British track riders from the Huub-Wattbike team have criticised the UCI over its decision to bar trade teams from racing World Cup events.
The international governing body announced major changes to the track calendar on Thursday (June 20) as part of a drive to “revitalise” the discipline.
But the biggest casualty under the changes is the underdog Huub-Wattbike squad, who have beaten national team rivals and set records against all odds.
The team have vowed to challenge the decision, saying it threatens to remove healthy competition and give power back to national teams.
In an open letter, published on Monday (June 24) and addressed to the UCI president David Lappartient, the team said: “As a multiple World Cup winning trade team, which has broken records and developed world champions, the announced changes have severe implications for us and will ultimately kill off the existence of trade teams completely.
“Furthermore and putting our personal situation aside, we feel the changes are brutally destructive for the sport we know and love.”
Last week, the UCI announced a major overhaul of the track cycling calendar, which will see trade teams barred from riding World Cup events.
As part of its plan to develop track cycling, the World Cup series will be knocked down from six events to three from the 2020/21 season, and will be organised from July to September, rather than October to January, from 2021.
The World Cup will change its name to the UCI Track Cycling Nations’ Cup and will be reserved solely for national teams.
This is bad news for outfits like Huub-Wattbike, who have blazed a trail for trade teams by beating national squads and setting records on the track.
The track world championships will be moved from March to October, at the end of the Track Cycling Nations’ Cup.
In open letter, which is signed by the team and their sponsors, the Huub Squad said: “If drastic changes aren’t made to these plans then you will be left solely responsible for the consequences, as the sport of track cycling is forced to battle head to head with road racing without the support of trade teams, their characters, personalities and all of their commercial partners.”
The team raise four main objections to the plans – sponsors and partners pulling out of the sport, less opportunity for riders, the loss of fan interaction, and the clashing of road and track events when the indoor season is moved to the summer.
Huub argue that trade teams attract sponsorship which helps develop the sport by pushing forward with technology and equipment, while also offering more space for riders to race outside the limited spaces on national teams.
They added: “We have provided a huge amount of opportunities for riders who exist outside of national programmes to grow, develop and perform on the world stage.
“Charlie Tanfield, John Archibald and Ashton Lambie, possibly three of the greatest pursuiters of all time have come through our team.”
The team also say that their sponsorship model encourages their riders to engage with fans more than national systems.
Announcing the changes, UCI president Lappartient said the changes would be made to make track cycling more appealing.
A UCI spokesperson said: “The Nations’ Cup will be a qualifying pathway for nations to the Track Worlds and part of a three-layer qualification process (Continental Championships, Nations’ Cup, World Championships) for the Olympic Games.”
The UCI added that the decision has been made to reduce the financial burden on National Federations by reducing the number of World Cup rounds from six to three.
The season will be moved to the summer to make it easier for endurance riders to take part in the world championships, as they often find it hard to get leave from their road teams in March.
Huub-Wattbike said the team were not consulted by the UCI on the changes, despite the organisations assertion that it will “encourage dialogue between stakeholders prior to any decisions.”
The outfit also raised a number of questions around the announcement – what are the reasons for banning trade teams, how are athletes supposed to develop outside of the national system, why were stakeholders in involved in the decision-making process, and how will the teams affected by compensated?