trend down with 14 of the 18 rosters shrinking. Bora-Hansgrohe and Katusha stay the same, Astana, Bahrain-Merida and Trek-Segafredo increase by one rider and Team Sky go up by two.

This is all based on teams on 1 January and trainee stagiaires are excluded, as are riders hired during the course of the year, for example U23 World Champion Benoît Cosnefroy turned pro with Ag2r La Mondiale on 1 August 2017 so he’s not part of Ag2r La Mondiale’s 2017 roster while Tom Boonen was part of Quick Step’s count for 2017 even if he packed up. The idea is to make a like-for-like comparison on 1 January.

  • Don’t count the stagiaires like Velonews have. They present a worse story with 63 riders less in the pro peloton but that’s because they appear to be counting stagiaires riding with teams in the late season, eg “Ag2r-La Mondiale could drop from 33 to 27, with FDJ dipping from 32 to 28”

Why fewer riders? Because of the new rule change for 2018 that shrinks squads for grand tours from nine riders to eight and the max team size from eight to seven in other races. You might remember race owners ASO, RCS and Flanders Classics suddenly insisted on this, the UCI said “no” and the result was that the organisers duly got what they wanted once due process was followed. In short teams need fewer riders but this is one factor rather than the sole cause.

But there are specific reasons in addition to the rule change. Take BMC Racing which only has its funding in place for one more year and therefore so signing neo-pros on compulsory two year deals is a potential liability. Movistar shrink but perhaps the story there is more of a shuffle as Mikel Landa comes in on a presumed seven-figure salary and so several lieutenants (the Herrada bros, Sutherland, Castroviejo et al) exit to free up the budget and they’re starting a women’s team too. Meanwhile Alberto Contador’s retirement leaves a space at Trek-Segafredo that they have not filled in the recruitment market, they looked for a big GC contender but it was late so they don’t have one nor the entourage that usually accompanies them either.

Also on a matter of nuance losing your ninth man in a grand tour isn’t automatically reason to trim the team size by one because to simplify, management are forced to cut the ninth best rider not the 30th best. In the whole it does mean less need for riders but nine to eight can contributes to the idea of a smaller team rather than imposing a direct reduction.

Quality vs quantity: it’s not always about the numbers. Take Astana who lose Fabio Aru as he has signed with UAE Emirates. Presumably the Kazakh squad aren’t interested in hiring a couple of neo-pros to make up the numbers, they’re sore about losing one of their team leaders to the point of making noises about suing Aru.

In or out? At the present count there will be 22 first year neo-pros in 2018 which is relatively few compared to previous seasons so it seems that the reduction in team size is not necessarily putting existing pros out of work, it is stalling opportunities for some newcomers.

Backstage: There’s also the unseen aspect where we can count squad sizes but not the full staff count. If team sizes shrink then there is less need for the same number of support staff from mechanics to soigneurs. Now going from nine to eight in a grand tour doesn’t shrink the work of the mechanics by much but there could be others beyond the peloton who go. So the riders are the visible side of the employment market but spare a thought for all the rest.

The World Tour peloton will shrink for 2018 and the regulatory move to shrink squad sizes in races by one rider seems a prime factor as teams trim their rosters by 1-2 riders on average for the coming year as the chart above shows. But there’s possibly more to this than one change, there might be particular budget issues at some teams or they lost out in the game of musical chairs that is trying to recruit or retain a grand tour leader. For all the shrinking teams note that the smallest squad this year was Team Sunweb with 25 riders and by some measures they’ve been the team of the year and begin 2018 with 23.

37 thoughts on “The Shrinking Peloton”

    • Totally new teams or teams that have made the step up from Conti level? (Not that the step is completely insignificant in terms of number of salaried riders and level of salaries, but…)

      Minus how many teams that have either ceased to exist or dropped down to Conti level either due to lack of sponosrs or voluntarily for whatever reason?

      PS I’m curious rather than saying that your point has no merit in this discussion.

      • Only Vital Concept is brand new the rest will be moving up from Conti if everything goes according to plan. Admittingly this is mostly due to three US teams moving up and that is mainly a result of Tour of California going WT. However it still is possible for these teams to compete at the highest level as for instance the new Basque team have almost been promised a Vuelta invite.

        At the moment it seems that Funvic is the only team to drop down to Conti, but nothing has been announced from UCI yet.

  1. This is concerning. Look at the number of World Tour races, even with reduced team entry limits. It’s a given, that a certain number of riders will have significant injury, illness limiting or eliminating their participation. This potentially leaves teams exposed. The remaining riders will be over raced, and potentially looking for pharmacoligic help rather than seeking appropriate rest.

    • I disagree. If teams do not reduce their sizes in response to the reduced team entry limits, their riders will be under-raced compared to the historical average. With just the 3 grand tours alone, each World tour team has 63 fewer race days to share between its riders. Add in the other World tour races, and you are probably looking at 200 or more fewer race days per team. Teams must therefore either reduce the number of riders on their team by a few, to maintain the average number of race days for their riders, or keep the same number of riders but significantly reduce the amount of racing each rider does.

      • This might be clearer to Joe if we went through the numbers.

        Previously, the standard race team size was eight, so each team could have 3.5 riders per race spot from a roster of 28 riders total. Or to put it another way, three race squads and four spare riders.

        To have three complete race squads and four reserve riders with the new team sizes needs a roster of only 25 riders. However, the number of races your four reserves get to do will decrease, with there being fewer race spots available. Your four spares now make up 0.6 of a team rather than 0.5 as they were previously.

  2. I am all for smaller teams in GC races as I think it will loosen the control that some teams can exercise.
    However with WT teams reducing the amount of riders they need, and trainee stagiaires spaces becoming tighter this raises the prospect of PED use increasing among the top level junior and amateur ranks as young riders scramble for less places.
    Lets hope the powers that be recognise this danger and tighten controls in the lower ranks.
    Now lets see how many ‘fans’ attack me for even suggesting there is doping in the sport.

    • This is yet to be proven. Come July it may be that 7 guys riding in front of Chris Froome can crush the peloton into submission in much the same way as his 8 teammates have in the last few years. As INRNG and others have pointed out the calculus might only change for teams that try to mix GC ambitions with a sprinter of classics type rider who wouldn’t normally be expected to be on team duty.

        • The greater worry, looking forward though, could be from Lappartient’s overtures to shrink GT teams to 6 riders.
          That just feels like cheerleading to me, his PR people running the numbers on cycling forums feedback.
          And it could also reduce the need for £30 million / season team budgets (i.e. Sky).

          If Cookson’s reign saw the rise of the British in the WT, I wonder if Lappartient’s time could see a backlash?

          • Would it actually reduce team budgets or just distort the market further, putting more distance between the multi-million dollar salaries of the Froomes and Sagans of the peloton and the lower paid domestiques? Also if this is another way to try and engineer a French TDF winner I’m not sure this is the best tactic. Also if they were listening to what a lot of the armchair experts on cycling forums were saying they’d be banning radios and power meters – two other ploys that might not guarantee more exciting racing.

          • I guess I should be happy you wrote 1983 instead of 1903. Too often any suggestion that “improvements” (race radios, powermeters, etc) be outlawed ends up being characterized as a call to return to 50 lb bikes with wooden wheels and one speed.
            The bicycle itself is an anachronism since its passenger has to pedal it while sport is defined by purely arbitrary rules, so allowing unchecked “improvement”/modernization should be seen as a threat to the very existence of the sport rather than simple nostalgia.

          • Things would be great if Marc Madiot were writing the scripts. First, he’s far from an “armchair expert” and I believe he opposes both race radio and powermeters?
            As an unabashed Italo-phile I’ve posted many times regarding how I’m far from a fan of the French, but in general I find them to be the “only adults in the room” in the current discussions of pro cycling’s future.

          • @Larry T: Contador may be against power meters, although I find it strange he seems to have been against a lot SINCE HE RETIRED but not before, but he doesn’t seem to have been against drugs use hence his drugs ban. So why should anyone care what he thinks? Apparently he is also in favour of a budget cap but I’ll bet Contador the rider wasn’t. So much for the claptrap of an ex-pro. As for the new prez, he seems to be in favour of anything that gets headlines at the moment. But judging by the likes of Cookson, McQuaid and Verbruggen I’d says that being UCI prez doesn’t necessarily make you an expert, armchair variety or any other kind. In fact, the UCI seem to have a talent for attracting the corrupt and/or the ineffectual.

        • Quite so Chris. Froome won one of his Tours with only 6 helpers. If anyone will miss the 9th man the least it is probably the team who have recently won the Tour the most.

  3. A reduction from nine to eight riders will not change the current method of racing in three week tours one bit. Nor will it improve safety – unless moto’s and radios are also restricted. The wealthiest teams will clearly have the financial clout to purchase the best domestiques and leaders.
    The unmentioned and more worrying aspect of all this, is that the number of races at all levels below WT continue their inexorable decline throughout Europe. Fewer races equals fewer sponsors, organizers and riders. The base of the sport is crumbling away, whilst the powers that be worry about the unfortunate adventure that is the WT.
    Where is this decline leading ?

    • +1 Especially your second paragraph. I’ve railed against “Heinie’s Folly” since its inception. Now that he’s dead I hope his “improvement” of pro cycling will suffer the same fate…the sooner the better.

      • Maybe the best way to phrase this is, is top heavy. I suspect that part of the issue is top heavy salaries, which leads to fewer, quality riders per team. I think there is a budget/sponsor issue also involved.

  4. 450 or so WT level riders, and only 21 neo-pro’s… this is the worst ‘risk’ for me, because it makes it technically more elusive to get a WT contract – maybe forcing junior/U23 riders to illegal methods to gain performance level required. A simple supply / demand problem.

    On flipside, this might not be the case, depends on the trend – maybe the low number of promoted stagiares is an outlier caused by limited retirements this year (or more top riders over 35 continuing to race for longer).

  5. One can only imagine the race organizers will save a fortune by cutting the team sizes down in hotel rooms alone. 23 days and a minimum 1 less room per team per night will add up quickly.

    I can’t see it changing any of the racing though.

  6. I would imagine the winner in all this will be the pro-conti level races. It may take a few seasons for this tier to rise in quality from its current level, as others have already alluded to.

    • Hopefully there won’t be a surplus of quality cyclists leading to an increase in desperation and cheating, as the nearly-but-not-quite ones try to hang on.

  7. Two thoughts:

    – Movistar did not really reduce its roster. From 28 (male) riders it will grow to 35 (male + female) riders. I’d personally prefer all men’s teams to become a bit smaller, to give room to a women’s team. In my opinion, the UCI should oblige WorldTour teams to have a professional women’s team also.

    – I think the shrinking of the peloton is not only good, it also necessary from an economic point of view. The current WorldTour peloton is just too big for a sport this small. A recent study about professional tennis has shown that there is room for at most 250 to 300 male tennis players. From a worldwide point of view, tennis is so much bigger than cycling, but cycling has 500 professional riders at the WorldTour level (and a couple of hundred more at the ProContinental level). I know there are important differences between tennis and cycling (individual pay versus team pay, for instance), but I believe that in professional road cycling there is only room for about 360 to 450 WorldTour riders (18 teams of 20 to 25 riders), and 180 to 240 ProContinental riders (12 teams of 15 to 20 riders). The sport needs to downsize (also in the number of races!) to create long-term financial stability and new opportunities.

    • I do not buy your argument that the way to grow women’s cycling, whilst a laudable aim, is to put men on the street, particularly when they have not underperformed in any respect.
      In addition I was not aware that WT teams had any money. Do not their costs of production approximate to their income? The money belongs to their sponsor/s in most cases i.e. the customer who buys their product.
      Imagine if you went to your local supermarket to buy potatoes, but when at the checkout were asked why you had no broccoli. You explain that you do not like broccoli, it gives you wind. The cashier explains that in this store if you buy potatoes you must also buy broccoli. Do you pay for the broccoli and throw it in the bin? Or do you explain that you are the customer, it is your money and you decide where and on what you spend it. There are plenty of places that sell potatoes without insisting on buying additional items that are of no value, so you will support one of those and shop elsewhere?

  8. “Also on a matter of nuance losing your ninth man in a grand tour isn’t automatically reason to trim the team size by one because to simplify, management are forced to cut the ninth best rider not the 30th best.”

    But you don’t cut the 9th best rider just because he failed to make the best XIII for the Tour, he’s still good enough for the Giro squad so you keep him and cut the 30th rider instead.

    If you go on the basis of most races needing seven riders, a roster of 25 gives you three complete race teams plus four reserves.

    • Not quite true. Say team target is the tour, you want 8 top rider’s out on the road. You have e a team budget to consider and racing game obligations the rest of the year. Finally most of your rider’s are out of contract but all bar number 3 has said the will re sign with you.

      3 rider’s can be cut and you need the best replacement for number 3.

      Rationally you cut 9,10,11 freeing up maximum cash for best number 3 who might even be never 2.

      Now it’s a bit more complicated than that in real life but just shows that its not always the worst who will be cut.

    • I saw the piece and noted it seem to be over-counting the potential losses, eg Ag2r don’t really down as much as they say because they have three stagiaires and they’ll lose them for January 2018 automatically rather than trimming back etc. Since doing the chart Orica-Scott have confirmed they’ll have 25 riders and I understand (code for I know but it hasn’t been announced) EF-Drapac will have 25 too.

  9. Some thoughts on the neo-pros.

    1) Axeon Hagens Berman – Axel Mercyx development squad – one of the most prolific developer of talent along with the BMC development squad, will now be paying neo-pros – likely 16 of them. Now they get paid something (or better) than they did before. For those riders that don’t come from the predominantly white upper middle class – this may be very welcomed, and thus create more international demand to join.
    2) At times neo-pros were used because they were ‘cheaper’ riders to get to a full roster, with riders that may not be used in important races – now that the roster is a bit smaller we see fewer teams willing to risk two years, so perhaps the WT neo-pros are on average less risky signings.

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