The UCI has today provided an update on the registration process for teams seeking WorldTour or Professional Continental status for the 2013 season, with all current top-flight teams other than Lotto-Belisol having submitted their registration files by Monday 1 October. With Argos-Shimano looking to join the sport's elite, at least one current WorldTour team could be at risk of losing its status, although parts of the process are to say the least opaque.
Under current rules, all UCI ProTeams including those already in possession of a WorldTour licence for the 2013 season, as well as those applying for a licence for the first time or that are seeking to renew one expiring at the end of the 2012 season, are required to submit paperwork to the UCI to satisfy the governing body that they are in compliance with its regulations.
The documentation, which the UCI scrutinises in partnership with auditors Ernst & Young, needs to include the budget for the season, signed sponsorship contracts, a bank guarantee, at least ten signed contracts with riders and, in the case of new teams, details of their structure plus a copy of the deed of incorporation of their paying agent.
A dozen teams that met the 1 October deadline to submit the required documentation are already in possession of a WorldTour licence for 2013, being Astana, BMC Racing, Cannondale, FDJ, Katusha, Lampre-Merida, Movistar, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, Orica-GreenEdge, RadioShack-Nissan, Sky and Vacansoleil-DCM.
Five teams – AG2R-La Mondiale, Euskaltel-Euskadi, Garmin-Sharp, Rabobank and Saxo-Tinkoff – are applying for renewal of an existing licence, while Argos-Shimano, which raced this year under a UCI Professional Continental Licence, is looking to step up to the top flight.
One name, however, is missing, that of Lotto-Belisol, but that’s not necessarily a cause for alarm, since each year there are teams that miss the initial deadline because, for example, some of the required documentation is late being submitted.
With 19 teams applying for a WorldTour licence for next year and only 18 places available, however, one team will miss out, and this is where things start to get complicated, with the UCI analysing what it terms the ‘sporting value’ of teams to determine who’s in and who’s out.
Teams that already have a licence for 2013 are guaranteed a WorldTour place, due to be confirmed by 1 November, assuming that “no irregularities are brought to notice” in the documents they submit and they are ranked among the top 15 teams by sporting value; the problem is that no-one outside the UCI knows exactly how that is measured, and the governing body is less than transparent about it.
It’s often wrongly assumed that it is the same as the UCI WorldTour ranking, but that isn’t the case – insider blogger Inner Ring has likened the process to something out of a Kafka novel.
True, at this time of year, teams towards the bottom of the ranking scramble to sign riders who may bring them points, but there’s simply no way of telling just how much those ranking points affect the sporting value once the number-crunchers at UCI headquarters in Aigle have run them through the calculator.
The UCI WorldTour Ranking can provide some clue of which teams may be at risk, but what it can’t do is give us a definitive list of who is at risk of being ranked by the UCI as outside the top 15, not least because some riders who have gained points for one team in 2012 will be riding elsewhere next season, as well as the fact that there is still one event, the Tour of Beijing, to go.
Outside the top 15 at the moment are Vacansoleil-DCM, on 343 points, AG2R-La Mondiale on 273 points and FDJ-BigMat with 246. Both Vacansoleil and FDJ already have a 2013 licence, subject to confirmation, while AG2R is applying for renewal.
Alberto Contador’s return to Saxo-Tinkoff has lifted the Danish team into 15th place – in less than two months, he has accrued around three quarters of its 395 WorldTour points, but the UCI has confirmed his performances won't count towards its sporting value - and Bjarne Riis’s outfit is another that is applying for renewal, meaning its submission has to go forward to the UCI Licence Commission, and can’t relax just yet.
While Rabobank and Garmin-Barracuda, both seeking renewal, should be more relaxed about their situations, those connected with Lampre-Merida, which already has a licence, and Euslkaltel-Euskadi, another renewal candidate, are entitled to be more nervous about the process - and there's no guarantee that if Argos-Shimano succeeds in stepping up, only one team will drop down.
Requirements for a WorldTour licence are more onerous than those for Professional Continental ones, but the payback is that teams are guaranteed entry to the sport’s biggest races, which can be vital in attracting both sponsors and big-name riders.
One thing that is noticeable is that in contrast to the past three seasons which have seen high profile teams such as Sky, RadioShack, Leopard Trek and GreenEdge all secure a top-flight licence for their debut season, this year there’s no comparable outfit attempting to follow suit.
Swiss start-up IAM Cycling and the merged NetApp-Endura are among the teams whose application for a Professional Continental licence will go before the UCI’s Licence Commission.
The other teams applying for that status are Accent Jobs-Wanty, Androni Giocattoli, Bardiani-Csf Inox, Caja Rural, CCP Polsat Polkowice, Champion System, Landbouwkrediet-Euphony, MTN-Qhubeka, Sojasun, Europcar, Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise, United Healthcare and Vini Fantini.