Rasmus Tiller (left) was the winner of the 2021 Dwars Door Het Hageland. Photo: Kramon

As 2023 approaches, teams await their fate with fear – and hope

“We will apply, apply, apply, and apply until we get the license,” says Uno-X team boss. 

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In the lustrous surrounds of Monte Carlo, the annual WorldTour Forum is underway. This annual event acts as a get-together for the top teams and the UCI, laying groundwork for the season ahead and assigning ProTeams to Grand Tour and Classics selection. 

In a conventional year, the teams would know what level they’re racing at. This year is not a conventional year, though. A month and a half from the season-opening Tour Down Under, there are question marks over the status of Israel-Premier Tech, B&B Hotels, and Uno-X, who approach December without clarity around their race eligibility. 

The state of play

After three years in the WorldTour, Israel-Premier Tech should face relegation for 2023 – but remain hopeful of the UCI reversing course on that decision, with a bit of extra leverage in the form of legal threats from team-owning billionaire Sylvan Adams. 

B&B Hotels’ heavily-touted increase in investment has yet to materialise, along with rumoured signings including Mark Cavendish. The Men in Glaz have already failed an initial assessment of their application for a license, with team manager Jérôme Pineau pleading for an extended deadline to salvage his plans for the season ahead. 

Alpecin-Deceuninck and Arkea-Samsic should both step up to WorldTour level, having been in the top 18 teams for points scored over the last three-season racing block. Stuck in the middle are the likes of Team TotalEnergies and Lotto-Dstny, who seem set to be the best ranked of the 2023 ProTeams, hence securing automatic invitations to the Grand Tours and Classics.  

And then, there’s Uno-X, a scrappy Norwegian team who finished the 2022 season ranked 21st, but applied for one of 18 WorldTour licenses nonetheless.

The reason? If you don’t apply, you’ll never know. 

A plucky band of handy Scandis

In a recent blog post, Uno-X general manager Jens Haugland discussed the team’s WorldTour application in pragmatic terms. “We are ranked 21. That’s an issue when there are 18 spots in the ballot. The ranking is a 3-year rolling ranking based on the well-debated point system of the UCI. I think the ranking is pretty fair. At least over time, when you don’t summarize just one season. The system will never be perfect, and at least we knew very well what we were up against,” he began. 

To secure a WorldTour license, teams need to navigate five criteria – sporting, financial, ethical, administrative, and organisational. Uno-X, Haugland explained, complies to all of those with the exception of the sporting criterion. 

Team UnoX at the startline of Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne 2022.

“In 2022 we came 4th in the ProTeam ranking for the second consecutive year. I think that’s quite a performance from a newly established professional team based in Oslo with riders from Norway and Denmark only,” Haugland wrote. And if there’s not a place for Uno-X in the WorldTour, he’d like to see a Grand Tour start. “Given our performances, identity and vision – we deserve it,” Haugland argued. 

The Uno-X formation has been in existence since 2010, but its step up to the ProTeam ranks in 2020 signalled a shift in professionalism and firepower. For 2023, the team’s roster has been bolstered even further with the addition of sprint and classics powerhouse Alexander Kristoff. The veteran will rub shoulders with the likes of Kristoffer Halvorsen (ex-Team Sky, EF Pro Cycling, and U23 World Champ), Søren Wærenskjold (reigning U23 TT world champ and U23 road race bronze medalist), the Johannessen twins, Lasse Norman Hansen and Niklas Eg. 

The Stavanger Stallion’s presence may not be enough to justify a Grand Tour start for Uno-X, even if he’s a former Tour de France yellow jersey-wearer and four-time stage winner. Nonetheless, Haugland sees his team’s application for the big leagues as an investment in the future – even if it doesn’t pan out this time around. 

“In many ways this [is] a review about who we are and what we aim to achieve. You might make fun out of Uno-X applying for the license when we are ranked 21. BUT: 

1)  It is five criterion, not one. At least we have made sure to comply 100% with the other four.
2)  If we don’t apply, we never get the chance to hear a yes.
3)  We learn the process. Because we will apply, apply, apply, and apply until we get the license.

Scandinavian cycling deserves a spot on the big stage. It might not happen yet, but it will. With a WorldTour team for both women and men.” 

The WorldTour Forum concludes today, with likely announcements including the introduction of new safety measures. If the UCI is to make any tweaks to its oft-criticised relegation system for the 2023-2025 block, this should also be outlined in Monte Carlo.

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