On Tuesday, cycling’s governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), quietly released a statement outlining reforms that will be made to the sport in 2017.
Despite the lack of fanfare, the reforms represent the most wide-ranging changes to men’s professional cycling for well over a decade.
They address many issues that riders, teams, race organisers and fans have had with the current top-level WorldTour calendar, and as far as we are concerned they are pretty much all for the better. Here’s why.
1. Good for fans
The current WorldTour is a confusing mish-mash of Grand Tours, stage races, Classics, several tiers of points allocations and a ranking system that has hardly inspired a great deal of interest in the general public.
Confusing is not a good thing in sport. We like to see clear winners and a system of events that can be clearly followed. There’s no real point in collecting together a load of great races into something that is a lot less than the sum of its parts.
A new, universal ranking for all top-level races – not just the WorldTour – will be introduced in 2017 that should be clear and easy to follow for even casual cycle race fans. The WorldTour calendar will also be re-jigged to drop events that aren’t up to scratch, and introduce selected new ones that are. Hopefully the 2017 WorldTour winner will be celebrated rather than easily forgotten.
2. Good for teams and sponsors
There’s a great deal of pressure on the 18 WorldTour teams. Big budgets are required to run a team of 30 riders, plus support staff and the vehicles, equipment and infrastructure to go with them.
The introduction of three-year licences will help the stability of squads, and give current and future sponsors a longer-term investment for their money.
Although in the short-term the introduction of more rules governing team conduct may be seen by some squads as a bit painful, in the long run it will help unify their operation. All teams should know what they are expected to do – and not to do.
3. Good for riders
The UCI will introduce a set of 10 operational procedures that teams must adhere to, and these have been introduce to ensure that riders are properly supported, supervised and coached. There’s also a cap on the number of days that riders can race – which should address issues of fatigue.
Riders have sometimes said that they feel like the bottom of the chain in pro racing, and the new measures are intended to look after their welfare. We’ve already seen an Extreme Weather Protocol introduced to prevent riders having to race in dangerous sub-zero conditions or in sweltering 40-degree heat.
Now that the rankings will incorporate results from a wider spectrum of races, there’s a greater chance of non-WorldTour team riders getting noticed, which can only help riders make a step up to the big league.
There’s also the possibility that new ranking categories will be introduced for climbers, sprinters, one-day specialists and stage racers. Currently, the WorldTour ranking does not recognise someone who, for example, wins the King of the Mountains classification in the Tour de France, which seems plain wrong.
4. Good for race organisers
Some of the events included in the current WorldTour have been going for over a century. They did very well before the WorldTour, and some organisers have felt in the past that there’s little benefit to them being part of it. An overhaul into the way the WorldTour is run and composed should inject fresh life into the calendar.
There are also plenty of great races that haven’t been going for over a century, including ones not currently included in the WorldTour. Some of these may now be rolled into the big league.
There’s a disparity between the nationality of top-ranked teams and riders in the WorldTour and where the events are actually held, with great emphasis still currently given to the traditional cycling heartlands of Belgium, Italy, Spain and France.
That’s hardly a tour of the world. Previous efforts to globalise the sport saw the Tour of Beijing in China make a brief appearance in the calendar, but this seemingly unpopular event has now disappeared. Where are the American, British and Colombian races in the WorldTour calendar? Britain and Colombia are currently in the three top-ranked nations in cycling.
5. Not good for dopers
The UCI’s commitment to clean cycling, and putting as many barriers as possible in the way of doping, continues with the introduction of the operational requirements for teams – which the UCI calls Cahier des Charges (‘specifications’).
Part of these will include as-yet unspecified anti-doping measures, but they are likely to follow the stringent ‘special measures’ and monitoring that the Astana team had to adhere to after several of its riders failed dope tests. They are also likely include recommendations from the Cycling Independent Reform Commission (CIRC) report.
This should place more emphasis on the team rather than individual riders to prevent doping, and goes some way to eliminating the ‘team-sanctioned’ doping practices that have hit the headlines in cases such as that of Lance Armstrong and US Postal. No one ever wants to see that happen again.