Commentary: These were the 10 most important stories in US cycling in 2016

by Neal Rogers

December 22, 2016

9. Amgen Tour of California to become a WorldTour event in 2017

by Neal Rogers

The racing will take place in 2017, but the decision made in 2016 to take the Amgen Tour of California to the WorldTour may well have a profound impact on domestic teams before the first start pistol is fired in May.

On one hand, the race’s inclusion into the top tier of professional road racing expands the calendar globally and brings a higher level of racing to the U.S.

On the other hand, current UCI rules prohibit Continental teams from participating in WorldTour events, meaning domestic teams such as Axeon Hagens Berman, Rally Cycling, Jelly Belly, and Holowesko-Citadel — which leverage exposure in California as part of their “return on investment” pitches to sponsors — will not be allowed to participate.

Though at a lower level, it’s not hyperbole to say that for a U.S. Continental team, missing out on California is akin to a WorldTour team missing out on the Tour de France; it could kill a team’s funding.

Australian Lachlan Morton, who spent 2016 riding for California-based Jelly Belly and won the Larry H. Miller Tour of Utah, thinks the move to the WorldTour was the wrong one, in terms of contributing to the growth of domestic cycling in the U.S.

“I think that [will] kill domestic cycling,” Morton told CyclingTips in August. “Whoever’s making those decisions isn’t really in touch with what’s happening at the domestic level. The sponsorships of these smaller teams like Jelly Belly rely so heavily on doing races like California… I think it would mean a lot of teams would disappear.”

There’s been speculation that California — as one of the UCI’s 10 “new WorldTour races” in 2017 — might be subject to different rules. On the topic of “participation rules for events newly entering the 2017 UCI WorldTour calendar,” the UCI’s Professional Cycling Council agreed in November that those events should invite all UCI WorldTeams, but that, “participation would be voluntary.”

As a WorldTour event, the Amgen Tour of California would be required to invite 10 WorldTeams; whether that means the race would be required to actually field 10 WorldTeams is unclear. And if 10 WorldTour teams don’t participate, which teams might be allowed to fill the roster?

A UCI spokesperson clarified this with CyclingTips in November, somewhat, saying, “UCI Continental teams are not allowed to participate in UCI WorldTour events and this rule applies also to new events.”

If that remains true, the effects of the race’s jump to the WorldTour could be drastic, and long lasting.