Cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), confirmed over the weekend that it signed an initial agreement with private investors to begin a new professional cycling league. It said it is close to announcing a deal, which has the potential to reshape the cycling calendar in under three years’ time.

Team Omega Pharma-QuickStep owner Zdenek Bakala and his Dutch business partner, Bessel Kok held a press conference on Friday to explain their plan. They said they gathered initial investors to create something similar to football’s Champions League: the top teams competing in the top races. Bakala said that he is willing to invest €10-20m [€8-16m] of his own money.

The UCI confirmed the next day it has been discussing plans with Czech Republic’s wealthy businessman since late 2011. It said in a press release: “These discussions have included their potential financial investment in a new joint venture company with the UCI and other cycling stakeholders that would promote and organise elements of this new calendar.”

President Pat McQuaid explained, “In Zdenek Bakala and Bessel Kok we have cycling fans who have already done much for the sport but who want to invest further. That demonstrates the confidence they have in cycling and we are keen to partner with them and others. We look forward to making a formal announcement on this as soon as possible next year.”

Bakala, according to La Gazzetta dello Sport newspaper, has joined with eight to nine teams, including Omega Pharma, BMC Racing, Garmin-Sharp and Cannondale. Besides McQuaid, he has won over the UCI’s former president Hein Verbruggen and former ProTour manager Alain Rumpf. The UCI confirmed it signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Bakala and Kok and is entering into “extensive dialogue with the teams and race organisers.”

Omega Pharma features classics champion Tom Boonen and as of January, Mark Cavendish. However, in Brussels on Friday, its owner was busy securing the team’s long-term future. He presented his plan to journalists from the Times of London, Het Nieuwsblad, La Gazzetta dello Sport… newspapers that presented a joint manifesto to change cycling on October 27.

According to Het Nieuwsblad, Bakala said: “Financially, the teams are unstable. It’s not normal that in November some teams don’t know where they stand for the next season. Teams [are fighting for] TV money. There must have stable income streams for the teams, allowing for long-term planning. The current complex WorldTour ranking system also needs reform. Therefore, we must make a Champions League.”

The new league would feature the best 18 teams, similar to the ones in the WorldTour now. They would compete in about 20 races a year, including the Grand Tours, classics and historical races. Bakala and the investors would ramp up the prize money and allow teams a share of the TV revenues. The UCI would continue governing and provide an understandable ranking system. Bakala, however, wants it to hand-over its anti-doping activities to a third party.

The major organisers – ASO, RCS Sport and Flanders Classics – remain the major stumbling block. Bakala must give them reason to share their TV revenues and sign off on the league. He has yet to meet with ASO, but if he gets the Tour de France organiser on board, the league could take shape sooner rather than later. As it is now, he has given himself three years to get the league up to speed.

The UCI is adding fuel to Bakala’s engine. Only last Wednesday, it announced that early next year it would meet with all the stakeholders to “look to the future of the sport.” Given the developments in the last few days, the future seems be connected Bakala and a new league.

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  • richard braginton

    At last, somebody with commonsense & money stating the obvious.The two stumbling blocks ,the uci will they be willing to relinquish there control of the doping tests? The tour de france & other grand tour organizers will they be willing to split the television rights money with the teams. Unfortunatley, this brilliant sport that we all love has more than its fair share of greedy manipulative people who are in it for the quick buck who are all to willing to exploit the riders, many of whom are greatful to ride for just a bike a jersey and a pittance.I hope sincerely in this climate of change & reform that this proposal will be embraced by all parties for the good and progress of this great sport

  • Mike

    Whatever shape pro cycling takes in the near future It should use any new beginning to cut out the UCI.
    The Premier League did this in football.
    If the UCI refuses to change and get in line with the current clean trend in cycling the Pro teams should cut it adrift, as It is not fit for purpose.

  • Andys2tyred

    ASO could almost run a league themselves, especially if they get Belgium and Italian classics organizers as well. Naive not to include ASO from start. No Tour, no Roubaix – no Champions League

  • jonp

    ASO – time to make a stand with the riders and teams that make you money. Without them, you would be nothing. Most of all, time to instigate real change that may help shift the culture of doping to a marginalised few rather than a disfunctional majority.

  • Ken Evans

    In football fans care which TEAM wins,
    in cycling fans care which RIDER wins.

    National teams were tried in the Tour De France in the 1960s,
    but it didn’t work.

    I doubt people will really care if one huge multinational corporation’s riders beat another huge corporation’s riders.

    The nature of pro cycling now is very specific and specialised, riders focus on only a few big races during the season, whether it is the Tour, the Giro, the Classics, or the Worlds.

    It is all about TV coverage, if the course is dull, and team-tactics (radios), create negative racing then viewers will be bored.

    All the recent doping scandals also means fans doubt their heros.

    In many ways professional racing has become overly complex, with TV commentators having to explain too many details to viewers.

    The early cycle races were much simpler, man-against-man, against the terrain, and the elements, cycle racing should try to regain some of that purity.

  • JeffGoldblumIII

    TV money for the teams?!? Bar the Tour and a couple of other ones, most Euro races are really struggling financially. Without that (or any of their streams of investment really) races like Pais Vasco and Tirenno would be gone in an instant. Sounds like a crap idea to me. F1 is shit, I don’t know why UCI want to emulate their model.

  • JD

    Can’t see ASO being that keen – they’d rather keep cycling smaller and profitable than larger without the same control over its economics.

    They do need to create some new races, especially for sprinters. Too many get barely any coverage on TV.