La Gazzetta Dello Sport reports that the men’s UCI World Tour could go from 18 teams to 20 with Total Direct Energie and Cofidis the most likely squads for promotion. It wasn’t that long ago that the talk, or rather the press statement, was for a move from 18 to 16 teams.
What does 20 teams mean? Well only two wildcard invitations for the grand tours for starters so look at Italy where Androni, Bardiani, Neri Sottoli and Nippo-Vini Fantini compete for an invite every year, now their chances are reduced, especially if other teams like Gazprom or Israel Cycling Academy can tip some coin into RCS’s piggy bank. Do Cofidis and Total Direct Energie really want to ride the Giro? Well yes for Cofidis as they have a consumer loans business in Italy while TDE have bike sponsor Wilier but as their sponsorship manager said the other day the main sponsor doesn’t have any business in Italy. But being World Tour will also mean a minimum of 27 riders, up from 23 currently and that means a roster where most will want or even need to bank at least one grand tour in their legs each season. And by implication it says to any rider considering signing for, say, Israel Academy or Vital Concept that they might never get to ride a grand tour for the duration of their contract meaning smaller teams can’t sign the big riders they need to get invites. Catch-22.
More than ever it makes the World Tour an ersatz closed league, first because poorly-performing teams like Dimension Data – as the screengrab from the UCI website shows they’re faring worse than Wanty-Gobert – are kept in the top flight regardless; and second because the World Tour calendar will be ridden almost exclusively by the top-20 teams. We’ll see, remember various iterations of UCI reforms have been announced only for a fraction of them to see the light of day. All of these changes sound sudden, they’d have such an impact on the Pro Conti teams and their ecosystem that announcing now that this will happen in 2020 seems too sudden, there should be more time to let these teams plan.
Onto UCI announcements that should happen and the UCI has announced the calendar for 2020. On the men’s side the Tour de France and Vuelta a España start a week earlier to fit around the Tokyo Olympics, meaning a June start for the Tour and a broiling mid-August start for the Vuelta. The Tour of Turkey is gone and perhaps few will lament this but here was a chance for a big race outside of Europe in a large country – read market – only it’s off. For the women’s peloton Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallone are on the calendar, despite plenty of copycat stories saying otherwise.
Staying with women’s cycling and the FDJ Nouvelle Aquitaine Futuroscope team have announced their intention to apply for a World Tour licence for 2020 meaning they want to sign up to the higher regulatory standards set by this level. Good on them. They’re sponsored by FDJ but are not the women’s team of Groupama-FDJ, they just share the same title sponsor and sometimes gather at presentations because of this.
FDJ is being privatised. It’s currently owned by the French government but reportedly being lined up for sale. It’s been on the cards for some time but apparently has a green light now for this summer. The significance of this? Just that new ownership and in time management could mean new priorities and so they might not always stick around in cycling.
One sponsor that is staying is Ag2r La Mondiale who have announced an extension of their deal to 2023. The team – one of the few to publish their accounts – has grown alongside the sponsor with Ag2r going from a small insurer to one of France’s largest in the last 20 years.
Will Dimension Data change name? Just as Sky switched to Ineos this year, one thing to look out for is whether Dimension Data becomes NTT in July. Dimension Data was bought by Japan’s NTT in 2010 and on 1 July Dimension Data will be rebranded around the world as NTT. This probably isn’t a big deal for you, but for the company and its marketing efforts it’s huge and we’ll see if the Dimension Data team is part of their message. A relaunch and new jersey on the eve of the Tour would be a great way to help spread the word, especially as the company is also a “technology partner” to the Tour de France too.