The possibility of a major, and potentially devastating, rift in the sport appears to have been averted after the UCI and ASO have confirmed an agreement over WorldTour reforms.
These and other stakeholders met on Wednesday as part of the Professional Cycling Council and eked out an agreement on the next steps in that reform, as well as approving the 2017 WorldTour calendar.
Thanks to that accord, ASO’s races will appear in the calendar next season. This ends a threat by the Tour de France organiser that it would wrest its events from the UCI’s top series, a move that would have signified a serious threat to the stability of the sport.
ASO had previously been dissatisfied with the UCI’s proposals, thus returning to the tensions seen when the ProTour/WorldTour was introduced in the mid 2000s.
“This marks another important step in the reform of men’s professional cycling,” said UCI President Brian Cookson in an announcement about the agreement.
“I am very pleased that we now have our stakeholders behind what represents the future of our sport. I am delighted that we can build on the heritage and prestige of the UCI WorldTour, while also welcoming newer but already successful events taking place in and outside Europe.”
He added that the UCI was committed to continuing the present consultation with stakeholders on the reforms.
Tour de France director and AIOCC [the race organisers’ organisation] president Christian Prudhomme agreed that an important stage had been reached. “I am delighted that an agreement could be found that will help the sport of cycling as a whole.”
His compatriot David Lappartient is the president of the Pro Cycling Council and has been regarded by some as a possible challenger to Cookson in next year’s UCI presidential elections. He too hailed the agreement.
“I am very pleased that the proposed reform has reached a large consensus,” Lappartient said. “Our stakeholders have agreed on a vision that will reinforce the globalisation of cycling, ensure stability for teams and organisers, while preserving the principles of an open system that will allow access to UCI WorldTour level based on sporting results.
“It is a great step in making cycling a more attractive and global sport, while respecting its roots and history.”
Increase in races but a reduction in teams
Under the agreement forged in Geneva, Switzerland, next year’s calendar will include all the current UCI WorldTour races.
In addition to that, a number of additional events will be added to the calendar and granted initial three year licences. This will, according to the UCI, feature ‘a wide range of top-level races that will further globalise the UCI WorldTour and strengthen the season-long narrative.’
One of the main areas of contention before was ASO’s resistence to the notion of multi-year licences for races and teams. Last December it announced that it would pull all of its races from the 2017 calendar because of this belief.
“UCI has actually recently adopted, from season 2017, a Reform of the World Tour calendar characterized by a closed sport system,” it said then.
“More than ever, A.S.O. remains committed to the European model and cannot compromise the values it represents: an open system giving first priority to the sporting criterion.
“It is therefore in this new context and within its historical events that ASO. will continue to keep these values alive.”
While it appears to have agreed to three year licences for the new events, ASO has won two victories in relation to the teams. Firstly, teams will be given licences for 2017 and 2018, a year less than the UCI was aiming for.
Secondly, the UCI states that the number of WorldTour teams will be set at 17 next season and will drop to 16 one year later. Thereafter, it will be remain at that level.
This will coincide with the system of promotion and relegation that ASO had long been pushing for.
“From the end of the 2018 season onwards, there will be an annual challenge system, based on an overall annual sporting classification, between the last ranked UCI WorldTeam and the top Pro Continental Team to enter as a UCI WorldTeam in the following season,” explained the UCI in Thursday’s announcement.
“In the event that a UCI WorldTeam drops out of the top tier, that team will have the right to participate in all the following season’s UCI WorldTour events, meaning that UCI WorldTeams will have stability for the three seasons 2017 to 2019.”
Under the system, from 2017 onwards the current WorldTour events will feature all of the UCI WorldTours. As for the new races, the UCI is proposing that a minimum of ten WorldTour teams will take part in each of those.
This latter proposal will be considered by the PCC at its next meeting.
Crucially, though, the prospect of civil war in the sport appears to be at an end.