The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), cycling's governing body, says that it is better that the WorldTour continues with 18 teams for 2017, saving the Dimension Data team from demotion.
It took hours of debate at the Professional Cycling Council meeting on Tuesday in Geneva, Switzerland, to settle on a decision late into the night, but the teams association pushed their point home.
The UCI agreed to keep 18 teams in the top WorldTour series instead of cutting it to 17 for 2017, and 16 for 2018. The move saved Dimension Data, with British stars Mark Cavendish and Steve Cummings, from what would have been a death-sentence demotion.
"Since the commencement of the WorldTeam registration process for 2017, it has become clear that there are 18 candidates for WorldTeam licences," said the UCI in a press release. "With this in mind, the PCC has decided that for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, a maximum of 18 UCI WorldTeam licences may be issued."
Assuming the teams meet the criteria, all 18 teams will receive licences for the WorldTour in 2017 and 2018. There was a sigh of relief from many in Geneva.
Critics said it would be counter-productive to penalise well-funded teams with star cyclists. One of three teams had been at risk. Dimension Data won five Tour de France stages this July with Cavendish and Cummings. Bora-Hansgrohe, from the re-emerging German market, signed Peter Sagan. And Bahrain-Merida with Vincenzo Nibali brings a new and important Middle East element.
A newly proposed, but now seemly scrapped, Challenge System meant that any team ranked out of the top 16 would become a candidate. Those candidates would have to apply with new teams (this year Bahrain-Merida) and teams asking for promotions (Bora-Hansgroghe). With only two spots originally available to make up 17 teams, Dimension Data was set to be demoted with the fewest amount of WorldTour points.
The teams association, AIGCP, agreed to a natural selection. If a team folds at the end of 2017, the WorldTour series would not add a new 18th team, but stay at 17.
The UCI said: "the ambition is to strengthen the competitiveness of elite level and therefore to set the maximum number of UCI WorldTeams to 17 in 2019 and 16 from 2020 onwards, with a working group tasked to study this and a number of other topics."
The teams pushed for the working group to meet the UCI, ASO and other stakeholders to discuss a better mechanism to replace the UCI's ill-fated Challenge System. They would like to see an open system, where licences are reviewed every two to three years.
The new Bahrain-Merida team will be the last squad to make their debut in the WorldTour. Going forward, teams must spend at least one year in the lower Professional Continental division first.
The UCI also agreed that 10 new WorldTour events, including the RideLondon-Surrey Classic, will have voluntary participation. They must invite all 18 top teams, but the teams can choose which races to attend. The teams have the right and must race the other 27 existing WorldTour races, like the Tour de France and Paris-Roubaix
The council also agreed that the new rolling, season to season, UCI World Ranking points scale will be used to calculate the WorldTour rankings.
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