The UCI and the sport welcomed the South African grass-roots team to the WorldTour division only one year ago when it signed Cavendish. Now, because it sits last in the end-of-season rankings, new regulations could see it knocked out.
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“To win a stage in the Tour de France is like 12th or 16th place in the GC, so what do you do, invest in someone who’s not going to win a bike race, just sniff around there, or someone who’s going to win at the highest level,” Cavendish said after winning the Abu Dhabi Tour’s second stage.
“I know what the sponsors would prefer. There’s nothing we can do about it now. We will see what will come of it.”
The UCI is due to announce the teams for the 2017 WorldTour in the next month. Counting points, it does not look good for Cavendish’s team sitting in 18th place.
The governing body plans to cut the WorldTour series from 18 to 17 teams next year and further to 16 teams in 2018. Based on its rules, the teams ranked below 16th at the end of the season must be considered a candidate team with the new teams (Bahrain-Merida with Vincenzo Nibali) and those asking for a promotion from the professional continental level (Bora-Hansgrohe with Peter Sagan).
If the UCI sticks to its guns, Dimension Data and these two other teams must fight for the two free spots.
It seems strange considering Cavendish dominated the Tour de France’s sprints with four stage wins. British team-mate Steve Cummings won one. For each stage win, however, they only pulled in 20 points – the same as Sky’s Sergio Henao received for placing 12th.
Assuming all other criteria are met, the licence commission will rule on points. Cycling Weekly made a rough calculation and Bahrain-Merida lead with 905, Bora-Hansgrohe counts 864, and Dimension Data holds 272.
Only this June did the UCI roll out the new promotion/demotion system. It is under some pressure from the ASO, who want the WorldTour teams decreased so that it has more freedom in its wildcard invitations.
When asked if the points system was flawed, Cavendish said: “I think so”.
“I think this decision was taken in the middle of the season. It’s not ideal when you’ve done half the season and then you realise you have to go and get more points. When we did find out, there was only the Eneco Tour left.
“There are only six points for a stage win, it makes no sense to send me. [The system is] heavily biased towards… Like I said, a minor place in the GC is worth more than a stage win, that doesn’t make sense to me.”
If Dimension Data is shown the back door, it would have to race in the professional continental division and ask for wildcard invitations to the biggest races. In 2015, it received a wildcard invite to the Tour de France and Cummings won a stage.
Insiders seem to believe the UCI may backtrack before the start of the 2017 season at the Tour Down Under in Australia and allow for 18 teams. It appears it would be too much of a loss to leave out the Middle East’s first team (Bahrain), the new German team of Peter Sagan (Bora) or Africa’s big team with Cavendish.
The teams association said that they will retaliate if the UCI continues with its plans.
“By reducing the number of WorldTour licenses for teams, the UCI is taking away the economic rights of teams without any justification for it,” the AIGCP said this month.
“The proposed Challenge System will not be accepted” and if the UCI tries to implement it, the teams will refuse it by any “necessary means.”