Smaller fields and ‘true’ Women’s WorldTour teams are coming, says UCI

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With an exciting Women’s WorldTour and World Road Championships behind us, the road season is coming to a close. While some cyclists are off enjoying some well-deserved vacation, others are readying themselves for a winter in the mud or on the track.

A perfect time then for us to sit down with UCI’s Women’s Coordinator, to look back on the 2017 season and discuss what’s ahead.

The second annual Women’s WorldTour was ‘a step forward’

Appointed at the end of 2015, Gaultier is tasked with developing and promoting women’s cycling in all its disciplines, including the Women’s WorldTour. There’s much room to grow still and progress to be made, but looking back, Gaultier said the season-long series has been a significant step forward for women’s cycling.

Launched in 2016 to replace the former UCI World Cup, the Women’s WorldTour came with promises of increased publicity and professionalism. While the WorldTour is certainly experiencing some growing pains (https://cyclingtips.com/2016/11/the-inaugural-womens-worldtour-did-it-live-up-to-its-expectations/), the series has successfully expanded the women’s calendar and added some big-name events in conjunction with men’s events.

UCI’s women’s coordinator Morgane Gaultier pictured here with WM3’s Anouska Koster.

Launched with 16 races in 2016, the 2017 Women’s WorldTour increased to 20 events over 46 race days.

Some of the expansions included women’s versions of iconic races like the Amstel Gold Race and Liège–Bastogne–Liège, giving the women’s peloton their first-ever complete Ardennes Week, which was met with much enthusiasm by riders and fans alike.

“The second Women’s WorldTour has made a number of significant steps forward following the inaugural edition last year,” Gaultier told Ella CyclingTips, listing the Ardennes races as well as the Ladies Tour of Norway as its highlights.

“The Ladies Tour of Norway is the only race in Norway dedicated to women’s cycling, and the Boels Ladies Tour, a six-day stage race which is the second longest race in the Women’s WorldTour, after the Giro Rosa.”

More importantly, an increased amount of races were broadcasted live, Gaultier stated.

“We worked closely with the organisers, who have increased the number of races broadcasted live this year to 12 compared to nine last season,” she said. “This has meant 17 days of live coverage compared with 11 for 2016.”

Going forward, Gaultier stressed that the UCI intends to work with more race organisers on providing TV coverage or some form of live streaming.

“All of these improvements have come about as a result of an increase in the UCI’s investment with IMG in the series and women’s cycling as a whole,” she said. “IMG also produces a regular feature on women’s cycling for its inCycle program, which has grown from 12 to 24 episodes this year.”

Smaller fields, tighter vehicle regulations

On the governance side, a Women’s WorldTour Committee was established “to discuss and continue the development of the series in partnership with riders, teams and event hosts,” Gaultier explained.

“While significant progress has been made, at the UCI, we are constantly looking at ways to improve and grow women’s cycling.”

Safety and welfare are part of that, and in 2018, we’ll see the first steps towards a safer, and more level, field of competitors, said Gaultier. And this starts with a restricted field size.

“For the Women’s WorldTour, the peloton sizes are now 176 riders at a maximum [instead of 200],” Gaultier explained. “There is a maximum number of 24 teams that can start in a Women’s WorldTour event and only two national teams are allowed; a team from the organiser’s country and one foreign team.”

“Among other key actions taken by the UCI, we have published official guidelines for vehicle circulation in the race convoy,” Gaultier continued.

This reference document is aimed at all vehicles in a road cycling event and includes guidelines on matters like the appropriate times when motors and team bikes are allowed to pass riders, how many motorcycles can be around the peloton at any given point and the order of team cars passing each other in time trials.

True Women’s WorldTour teams

When it comes to growing women’s cycling, the UCI’s plan is a comprehensive one, Gaultier said.

“There are several areas that we are proactively looking to improve, such as enhancing investment in the overall event, increased exposure on TV and social media, and raising the overall standard and professionalising all ‘Women’s WorldTour teams’,” she specified.

The latter, especially, is one where we could soon see a shift.

For a few years now there have been those who believe women’s cycling is ready for a two-tiered women’s system, similar to the men’s WorldTour and Continental system. As it stands currently, the top 20 ranked UCI teams are automatically invited to compete in Women’s WorldTour events (the top 15 teams for stage races and top 20 teams for one-day events), but there are 44 registered UCI teams.

A huge gap in both resources and results exists between the teams at the top of the rankings and the teams at the bottom, and so some advocate for splitting the field. The true WorldTour teams would have expectations and regulations that developing teams would not have to adhere to. These would include a set number of race days, riders per roster and a minimum wage.

Without disclosing a timeline or specific details, Gaultier revealed that the UCI is indeed actively working toward the introduction of actual Women’s WorldTour teams.

“The global concept was approved by the June UCI Management Committee and we are now working on the timelines to set up this project,” Gaultier said. “We will announce further information about this over the coming months.”

And the step that follows logically from that, is a minimum wage for female cyclists.

“A minimum salary for women is a very important topic and one that was at the heart of UCI president David Lappartient’s election manifesto,” she added. “The UCI is going to work with its stakeholders to help ensure that the implementation of a minimum wage for female cyclists becomes another major step forward in the next four years.”

The 2018 races

Looking ahead, the 2018 Women’s WorldTour sees another expansion: three new races — Trois Jours de la Panne, Emakumeen Bira and Tour of Guangxi —were added for a total of 23 events and 52 race days.

Calendar conflicts aside, Gaultier explained that there is a range of criteria that the UCI considers when looking to add a race to the Women’s WorldTour, which includes “the potential for TV or digital coverage, participation of teams in previous years, previous commissaires reports, feedback from teams and riders, as well as the overall professionalism of the race and the organisers.”

Hopes are high now that the new UCI president David Lappartient has been appointed, who has said that he would work to advance women’s cycling. Add to that the arrival of Women’s WorldTour teams and increased focus on live coverage, and we look forward to seeing what 2018 will bring.

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