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by Shane Stokes
December 13, 2015
Photography by Kristof Ramon and Cor Vos
Earlier this week the UCI announced agreement had been reached on the WorldTour reform it has been developing and refining for several years. Started under the previous president Pat McQuaid, the plans have gradually changed in the two-plus years since Brian Cookson took over in that slot.
While more needs to be done before the complete details are finalised, a clearer picture is beginning to emerge. There are still questions, though, including if race organisers such as ASO will row in behind the reforms.
We look at what is known at this point in time.
Reactions to this week’s seminar have been limited thus far but indications are that progress has indeed been made. The UCI announced on Tuesday that a consensus had been reached on the long-running push to reform the WorldTour.
“Following a two-day meeting held in Barcelona, Spain, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and key stakeholders of men’s professional road cycling have agreed on the details of the reform,” cycling’s governing body said in a statement then.
While no actual vote was held at the meeting, the UCI has said repeatedly to multiple media outlets since that no objections were raised. It seems a big change from last month, when the members of AIOCC, the association of race organisers, essentially rejected the reforms at its AGM.
On that occasion 70 out of the 77 member organisers backed a motion voicing “utmost concern with regard to the reform (of cycling) in its current state, which is nothing like the original project presented to the annual general meeting in 2014.”
It called for more talks, and the meetings in Barcelona on Monday and Tuesday gave the first opportunity for that.
Under Pat McQuaid’s presidency, the planned reform of the sport was extensive. In December 2012 the governing body released a statement saying that a Memorandum of Understanding had been signed to potentially replace the WorldTour with a new World Series of Cycling.
If implemented, that would have seen a calendar based on the current Grand Tours and Classics, plus ten new Grand Prix events held on different continents.
Those plans ultimately fizzled out. By September 2013 the UCI’s Professional Cycling Council (PCC) proposed different reforms, the core of which would be a first and second division in the sport, fewer riders on each team and also less racing days per year for those riders.
The structure of the season would be such to ensure no overlap between events, and there would be an automatic promotion/regulation system.
That same week McQuaid was defeated by Cookson in the UCI elections and, unsurprisingly, many of the policies under the former president were modified.
In March of last year a somewhat complex structure emerged, envisioning the first division split into two categories of teams, 16 1A squads and 8 1B teams, with two tiers also existing for events.
In order to avoid overlaps, many races would be shortened: there was talk of the Vuelta and Giro being reduced from their traditional three week duration, for example.
Needless to say, those proposals didn’t go down well with many organisers. By June 2015 the plans had been rejected by ASO and others.
One source told CyclingTips that a major stumbling block was with the proposed three year licences the UCI considered giving teams.
How very Dutch.
The UCI kept moving forward and stated in September that it had drawn up a clear outline for reforms. Despite ASO’s resistence, it said the planned three year licences would remain. In addition to that, a number of additional races would be added to the WorldTour calendar from 2017 onwards.
ASO and the AIOCC weren’t happy, bringing us to the point mentioned above where they rejected the reform last month.
The UCI responded by holding the two day seminar and, while specific details are still to emerge of what the reforms will look like, there are indications that things may finally have begun to settle down.
So what’s planned now?
Under the latest incarnation, WorldTour events will be granted three year licences from 2017, thus giving stability to those races. New races will also be able to apply to step up to this level for the same duration.
In what was perhaps a move to reassure AIOCC, the UCI said that a Professional Calendar Working Group would be formed with the goal of helping stakeholders to work together.
The organisers, the teams and the riders will all be represented, and the group will advise the UCI’s Professional Cycling Calendar on this area of the sport.
Big crowds cheering the peloton out of Maastricht.
Again, a more complete picture will emerge over time, but things are substantially different to how they were originally projected.
There will be no shortening of the Grand Tours. Races will still be allowed to overlap, thus remove the pressure on other WorldTour events to be reduced in duration.
The overall structure of the reform appears to be simpler, with 18 WorldTour teams remaining the norm at this point in time. There will also be no pressure on the top riders to ride all of the big events.
Cookson explained the watering down of the reform. “I think what’s happened is that the proposals that were part of the 2013 reforms that I inherited, it became pretty clear quite early on that these were not proposals that had universal or even widespread support, either amongst the organizers or amongst the teams,” he told VeloNews this week.
“When bits of those proposals got out into the public domain the fans weren’t particularly happy about it either.
“So what we’ve done over the last two years is revisit all of it. Really try to see what the issues are; what can we do to move things forward. Clearly our view was that the 2013 proposals were trying to fit cycling into a kind of straightjacket that might work for other sports but might have been damaging to our sport.
“We’ve come up with a range of proposals that are an evolution, not a revolution.”
Although the tone of the AIOCC statement about last month’s AGM appeared completely opposed to the reforms, there are signs that the UCI is indeed moving closer to an agreement.
Speaking to CyclingTips on Friday, AIOCC vice president Ed Buchette said there was a willingness to sit down and find a common path.
“I think we can only win a race if we all have a common goal and if we are moving together,” he acknowledged.
Buchette pinpointed a number of areas which he felt needed to be looked at. These include ensuring that the expansion in the WorldTour calendar doesn’t end up meaning that big stars are less likely to ride non-WorldTour events.
He also says it is important that teams agree to a request for smaller fields, such as a reduction of Grand Tour squads from nine to eight riders.
Although Cookson has indicated that ASO is still unhappy with aspects of the reforms, Buchette’s comments suggest progress. They, plus the endorsement of organisers such as those behind the Tour of Poland, suggest the UCI is finally drawing closer to an overall consensus.
If so, that’s good for the sport’s future. Growing the pie has long been recognised as crucial, but this can only be done when all of the stakeholders are prepared to work together.