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by Shane Stokes
October 29, 2015
Photography by Kristof Ramon, Cor Vos
Although the details of the UCI’s reform of professional cycling are yet to be released – or, indeed, finalised – some riders agents have said that a feared impact on team sizes for 2016 haven’t proven to be as big an issue as first anticipated.
Reports last month suggested that some squads were signing fewer riders for next season because the initial framework for the reforms of the sport anticipated smaller WorldTour team sizes in the future.
Under that framework, WorldTour teams would go from the current maximum of 30 to just 22 riders. They would also have development teams racing in smaller events.
Those reports suggested that WorldTour teams would begin downsizing in 2016, one year earlier than the reforms would come into existence. However, contacted by CyclingTips, riders’ agents have said that the feared impact on contracts for next season haven’t materialised.
However what has occurred is that the demographic of those signed has shifted.
“Some teams did speak about this and the lack of clarity hasn’t helped,” explained Joao Correia of the Corso agency. “But what we saw happen a lot this year was teams sign young riders and neo pros. If you look at the list you can find more than a few teams with three neo professionals.”
Another agent, Eelco Berkhout of the SEG Cycling agency, said that there was uncertainty amongst teams over what exactly the reforms would mean for them and others.
Despite that, though, he said that things worked out solidly for the agency.
“All of our riders are under contract in 2016 and we’ve made it possible to move three riders from our development project SEG Racing Academy to the World Tour. So, for us personally there was no negative effect on the transfer market this year.
“But we’re also looking forward to the final reform regulation to know what our strategy will be as agents and with our development program.”
Like Correia, a third agent – who preferred not to be named – also said that he had noticed a shift towards younger competitors.
Last month agents told CyclingTips that another change was an increase in the number of one year contracts. This, they suggested, was a reflection of the lack of clarity in relation to cycling reforms and what that would mean longer term.
One factor that delayed the signing of riders was uncertainty over the final destination of some high profile competitors. Several agents told CyclingTips after the Tour de France that the market was moving slowly as key riders were still finalising where they would race in 2016.
One of the biggest was Mark Cavendish, who was expected to move away from Etixx – Quick-Step.
This ultimately proved to be the case, but his signing by MTN-Qhubeka – which will race next year as Team Dimension Data – only became official in at the end of September. In the meantime other teams had been in talks with him and were waiting to see how those negotiations panned out before finalising their rosters.
Agents told CyclingTips after the Tour that as long as negotiations with big name riders were ongoing, teams would hold off on signing those on smaller contracts.
One of the reasons for this was those teams in the tussle for such signatures were uncertain about the budget they would have left to spend on others.
In addition to that, the overall dynamic of a team and the riders it signs as support depends in part on the leaders. Cavendish’s presence on Team Dimension Data will require others in key leadout roles. Bernhard Eisel and Mark Renshaw were signed on this basis.
Had another team signed the Briton, they too would have had to build a leadout train.
The net effect of this and other big transfers was that the market was slower this season. Riders were waiting longer to find slots for next year, increasing stress on those competitors and their agents.
The UCI’s reform of the sport have been in the pipeline for several years. One aim is to try to make the sport more stable. A second is to have a clearer, more marketable structure in order to increase the sport’s global popularity over time.
Such reforms were expected to have been in place sooner, but tensions and a lack of agreement between stakeholders caused delays.
One major issue was a reported resistance to the chances on the part of ASO, organiser of the Tour de France and other races and one of the most powerful stakeholders in the sport.
In June it was reported that ASO had threatened to remove their races from the UCI calendar next season if certain conditions were not met.
Reuters said that the company was dissatisfied with a lack of progress in the UCI’s calendar reform program. According to the news agency, it said that the main issue is that it wants to ensure that major race dates do not overlap.
However a source connected to professional teams told CyclingTips that ASO was more concerned about plans to grant teams a three year WorldTour licence. He said that such an evolution would give teams more power and that ASO was unhappy that its control of the sport would be loosened.
Whatever the reason, the UCI announced in late September that after discussions with the Professional Cycling Council at the world championships in Richmond, Virginia, that the UCI’s management committee had approved the changes.
Under this blueprint, the three year licences will come into effect from 2017 onwards. In addition to that, additional races will be added to the WorldTour calendar, and both teams and events would have to conform to a new ‘Cahier des Charges’ system designed to boost quality, integrity and anti-doping measures.
ASO is yet to comment on the WorldTour reforms but, according to the managing director of the professional team’s association AIGCP, the organisation is expected to be on board.
“We haven’t heard that they didn’t agree,” Luuc Eisenga told CyclingTips. “And this is a decision that has been reached by the management committee of the UCI who are the ultimate decision-making power in the sport.
“I would suggest that the president of the Professional Cycling Council [David Lappartient – ed.], who is also the president of the French federation, has the consent of ASO to put in a vote in favour of such a proposal.”
Asked if the UCI had come to a final decision about the WorldTour team sizes for 2017 onwards, Eisenga indicated that this was still an ongoing matter.
No clear number has been indicated to the AIGCP but he expects that this will happen over the coming months.
“Everything starts with the new calendar. From that calendar we work back to what is sustainable for a bike rider to perform in the year and following that you define a good programme,” he said. “Then of course teams have to see how many riders they would need to fulfil their obligations and to reach their sports goals in the season.
“I think in the early stages of 2016 at the latest we have to define what teams look like in 2017. What is the size of the WorldTour team and what is the status and the size of the development team. Those are all things that are extremely important.”
Once that is done, agents and teams will be in a much better position to plan towards 2017 and beyond. A major uncertainty will be removed from the sport and, ideally, a greater stability will develop.
Eisenga knows that more work lies ahead but believes a major step forward has been made.
“Obviously we are very glad that a consensus has now been reached, firstly between all the stakeholders and secondly between the members of the management committee of the UCI,” he stated.
“It is promising because in order to develop the sport, we have to work together. So that an important first step.
“Now the second step is translating policies into rules and into detail. There is always an amount of devil in the details. But if the basic spirit is one of collaboration and a desire to develop our sport together, then obviously we will master a lot of challenges.”