More open, aggressive Grand Tours and Classics look possible from next season, with some of the biggest race organisers announcing that they will reduce the number of riders permitted on each team in their events.
Tour de France and Vuelta a España organiser ASO, Giro d’Italia owner RCS Sport and Flanders Classics have all taken the decision, stating on Friday that they will drop team numbers by one.
This should reduce the control any one team can have on an event, and will be particularly noticed in the third week of Grand Tours when fatigue is more and more a factor.
ASO, RCS Sport and Flandres Classics control 19 of 37 2017 WorldTour races, including all GTs, monuments and key stage races.
— Pawe? Gadza?a (@8aldwin) November 25, 2016
“Following the General Assembly of the International Association of Cycling Race Organizers (AIOCC), RCS Sport, Flanders Classics and A.S.O have taken the decision to reduce the number of riders per team at the start of their races,” said ASO and RCS Sport in a joint statement.
“The number of riders per team will thus decrease from 9 to 8 on the Grand Tours and from 8 to 7 on the other events.”
The move has long been spoken about as a possibility. Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme made his feelings known on the matter last year and again during this year’s Tour.
In July UCI president Brian Cookson told CyclingTips he had mixed feelings about the subject.
“Well, I think there are two sides to that argument,” he said in Paris on the final day of the Tour. “You could say that even smaller numbers of riders on each team would make for even more unpredictable racing. I think it is going to be a hard one to sell to the teams.
“It would also mean that a team would only ever focus on one objective; they wouldn’t have a climbing half and a sprinter half, or a time trial couple of riders.
“Then on the other hand, I can think of an example from Sky, for instance, a couple of years ago. They lost Kanstantsin Siutsou in the first two or three stages, but they still managed to win with eight riders. So I am not so sure that would make such a big difference.
“But I understand where Christian is coming from on that and it is something that we are going to look at and talk about with him and the teams.”
The UCI has not yet responded to Friday’s announcement.
In their statement, both ASO and RCS Sport explained the reasoning behind the move.
“This decision responds to two-pronged objective: the first being to improve the safety conditions for the riders with a smaller peloton on roads equipped with more and more street furniture. The second, which is a fortunate consequence of the first, is to make it more difficult to dominate a race as well as enhance conditions for events to offer better racing for cycling fans.”
It added that the decision will be in place for the 2017 season and the number of teams will be the same.
With 22 squads lining out in cycling’s Grand Tours this year, it means that each peloton will be down nearly two dozen riders.
In all the decision will affect 28 of the sport’s biggest events. ASO runs 13 of those, including the Tour and Vuelta plus the prestigious Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Flèche Wallonne and Paris-Tours Classics. It also organises Paris-Nice, the Critérium du Dauphiné, the Tours of Qatar and Oman, the Tour de Yorkshire, the Arctic Race of Norway, the Tour de l’Avenir and the World Ports Classics.
RCS Sport and Flanders Classics run 15 races. The former organises the Giro d’Italia, Milan-San Remo, Milano-Turino, Strade Bianche and Il Lombardia, the Dubai Tour, the Abu Dhabi Tour and Tirreno-Adriatico.
Flanders Classics runs the Tour of Flanders, the Omlopp Het Nieuwsblad, Gent-Wevelgem, the Dwars Door Vlaanderen, Scheldeprijs and De Brabantse Pijl.
“Following recent statements, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) wishes to clarify the current position regarding team sizes. Whilst a potential reduction in team sizes may reflect a view held by some stakeholders, including some race organisers, any changes to the regulations governing men’s professional road cycling must be agreed by the Professional Cycling Council (PCC), on which the race organisers are fully represented.
This subject was discussed at the last PCC meeting in November 2016, and it was agreed to consider in detail the implications of such reduction over the coming months, with no change for 2017.