Dimension Data Principal on WorldTour numbers: ‘The right decision was made for cycling’

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The news on Wednesday that the UCI’s Professional Cycling Council had agreed that 18 rather than 17 licences would be up for grabs in the 2017 WorldTour was greeted by many.

The announcement reversed a reduction announced in June, and relieves the pressure on the teams battling for a WorldTour place next season.

As a result of that prior reduction, Team Dimension Data, Bahrain-Merida and TJ Sport had been battling for two places. Now, providing they satisfy the requirements of the UCI’s Licencing Commission, all three can have a place in the top rank of the sport.

The news is a big boost for Team Dimension Data Principal Douglas Ryder, who had faced weeks of uncertainty in this area. While his squad had a strong first season in the WorldTour, winning five stages in the Tour de France and taking numerous other wins, the nature of the point system had meant it was sitting 18th out of 18 squads in the end of year ranking. That put it in danger of relegation.

Ryder had previously told CyclingTips that he strongly believed the team warranted a place in the WorldTour. Speaking on Wednesday, he gave his reactions to the news and addressed a number of topics.

These included Dimension Data’s dual partnership of the team and the Tour de France, the squad’s approach to the 2016 season and how this might change in the future, plus a question about whether his team’s sponsorship may have been threatened had it been relegated.

Read on to see that conversation.

CyclingTips: The UCI has announced today that up to 18 WorldTour licences will be handed out. That would seem to clear the way for Team Dimension Data to be part of the WorldTour again next season. What’s your reaction?

Douglas Ryder: It is amazing for us, although the UCI press release doesn’t actually state any teams. There is no announcement from the Licence Commission yet. Okay, it does say that there are going to be 18 teams and there are only 18 licences. But of course there is still the process that happens after Ernst and Young are handed the file and it then goes to the Licence Commission.

Because of that, I don’t know how this statement today affects that because that is a separate entity to the UCI.

Those hearings are next week. So look, I will be happy when I see the team name in the UCI press release [announcing the WorldTour sqauds]. It isn’t there yet. But it is a step in the right direction.

Did anything happen behind the scenes on your part to get things to this point?

No. Obviously the AIGCP [the teams’ association] and the professional teams were standing together. I think that this is the first time in cycling that there was a united front and a united body. I think Iwan [Spekenbrink], Javier [Barrio] and those guys from the AIGCP have done a really good job in moving forward together. It doesn’t happen often in many sports. So that is good.

Everybody’s interests are [represented]…the interests of the sport, the interests of the team, the interests of the event organisers, the interests of the UCI. It is a good collaboration. And I think ASO has also been involved in the discussions as well. I am hoping that all parties are happy, because when all parties are happy and there is a good environment, it can only lead to successful sports. For the fans, for the media, for everyone.

I wasn’t privy to those conversations but I am hoping that they were all done in good spirits and that everybody is happy with the outcome.

I think even if there was a team that dropped down to the second division, that team would ultimately have been in most of the races anyway. But this gives security and sponsors who want to be this part of this brand and have this surety of being in the WorldTour.

It is great for us, of course, and for our future as well. It is great for African cycling, for the Qhubeka charity and everything we stand for. I am happy that this is a step in the right direction for us.

In the past, you might remember there was a battle with the UCI and ASO over the-then ProTour, which became the WorldTour. The Unibet team suffered then in that conflict. Your team sponsor, Dimension Data, is obviously also a sponsor of the Tour de France. Do you think that is a sort of happy circumstance that helped smooth the discussions between ASO and the UCI and find common ground?

Well look, Dimension Data…the partnership with the ASO, that relationship, is really ethical and very separate to discussions. There was never a conversation which was had around our team sponsor and their technological partnership of the ASO.

I am very close with Dimension Data and they have a good relationship with ASO, of course, but I know that discussion didn’t happen. There wasn’t leverage pulled for that, in any manner or form. It was mentioned in an article recently that it [being left out of the WorldTour] could never happen because they are partners with each other. But I know that conversation didn’t happen.

I think that ASO is ethical around that and I think that Dimension Data wouldn’t do that either.

MTN-Qhubeka Team Principal Douglas Ryder and Brett Dawson of Dimension Data, announcing the company's sponsorship of the team
MTN-Qhubeka Team Principal Douglas Ryder and Brett Dawson of Dimension Data, announcing the company’s sponsorship of the team

Do you think your sponsorship could have come under pressure had you not been WorldTour?

You know, Dimension Data is an amazing organisation. They have invested in cycling in terms of the events side, the technical side and the team. They trust the team and they understand that we are building. We want to build African champions and we want to do some great things with this team.

Would they have reduced their commitment to the team? No. They are behind the team fully. They believe in the African dream. They started as a South African company that went global and they understand the difficulties of that, and they understand the benefits of it. They support this team wholeheartedly and that is a good thing.

But of course now the investment they are making and the performance that it has had…it is a big thing for them that the team is WorldTour. But that doesn’t affect their partnership.

Under what was announced today, there will be two years of 18 teams before the WorldTour drops to 17 squads. As a result it is not like things will change hugely this time next year. Will the upcoming promotion/relegation system change how Team Dimension Data approaches races next year, or will it be the following season where you really have to look at how you chase points?

Well, at this point they are saying that it [the announced arrangement – ed.] is going to be for two years. But are teams going to get two year licences for the WorldTour? I haven’t seen that yet. If we get awarded a two-year licence, does it mean that we take the foot off the pedal for WorldTour races next year? The answer is no.

We were incredibly accommodating this year with the Olympic Games [in terms of giving riders such as Mark Cavendish time to prepare for the Games – ed.]. It was difficult as we are not a big budget team that can have the depth and breath that some other teams can afford. But of course next year with a full road season again, we – irrespective of whether we get a two year licence or not – will race the WorldTour [aggressively].

It looks like the points system might be a world points system. So it just won’t be WorldTour points. It will be better for us. If you look at some of the other ranking systems like Pro Cycling Stats, CQ Ranking or whatever, we are better than 18th.

It all depends on what the system looks like, but we will for sure race to be in the top 15 teams in the world by the end of 2017.

To do that, does it mean that teams such as yours need to look at GC as well, as that is the way points are weighted at the moment? Stage wins don’t seem to be highly rewarded…

Ah, look, if we have an awesome Classics season…. We will have Scott Thwaites and Cavendish. Mark was really good this year, even while he was doing a lot of track work. I mean, he did the world championships in February on the track, and then was trying to do the Classics. So he was half-in, half-out.

If we have a good Classics season and go top five in a few Classics, then all of a sudden you have got as many points as a GC rider in a Grand Tour.

Then there’s Igor Anton. He didn’t fire this year and got sick in the Vuelta. So we had a lot of bad luck as well. There was Edvald Boasson Hagen attacking with a kilometre to go in Milan-San Remo…he could have won it. We didn’t have the best of luck as well.

We need to focus on the Classics as there are points there, and then we need to focus on the WorldTour stage races and make a good go of it. We have got a great team. I think we have bought some more depth. Not stars, but guys who can still shine. If one or two of them pick up a gear, something special can happen. Then we will be in a much better situation.

Also, it will be our fifth year [professional] next year. We were three years as a Pro Continental team and one year as a WorldTour team. 2017 is a good year for the African rider to shine as well. They have done their hard work, they have been through their schooling and I think we could see some amazing, amazing things next year from some of them. Like Natnael Berhane, Daniel [Teklehaimanot] and others. There are some really good riders that can seriously do something.

When we spoke before, you said you had faith that the UCI would do the right thing in terms of the number of licences for next season. It seems that they have. Does this reward your faith in them?

Look, we always supported the UCI. We ran a feeder team in partnership with the World Cycling Centre. A lot of our riders have come through the UCI training school in Aigle. We do support the UCI. It is good to support the governing body of cycling. I did mention that I hoped that sanity would prevail and that a team like ours, which is a good citizen of the sport and a good student of cycling, would survive [in the WorldTour]. And that has happened.

Things do happen for a reason. We are in a good place in the sport at the moment. We have great riders, a great team, a great cause. We are happy with the decision and we are happy that the UCI, I guess, listened to all stakeholders.

I think the right decision was made for cycling.

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