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Back in August, the UCI revealed a list of road races that, in 2017, will be promoted to the highest level of the sport: the WorldTour. Among those races was the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race.
Since its first edition in 2015, this Australian one-day event has been held a week after the Santos Tour Down Under and has been promoted every year — from 1.1 in 2015 to 1.HC in 2016 and now, to 1.UWT for the next three years.
So what does this promotion to the WorldTour mean for Cadel’s Race, on a practical level? And what impact will it have on Australian cycling more generally?
For starters, WorldTour points will now be on offer to teams that come and contest Cadel’s Race. On paper, this will increase the desirability of the race. As UCI vice-president Tracey Gaudry told CyclingTips, there will also be changes in the way the race is marketed and broadcast to the world.
“Each of the WorldTour events [have] a set of what we call ‘Cahier des charges’, which is a set of regulations that those events must abide by, in terms of the delivery standard, the broadcast standard, the signage and the marketing,” Gaudry said. “So [the WorldTour promotion] actually takes them all to a new level in terms of the event presentation and it also exposes those events to more markets worldwide.
“It basically places the event on a higher platform. They’re investing more in the event, but it delivers a greater marketing platform for that event on the world stage.”
A spot on the WorldTour has been the goal for Cadel’s Race organisers since the very start. Achieving that is a positive result for the race and for cycling in Australia.
“We now have not only the stage race in the Tour Down Under … we now have a one-day classic and so you’ve actually got the combination of the two events setting the scene for the whole WorldTour,” Gaudry told CyclingTips. “[It’s] just a wonderful way to start the season and a wonderful way for the teams to kick-start their season knowing they’ve actually got two options: to bring their riders out to a one-day race and a tour.
“So at the world level we’re very very pleased with the decision and the outcome, and domestically it just means cycling can grow even more in stature.”
While those involved in Cadel’s Race are celebrating its step up to the WorldTour, there are those who are concerned about the ramifications of the promotion.
The Conti angle
In each of its first two editions, Cadel’s Race was attended by no fewer than seven Continental teams — the third tier of UCI-registered teams. Along with the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, Cadel’s Race was one of only two UCI-classified events in Australia that was open to Continental teams.
Races such as these — with TV coverage and international interest — provide much-needed exposure for Continental teams and their sponsors. But with only two such events on the Australian calendar, it was already a struggle for teams to justify the high cost of a Continental license (at least AU$20,000).
Now, with the promotion of Cadel’s Race to the WorldTour, Continental teams will no longer be able to take part.
“The UCI have informed us that Continental teams will not be allowed to participate in the CEGORR or any other World Tour race in 2017”, a Cadel’s Race spokesperson confirmed to CyclingTips.
To Brett Dutton, manager of Australian Continental team St. George-Merida, this development is a frustrating one.
“From our perspective it’s disappointing because we got that opportunity this year to have a start in that race, which was great,” Dutton told CyclingTips. “It’s one of the only races in the country where you can probably get television time, so for us it was a great experience. It was good exposure.”
And it’s not just exposure that makes these international races of value to the Continental teams. For the younger, developing riders that often make up Continental squads, international events provide the opportunity to race against considerably stronger opposition, hopefully learning and improving in the process.
Of course, concerns about participation rules for the new WorldTour events aren’t limited to Australian Continental teams. U.S. Continental outfits are disappointed by the promotion of the Tour of California, for example — a key race for local teams and a race at which Continental teams have had significant success in recent years.
“I think it hurts [the state of U.S. cycling] a little bit to be honest,” said Patrick McCarty, team director at U.S. Continental squad Rally Cycling. “It certainly affects us. It’s one of the biggest races we do in the year and it’s something we need to participate in. So yeah, it’s a huge change for us.”
For many Australian teams, the idea of registering for a Continental license was already an unappealing one, given the high costs involved and the lack of local, international racing. And with the National Road Series calendar looking leaner than in years gone by, Australian teams now have even fewer opportunities to race at home.
So does the promotion of Cadel’s Race make an Australian Continental license even less desirable? Is a license still worth the investment?
“Obviously it makes you think about it, there’s no two ways about that,” Dutton told CyclingTips. “But on the other side of that, due to the lack of available racing in Australia at the moment, the Continental license is still a must. It gives the opportunities to race more races over here, in Asia.”
And as Brett Dutton admits, there’s a bigger picture here too — one of Australian cycling as a whole.
“I guess you’ve got to look at the other side and say ‘Well, hang on, it’s huge for the sport to have a one-day classic in Australia’,” Dutton said.
A glimmer of hope?
While UCI regulations state that Continental teams can’t take part in WorldTour events — existing or new — it’s theoretically possible to get an exemption to this rule: “Officially, any event, any organiser and any stakeholder in the system can apply for a derogation to an existing rule or regulation,” Gaudry confirmed to CyclingTips.
So if the organisers of Cadel’s Race saw value in having Continental teams in attendance, for whatever reason, they could apply for an exemption. Similarly, if local Continental teams felt strongly about the need to attend Cadel’s Race, they too could take action.
Indeed, Andrew Christie-Johnston, co-founder of Australian Continental team Avanti-IsoWhey, hinted at this possibility when he told CyclingTips earlier this week that he was “trying to work on a solution to Cadel’s Race at the moment.”
Gaudry couldn’t comment specifically on what would be required in order to get an exemption from the UCI’s WorldTour participation rules but did reiterate why Continental teams are excluded from top-level events: to ensure the standards and principles of the WorldTour are upheld.
The obvious difference is in the level of racing — WorldTour events are considerable harder than lower-level events. But there are regulatory differences too, most notably the fact that WorldTour (and Pro Continental) riders must take part in the sport’s Biological Passport anti-doping program, while Continental riders have no such obligation.
“A very clear distinction between a WorldTour team and a Conti-level team is the anti-doping requirements on those teams,” Gaudry said “That would be a type of factor that might be considered [by the UCI] if there was to be entertained any derogation [of the WorldTour event participation rules].”
There’s no suggestion that getting a exemption to the WorldTour participation rules would be easy, nor that race organisers will take that tack. But it’s clear the process does exist for those who feel strongly enough about having Continental teams present at events like Cadel’s Race.
Growing Australian cycling
For organisers of Cadel’s Race, the grand vision is to have all WorldTour teams on the startline; for Cadel’s Race and the Tour Down Under to be seen as a compelling early-season package that WorldTour teams want to race before beginning their European campaigns.
The thought goes that the more WorldTour teams at the race, the greater the attention on the race from media and fans worldwide. And greater attention on the race equates to greater attention on Victoria’s Surf Coast, a major tourism asset for the Victorian government — the race’s major sponsor.
And while Cadel’s Race appears to be at least a few years away from attracting every WorldTour team, the 2017 edition will almost certainly feature more such teams than in previous editions. Eight WorldTour teams raced the inaugural edition, nine took part this year, and from 2017 onwards, the event will be expected to attract at least 10.
“The organisers must invite all of the WorldTour teams … to give all the teams the opportunity to take part in any of the WorldTour events”, Gaudry said, explaining the UCI guidelines for the newly promoted WorldTour events. “The teams are not obliged to take part in the new [WorldTour] events, but the onus is on the organiser to procure 10.
“What the UCI will do then, as part of this next evolution of the WorldTour is assess the results that each organiser obtains in terms of participation.”
The subtext is clear: if event organisers want to ensure their race stays on the WorldTour calendar, they’d better ensure they have at least 10 top teams along.
It’s worth noting that this minimum of 10 teams puts the new WorldTour races at odds with the races already on that calendar; races which must have all WorldTour teams in attendance. But as Tracey Gaudry explains, that’s by design.
“If you’re adding on nine or 10 new WorldTour events that [WorldTour teams] must attend, that stretches the schedules of [those teams],” Gaudry said. “For each WorldTour event having to have 10, the ProTeams will on average attend more than half the new WorldTour events, as well as the existing ones.
“It also gives an opportunity for the WorldTour events to be able to attract those ProTeams and time by which to build up the status of that event, to ensure that more ProTeams come in over time.”
The 2017 Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race
So what will the make-up of the 2017 Cadel’s Race be? Organisers tell CyclingTips they’re confident of getting more than the required 10 WorldTour teams to the 2017 edition. There’ll be an Australian national team in attendance, and, at this stage, the remainder of the places will be taken by Pro Continental teams.
It will be interesting to see how many of the WorldTour teams do send a squad to the 2017 Cadel’s Race and how the event progresses in the years to come. Will it become a race that teams value for the standard of racing and the WorldTour points on offer?
And what about the lower levels of the sport – will the promotion of Cadel’s Race increase the challenges already facing cash-strapped Continental teams? Or is it just possible that we might see the odd Continental team on the startline, despite the race’s promotion to the WorldTour?
Australia, and much of the cycling world, will be watching.