The very real risk that the UCI world team time trial championships would not take place this year has been averted, with an eleventh hour agreement being reached. This will enable a scaled-down version to go ahead next month.
According to a statement released by the UCI on Tuesday, discussions have led to a compromise solution which has saved the event.
At this point in time ten WorldTour teams have confirmed their participation. These are AG2R La Mondiale, Astana Pro Team, BMC Racing Team, Etixx – Quick Step, Movistar, Orica-BikeExchange, Giant – Alpecin, Katusha, LottoNL-Jumbo and Team Sky.
While this means eight WorldTour squads will miss out, the UCI release states that more teams could possibly confirm their participation in the coming days.
A total of 27 teams raced last year, with several non-WorldTour teams also taking part. At this point in time it is unclear if any of the Pro Continental teams who are entitled to take part will decide not to travel. It is also unclear if the women’s TTT event will be affected.
Controversy over the championships had built up steadily for over a year, with teams and the UCI disagreeing on several points. These included compulsory participation and the lack of an appearance fee.
Under the new agreement, this compulsory participation has been waived. Teams will also be paid an amount which will go towards the costs, although CyclingTips understands that this will not cover the full expenses that teams will incur in transporting athletes, staff and equipment to Doha.
No WorldTour points will be awarded for the event. This was an important point of discussions as with voluntary participation, those deciding not to travel would have otherwise been penalised by missing out on such points.
Speaking to CyclingTips, AIGCP president Iwan Spekenbrink gave his reaction to the agreement.
“We are happy that the UCI has acknowledged our concerns and that they have been willing to adjust the format for this year,” he said. “We are also pleased that they will work together with the teams to come to a sustainable format for this event for the future, in agreement with the teams.”
Spekenbrink didn’t want to comment further at this point in time.
The UCI announcement also states that both sides will work together to reach an agreement for future years.
“Both parties also agreed on following up on these initial discussions to find a sustainable format for the men’s team trial event in the years to come,” it stated.
Qatar qualms: Why the stakes were so high this time around:
Dissatisfaction over the world TTT championships has been brewing for quite some time, with teams aggrieved that they were compelled to take part under UCI rules relating to the WorldTour. The source of contention was the UCI’s refusal to pay the usual appearance fee that organisers of the 27 other WorldTour races must provide.
Once team source, who wished to remain anonymous, told CyclingTips that this amounted to a ‘best of both worlds’ scenario for the UCI. He said that the UCI was imposing compulsory WorldTour participation on the teams yet, for its own part, was treating the race like any other world championship event and not paying any starting fee nor contribution towards costs.
He said that the UCI was picking and choosing the rules to suit itself and that teams didn’t see this as fair.
The issue has been in the background ever since the first professional team time trial championship was held back in 2012, but it became a much bigger deal in 2015.
The championships had taken place in Europe until that point but last autumn was held in Richmond, USA. This greatly ramped up the cost, with equipment no longer able to be driven to the championships venue. Team vehicles were also unavailable, and the transportation costs for riders and staff soared.
With Qatar hosting the 2016 worlds, this issue remained.
What made it even more difficult to swallow was the fact that Qatar is paying handsomely to host the world championships. UCI president Brian Cookson was asked about this last autumn and confirmed to CyclingTips that revenue was a factor in the venue selection.
“People say, ‘ah, it is just money,’ Cookson said then, commenting on the awarding of the championships to what is a non-traditional location. “Of course money is involved there. It is not about making the UCI richer, it is about organising a special high quality event in a part of the world that is interested in investing in our sport. Not just an event but maybe in teams in the future.
“Those kind of investments from that part of the world into professional sport, into elite sport, are impossible to ignore. And I don’t think we should ignore them. We have heard a lot about how do we make pro cycling more economically sustainable, and investments from that part of the world are part of it.
“So if in a few years time we had a pro team sponsored by one of the big Arab airlines or something like that, or one of the oil companies from that part of the world, then maybe that is not a bad thing.”
Those points are fair enough, but for teams facing large costs to participate in Qatar, the lack of an appearance fee or help with expenses stuck in the throat.
“You cannot force people to participate somewhere and then have them pay themselves,” said the team source. “There is no other cycling race on the planet which has regulations like that.”
How an agreement was reached:
With passions running high, the AIGCP stepped forward on behalf of the teams and demanded changes. It wanted the UCI to do one of two things: scenario one was to pay a starting fee and contribute towards expenses, as all other WorldTour race organisers must do.
The other alternative, scenario two, was for the UCI to waive the compulsory participation and the awarding of WorldTour points, thus giving teams the choice of riding or not.
Essentially, the AIGCP wanted to end the ‘best of both worlds’ position the UCI was in. It told the governing body that it wanted an answer by the end of July.
The UCI wasn’t for waiving and so, on August 10, the AIGCP teams indicated that they not be going to Qatar.
“AIGCP informs that an overwhelming majority of its WorldTour members voted to skip the 2016 Team-Time-Trial World Championships in light of UCI’s unwillingness to offer fair and consistent terms of participation,” the group stated then.
“This position was adopted at the July 1st AIGCP General Assembly and was ratified earlier this week after UCI failed again to address the demands of WorldTeams which are compelled under UCI regulations to participate in UCI’s TTT World Championships at their expense.”
It added that it considered the current rules to be, “undeniably abusive and reveal the abuse of power which UCI incurs in when it enforces them solely for the one road competition it operates.”
Fortunately, discussions continued behind the scenes after that point and earlier this month, things inched closer towards a resolution.
What was crucial in terms of providing leverage was the fact that the teams were, for the first time, really sticking together. In past conflicts with the UCI, ASO and others, a divide and conquer strategy was often employed.
This eroded the collective resolve and caused the AIGCP to be in a much weaker position.
This time around, the teams held firm. With time running out, and with Cookson priding himself as being a more conciliatory president than his predecessors, efforts to find a solution rather than sledgehammer home the regulations led to progress.
The UCI agreed to waive voluntary participation and also the awarding of WorldTour points. It also committed that it would pay an appearance fee, although the team source told CyclingTips that this is largely symbolic, a show of good faith.
In return, the AIGCP said that a solid lineup would appear in Qatar. Participation would remain voluntary, but a proportion of the teams would commit to racing in the event.
Longer term, both sides agreed to work out a new formula for the event, including agreed financial terms.
It remains to be seen if this will see the teams competing at the same venue as the UCI world road championships, or in a different location.
While more remains to be done in terms of future editions, both sides will likely feel relieved as the buildup to Qatar continues.
The UCI has avoided what would have been an embarrassing boycott of its flagship events. The AIGCP has held firm and, showing solidarity that it lacked in the past, secured a more satisfactory agreement.
The long-term format of the world team time trial championships still needs to be determined but, after months of conflict, it seems a win-win scenario for both sides for 2016.