WorldTour lite? Participation not mandatory for UCI WorldTeams at 10 new WorldTour events

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Today’s announcement from the UCI, regarding a new set of WorldTour regulations for the 2017 season and beyond, included a very interesting detail about 10 new events granted WorldTour status in 2017.

On the topic of “incorporation of new UCI WorldTour events into the 2017 calendar” and “participation rules for events newly entering the 2017 UCI WorldTour calendar,” the UCI’s Professional Cycling Council agreed that those events should invite all UCI WorldTeams, but that, “participation would be voluntary.”

[Note: The term “UCI WorldTeam” is interchangeable with “UCI WorldTour team.”]

The addition of 10 new races pushes the WorldTour calendar from 27 events to 37, including overlapping several events.

Previously, the UCI had said WorldTeams would no longer be required to ride new WorldTour races, and those new events would only need to invite 10 of the 18 WorldTeams.

What does all this mean?

Given that one of the pillars of the WorldTour since its inception was that all WorldTeams would be required to participate in all WorldTour events, it means that these are WorldTour events in name (and WorldTour points) only — fans should not expect to see every WorldTeam participating.

Two events, the RideLondon Classic and the Abu Dhabi Tour, have made arrangements with the 11 teams in the Velon team’s group, to help secure a top-tier field.

The UCI also said that the 10 new WorldTour events would be given “three year initial registrations” — essentially a trial period.

So, to summarize, WorldTeams aren’t required to participate, and events aren’t assured they will remain in the WorldTour. Call it “WorldTour lite.”

WorldTour lite? 10 new events were granted WorldTour status in 2017:

  • January 29: Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race (Australia)
  • February 6-10: Tour of Qatar (Qatar)
  • February 23-26: Abu Dhabi Tour (United Arab Emirates)
  • February 25: Omloop Het Nieuwsblad (Belgium)
  • March 4: Strade Bianche (Italy)
  • March 22: Dwars Door Vlaanderen (Belgium)
  • April 18-23: Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey (Turkey)
  • May 1: Eschborn-Frankfurt (Germany)
  • May 14-21: Amgen Tour of California (United States)
  • July 30: Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic (Great Britain)

This should not come as a surprise. When the Redlands Classic announced in August that it would be moving its date on the calendar from early April to early May, as a “lead-in domestic stage race prior to the Tour of California,” questions were immediately raised.

Because Redlands has not historically been a UCI-sanctioned stage race — instead registered through USA Cycling — WorldTour teams, and even Pro Continental teams, have not been allowed. And, likewise, Continental teams like Rally Cycling, Jelly Belly, and Axeon Hagens Berman, which make up the top tier at a national-level stage race like Redlands, have not been traditionally allowed to compete in WorldTour races.

The move, as a lead-in to the Amgen Tour, signaled that something would soon change. What exactly that will look like, however, is still uncertain.

As part of the 2016 UCI America Tour, this year’s Amgen Tour of California featured 10 WorldTour teams, three Pro Continental teams, and five Continental teams. As a WorldTour event, it would be required to invite 10 WorldTeams; whether that means the race would be required to actually field 10 WorldTeams is unclear.

Under current WorldTour rules, Pro Continental teams can receive wildcard invitations to WorldTour events; think Fortuneo-Vital Concept at the Tour de France. It’s a different story for domestic Continental teams, which have grown to depend on participation at the Amgen Tour for survival as other big U.S. races have disappeared.

For many of these teams, the Amgen Tour is akin to their Tour de France; national exposure that sponsors count on to justify the marketing expense of bankrolling a pro cycling team. Just as WorldTour teams need to be able to assure their sponsors they will race the Tour de France, domestic Continental teams can flourish or perish based on participation in California.

After Wednesday’s announcement, more questions were raised. Among them:

• If there is no mandatory participation of WorldTeams at these 10 new WorldTour events, then what, exactly, makes these WorldTour races? Is it primarily the fact that WorldTour points will be awarded?
• Is the new rule that 10 WorldTeams must participate, or that 10 WorldTeams must be invited? Given that participation is voluntary, isn’t it possible that only a handful of WorldTeams could show up?
• Will these non-compulsory events still give WorldTour points that will count towards the final WorldTeam ranking — which may then be used in a future promotion/relegation system?
• If these events are not filled by WorldTeams, will Continental teams then be allowed to compete? Or will they only be filled by WorldTeams and Pro Continental teams?
• If Continental teams are allowed, would we have a new scenario where Continental riders are, for the first time, awarded WorldTour points? Or would they be awarded Continental calendar points?
• Points earned at major races count toward important nation rankings, either in the WorldTour or respective Continental calendar, which affects allotments at world championships and Olympic Games. What sort of points might be awarded to a Continental rider at a “WorldTour lite” event?

Representatives from the UCI and AEG, owners of the Amgen Tour of California, did not immediately reply for comment.

The UCI announced that its new WorldTour regulations would be published prior to a forthcoming UCI WorldTour seminar, held December 6-7 in Mallorca, Spain.

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