WorldTour will include lowest number of teams yet in 2015, with Astana's place also in doubt

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Cycling’s WorldTour will drop to its lowest number of teams yet next year. Yesterday, professional cycle sport’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), released a list of only 17 teams asking for a first-division licence to race in the 2015 series that includes the Tour de France.

The list includes Sky, Ag2r La Mondiale, Astana, BMC Racing, Cannondale, FDJ, Katusha, Lampre-Merida, Lotto NL, Lotto-Soudal, Movistar, Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Orica-GreenEdge, Europcar, Giant-Alpecin, Tinkoff-Saxo and Trek Factory Racing.

Astana sits among the 17 teams, but the licence commission could reject its request based on ethics. The team’s brothers Maxim and Valentin Iglinskiy both tested positive for drug EPO in the last two months. General Manager Alexandre Vinokourov’s past is not clean, either. When he raced, he failed a blood doping test at the 2007 Tour de France.

The UCI called it “an extremely serious situation” yesterday, “one which raises questions about the management of the team and the ethics which are upheld within it.”

Even with Astana, the WorldTour will only count 17 teams in 2015. Europcar moved up last year to fill the black hole left by Vacansoleil, but none of the second division teams has shown interest for 2015.

The WorldTour calendar features 27 races for 2015, from January to October, including all three Grand Tours and classics like Paris-Roubaix and the Tour of Flanders. The teams in the first division, next year called WorldTeams, have the right and must participate in all the races.

Second division, UCI Professional Continental teams may participate via wildcard invitations. The Grand Tour organisers offer four spots to the teams to bring the total up to 22 teams, but with only 17 WorldTour teams they could offer five.

At the Tour de France this year, Bretagne, Cofidis, IAM Cycling and NetApp raced, but others like Africa’s MTN-Qhubeka and Spain’s Caja Rural wanted in. One less WorldTour team than in 2014 would give Tour organiser ASO more space to manoeuvre.

The WorldTour from its beginning in 2009 featured 18 teams except for 2013 when it went to 19 to allow in Katusha. It grew out of the ProTour that began in 2005 and had 20 teams through 2007. Before that, the first division counted 30 teams.