1st division of 16 teams, 8 in the 2nd, no overlap of races - but questions remain about how it will work

The UCI has revealed that it is to scrap the WorldTour and will instead introduce a three-tier system of promotion and relegation from the 2015 season onwards, with a first division of 16 teams, a second division of eight teams, and a third tier comprising the current continental tours.

World cycling’s governing body describes the changes, which are due to be fully in place by 2020 and will also result in a reduction of the racing calendar for top tier teams to 120 days – some 20 per cent less than the current 154 days – as “a profound and decisive change in the organisation of professional cycling.”

The UCI Management Committee and the Professional Cycling Council (PCC), whose members include race organisers, team managers and former riders, approved the new framework in a meeting at last month’s UCI Road World Championships in Florence.

New regulations are due to be submitted to the UCI Management Committee and the PCC in January next year for their approval.

The changes have been drawn up following a process that began with what the UCI describes as “Common Ground” meetings held in late 2011 and early 2012 and continued with the stakeholder consultation conducted by Deloitte in Spring this year as well as framework agreements on reform agreed in Naples in May.

Announcement of them was tucked away in the October 2013 issue of the UCI’s Sport and Technical bulletin.

Among issues outlined there are the number of teams in each tier, as well as the number of days they will race. The 16 first division teams will each race 120 days, while the eight second division teams will race 50 days each year.

Quite how that will work in practice in terms of invitations to top-tier events to ensure they meet that 50-day quota isn’t entirely clear at the moment; the UCI does say that there will be “no competition amongst first and second division events,” without specifying exactly what that means. 

Currently, there are 18 WorldTour teams and 20 Professional Continental ones, giving a total of 38; that means that 14 teams would be consigned to the third tier and thereby miss out on the possibility of racing anywhere but at Continental level.

That’s particularly pertinent following a year in which MTN-Qhubeka’s Gerald Ciolek won Milan-Sanremo, while NetApp-Endura’s Leopold König won a stage in the Vuelta.

With the three Grand Tours also regularly giving wild card entries to domestic Professional Continental teams, and a similar situation happening with Belgian teams say during Classics season, the likelihood is that some outfits that do get a moment in the spotlight in their home countries each year – also, important to their sponsors – will miss out.

Whether race organisers such as Tour de France owners ASO will push to ensure French teams still get a place in that race, for example, is also a consideration.

However, the new structure should at least lead to a more transparent system of teams moving into or out of the top flight based on sporting criteria – although ethical, financial and administrative factors will continue to be taken into account too.

Also, there will be a sweeping reform of the racing calendar itself – something the UCI has been studying ever since the threat of a breakaway league arose, a prospect that in large part has led to these planned changes.

Those include the season running from February to October; currently, the WorldTour starts with the Tour Down Under in January, but it’s too early to tell whether that means the race would retain its top tier status and move to a later date, or whether it would drop down.  

There will also be no overlap between races as currently happens, perhaps most noticeably, with Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. Some other WorldTour races also clash, for example the Critérium du Dauphiné ends on the same weekend the Tour de Suisse begins, while recently added Canadian races in Montreal and Quebec conflict with the Vuelta.

One effect of the new rules is therefore likely to be a reduction in team size, both in terms of number of riders and support staff, since they won’t have to ride two races at once, and it could also ease budgetary pressures slightly for example through allowing a reduction in support vehicle fleet size.

But smaller squads also means that teams may have to be more selective in the minor races they target.

At the moment, it’s not unusual for a major team to take part in three races concurrently, but fewer riders and inevitable injuries mean that may be impossible in future.

Sponsors may target the markets where they will get most return – Sky in the Tour of Britain, for example, or Belkin targeting races in the US, currently without a WorldTour event.

That in turn may have implications for lower ranked races such as the Tour of Britain, which last month missed out on UCI HC status, one tier below WorldTour level, for 2014, if top-flight teams choose not to race it.

While that 20 per cent cut in race days at what is currently WorldTour level is likely to see some races fall by the wayside, much of it will be achieved through cutting the length of races (other than the Grand Tours) to “5 or 6 days” with races such as the Tour de Suisse, which took place over nine days this year, looking set to be shortened.

Races will take place “over all weekends and in particular on Sundays,” meaning that Tuesday or Wednesday are likely to become the start days for many stage races. Last year, Giro d’Italia organisers RCS Sport moved the two major races still held on a Saturday – Milan-San Remo and Il Lombardia – to take place on a Sunday instead.

The Spring Classics will also become a prime focus of the first half of the season, with the UCI promising “six weeks of uninterrupted competition” focused on the events, which could have implications for the two Spanish stage races that currently sit alongside them – the Volta Ciclista a Catalunya, and the Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco.

For now, there do seem to be benefits and drawbacks.

On the plus side, TV scheduling will be easier, which will be attractive to sponsors, and the season should have more of a narrative aspect to it, and the racing burden on top-flight teams will be reduced, something they have been calling for.

Against that, however, it looks like teams further down the pecking order may struggle, especially ones that have relied on a brief spell in the spotlight each year by securing wild card entries to their biggest domestic races, and events not in the top tier may suffer as they become less attractive to broadcasters and other sponsors.

What we can say is the full implications of the changes won’t become apparent until the new regulations become public some time early in 2013. They will be scrutinised closely, and we will also find out whether any parties feeling that the changes act to their detriment seek to mount a legal challenge to them.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.


jason.timothy.jones [293 posts] 3 years ago

this, in my opinion will cause a breakaway league, you cant run cycling like you run football...essentially the UCI are capping the amount of pro riders

Goldfever4 [274 posts] 3 years ago

These new rules seem to protect the Grand Tours as dominating the season, really reducing the potential for growth of the smaller Tours (Down Under, Poland, Suisse, Britain).

Seems a bit backwards to me.

Also it's a bit one step forward for one step back for smaller teams - it may be less expensive to run a smaller team, but there may be less sponsorship because of reduced airtime in the big events.

That's my understanding anyway...

jarredscycling [456 posts] 3 years ago

Seems like a lot of details need to be flushed out and questions answered before anyone can truly determine an opinion of the proposed changes. I don't get why such a rough outline was released without more concrete details??? Ambiguity scares people

Colin Peyresourde [1818 posts] 3 years ago

Maybe it would be good to scrap the commercial teams and actually have road cycling clubs. This will approach will not shock those of you that follow other sports, but it seems to me that having a local identity for the riders and teams means that people can feel a greater affinity with a rider/team. It means that a club can be followed. Sponsors still get their names and logos places (as per the shirts), but franchises can be built and grow. Contrast that with the rise and fall of the current sponsored teams system. The teams get sponsorship for 3-6 seasons and then disappear without a trace.

Fans can't really get behind Sky, Lampre, QuickStep etc. because they're a broadband company, flooring company or pharma-who-knows-what-actually. It would certainly bring in more sponsors, or specifics sponsors if they know who they are selling sponsorship too....anyway just a thought. I know that it would fundamentally cause an upheaval in the current system. I'm not sure how you'd make that work in a Three Grand Tours, 100 minor Tours in a season situation.

Perhaps the winners of the Grand Tours could have a cycle off. First one from the UCI office in Switzerland to cycle to CAS to give a pint of piss to a scientist.

theclaw [73 posts] 3 years ago

There are some very sensible suggestions in there, along with some quite stupid ones, which will probably be weeded out when they realise how nonsensical they are i.e. how do you run Paris-Nice or Tirreno-Adriatico in 5 days without altering completely the nature of the race? Most national Tours need 7 days in order for them to be what they say on the tin i.e. a 4 day Tour of Britain would really be a Tour of Yorkshire or Merseyside or something. Come to think of that, they could just bring back the Mersey Roads 2-day.

dave atkinson [6307 posts] 3 years ago

i'm not an expert on all this, but surely the very-widely-accepted structure of divisional sport has a smaller league at the top? what's with 16 in division one and 8 in division 2?

Simon_MacMichael [2497 posts] 3 years ago
Dave Atkinson wrote:

i'm not an expert on all this, but surely the very-widely-accepted structure of divisional sport has a smaller league at the top? what's with 16 in division one and 8 in division 2?

I see your point, but you don't get the entire Premier League turning up at Old Trafford to play in the same match on the same day, together with a handful of teams from the Championship - which is in effect what cycling currently has with Paris-Roubaix, say.

From the scant information we have (a page in a PDF magazine and a couple of bullet-pointed Powerpoint slides - how's that transparency coming along, Brian?), I imagine that - assuming the 50 race days for 2nd Division teams means race days in top-tier races - then it's a simple question of numbers.

If there were twenty 2nd Division teams, I imagine it would be impossible to give them 50 race days each at the top-tier races while keeping within the maximum permitted number of teams. So it's purely a numbers thing, I think.

Then again, I could be totally wrong... let's see the new regulations, please...

slimatron1983 [2 posts] 3 years ago

Ummm.... Personally I like the idea of better TV schedules as a result of these new proposals. I hate not being able to watch some of the races and not all of them!!!!

Also I love the idea of jarredscycling cycling clubs, however they don't have to be locally based. That would simply cause to much confusion in my mind. Keep them as they are but let them grow with a solid fan base !!

slimatron1983 [2 posts] 3 years ago

Oops I meant colin-peyresourde's idea instead!! Sorry.

notfastenough [3727 posts] 3 years ago

Interesting. This isn't an area I thought would be focused on so soon.

Ghedebrav [1099 posts] 3 years ago

These changes generally seem pretty sensible to me. Certainly the calendar couldn't be much more badly organised than it currently is. Also the promotion/relegation thing actually makes sense; at least it would be more transparent than the current system of granting licences.

To the point that this would mean fewer pro cyclists, well, yes I suppose. But right now there are already too many WT teams, and too many races. So yeah, that also means too many riders, too.

I do agree though with the comment above on shortening some of the (non-Grand) tours. Seven days would be about right for most of these.