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World Series Cycling in talks with UCI over ten-race Grand Prix series

UCI confirms talks have taken placeProposals revolve around sponsor and TV-friendly series of four day races to find world's best team and rider...

The men behind the proposed World Series Cycling breakaway league have confirmed that they are talking with the UCI and potential investor and Omega Pharma-Quick Step owner Zdenek Bakala about a new season-long competition that would comprise ten four-day ‘Grand Prix’ events around the world. Eight teams are signed up to the proposals, but Team Sky is not among them. In a statement, the UCI has reiterated its previous confirmation that it has been in discussions with Bakala and other stakeholders but says nothing has been decided yet and that it will retain full control of the calendar.

The eight founding teams are Garmin-Sharp, Liquigas-Cannondale, Movistar, Omega Pharma-Quick Step, RadioShack-Nissan, Saxo-Tinkoff, Vacansoleil-DCM, as well as the former Rabobank, although the latter’s ongoing inclusion may depend on whether it is able to secure a replacement sponsor.

While others, such as Team Sky, not to mention the likes of Katusha, BMC and GreenEdge, may be missing - and noticeably there is no French presence – it is envisaged that ultimately 14 teams would be competing, some potentially being invited by wild card.

Plans for what was widely described as a breakaway league first became known last year after merchant bank NM Rothschild and Sons made presentations to potential investors in the project on behalf of promoters Gifted Group.

Yesterday, Jonathan Price from Gifted Group, whose background is in TV rights, and his business partner Thomas Kurth, former general manager of the G14 group of leading European football clubs, outlined their plans to journalists and confirmed that they were speaking to the UCI and Bakala and that discussions were under way with organisers of major races.

According to Belgian newspaper Het Nieuwsblad, the season would revolve around 19 races – the 10 Grand Prix, six one day Classics being the five Monuments and the Amstel Gold Race, and the three Grand Tours. 

Points accumulated throughout the season would result in one rider and one team being crowned ‘world champions’ – similar to Formula 1 – helping make cycling more understandable and of course, more marketable, particularly at global level.

The aim is to have 14 teams participating with a roster of 20 riders each. Potentially, some of those teams could be invited via wild cards. It’s not clear how those 14 teams would translate to the Grand Tours or Classics, which typically have 20 or more teams competing.

Each of the Grand Prix races would follow a four-day format comprising a flat stage, a mountain stage, an intermediate stage and a time trial – individual in five of the Grand Prix, team in the other five.

Price explained that people would therefore be able to see the best in the business pit themselves against each other – “Gilbert against Boonen, Cavendish against Greipel, Andy Schleck and Contador against Wiggins.”

Anti-doping would be carried out within the scope of the World Anti-Doping Code, and run by the UCI but with a proposed budget of €4 million far surpassing the existing money it has available for those efforts.

Price said that cycling needed more sponsors of the statute of Coca-Cola and Red Bull, and claimed that a global sponsor and broadcaster had already been lined up for the project, which is aimed at packaging cycling in a format that would appeal to fans and sponsors alike. His and Kurth’s experience suggest that’s more than wishful thinking.

He added that he and Kurth were also working on a similar project for women’s cycling.

Over the summer, the UCI disclosed that it was talking to some of the parties involved in the proposals for the new competition, and last month confirmed that it had been speaking with Bakala and his business partner, Bessel Kok, over plans for what was described as a ‘Champions League’ of cycling. At the time, Bakala stated that his discussions with the UCI had nothing to do with World Series Cycling.

In October, it was reported that the UCI had been offered a stake in World Series Cycling, so this latest news that the governing body is now involved in discussions on developing the format suggests that there is a real prospect of it becoming a reality – and, of course, that it should no longer be considered a breakaway.

In s statement issued in reaction to today's news, the UCI said:

The International Cycling Union (UCI) confirms that it has been in discussions with Omega Pharma-QuickStep owner Zdenek Bakala and his business partner Bessel Kok since late 2011 about the possible development of the professional road cycling calendar. 

These discussions have included their potential financial investment in a new joint venture company with the UCI and other cycling stakeholders that would promote and organise elements of this new calendar.  The UCI has signed a Memorandum of Understanding with them as the initial investors in the joint venture and will now enter into extensive dialogue with the teams and race organisers before any final agreement is concluded. 

The possible development of the professional road cycling calendar will be subject to comments from the wide-ranging consultation “A bright future for cycling” that will involve all the stakeholders in the sport and which will take place in the first quarter of 2013. This consultation will have a considerable bearing on this proposed joint venture and the future road cycling calendar.

No agreement has been reached on the reforms that will take place to the calendar and as such any media reports about the future of the calendar are pure speculation at this stage. However, the UCI will retain full control over the calendar, including sporting and technical elements. The UCI and the investors are also committed to ensuring that the final structure of the joint venture will avoid conflicts of interest.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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stealth | 11 years ago

What a load of rubbish, does this also mean that the *ahem* UCI Worldtour is a failure, with its multitude of made up races in places that have no interest

Pitstone Peddler | 11 years ago

I really do support the poster further up regards Sky, they must be involved and yup, on bike cameras on descents etc would be fantastic, ditto rider power meters on screen! Cycling need not let go of its routes/roots, e.g. F1 still respects Monaco.

The smoothest transition would need to involve the UCI as they (probably) own the contracts with ASO etc.

In footballs Champions League, UEFA 'owns' the Tournament and Team Marketing the sponsorship rights and they work together. This is not dissimilar as I see it. The arguments against it I recall are the same as when the Pro Tour came along and we all got over those.

The only thing I would protest against is railings up the climbs with ticket entry a la Olympics (should it be considered).

Raleigh | 11 years ago

I'm probably going to get a lot of hate for this, but why don't we let Murdoch do to cycling what he did to football. Billions of pounds are waiting in TV revenue.

I do agree that the UCI needs to be left for dead. There are so many things that it's doing wrong, the only thing that is keeping people there is a mixture of social stigma, the lack of any other options and the fact that a lot of race organisers seem to be tied to them.

Which organisers wouldn't switch to the TV money treasure trove though, with wider audiences and SOOOO much more income.


(Oh, and an IPL style thing would be pretty good, like 5 man stage races or something)

pwake | 11 years ago

A lot of comments above seem slightly mis-informed. There is a lot of clarification in this interview with one of the guys proposing this:

I love the complexity of cycling as it is, I love history of the sport, I enjoy the knowledge required to watch and really know what's going on; but I've been watching for about thirty years and TBH, if I was a newbie, I'd probably just find it confusing and a bit of a turn-off.
If cricket can sell itself to a wider audience with 20-20 and still keep multi-day tests going, then I'm sure cycling can incorporate something similar.

cable43 | 11 years ago

What do they need the UCI for? I do not get it. If you want to break away the first thing you have to do is BREAK and then you have to AWAY. This is just re-branding a flawed product.

pjay | 11 years ago

Jesus wept. This is a great way to kill cycling stone dead. If the team owners think they are going to line their pockets with TV money off the back of this they are deluded.

Bikeboi_11 | 11 years ago

I've made comment to get this series going in the past and still all for it.

My suggestions are to run the F1 style format for 6-8 races in the first year or two and when it gains momentum, pick up the classics and other grand tour tour events. EG Tour Down Under, Beijng, Qatar, Dauphine and others might convert easily if the sponsorhip is guaranteed. How about a 5 days format instead of 4. Each region to have 1 each of flat, mount, rolling, tt and one to match their local terrain at their choice.

As for UCI in charge of drug testing. Sure, make those norty boys face up and own their problems and WADA to independently and freely monitor and audit their testing.

ljblas | 11 years ago

Total oxymoron this Antonio you're right - both parties will want control as Bakala wont invest his Millions to be controlled by McQuaid and his crew.
But then again, old Pat could never say no to a few quid could he?

antonio | 11 years ago

Reading the UCI statement, 'full control' I have to ask, What 'breakaway'.

new-to-cycling | 11 years ago

It seems extremely confusing to try and fit a new ranking system inside of the current UCI schedule. Efforts should either be made to revise the current system or scrap it. It makes no sense to make another confusing system inside of an already kind of confusing system.

drheaton | 11 years ago

For cycling to progress you arguably need to get Sky involved on a broadcasting level. Not only will it increase the money coming into cycling they'll inovate with their coverage. There's so much more scope in broadcasting cycling to expand on the format and increase interest. Being able to speak to riders mid-stage (like in 20-20 cricket), having on bike camera's to get a better view of the action (like F1) and generally having much more comprehensive coverage (like Football) will all improve coverage which is, for non-fans, a bit shit at the minute. No-one is investing in the coverage because of the fragmentation of the sport, why should ASO improve things for everyone else? Even simple thinks like GPS attached to all the riders for better tracking and more cameras would improve things. As nice as it is to see rolling hills and the odd medieval French town there's a lot that can be done to increase interest.

To get someone like Sky on board you need to be able to market the sport internationally and at the minute, other than the odd race, that's not happening. The fragmentation of race ownership harms the cause because races are competing with each other for attention rather than joining forces and competing with other sports. If someone can come in and bring the sport together, unite the different sides with a view to expanding cycling as a whole, and increase interest, surely it can only help?

Finally, with money coming in from someone like Sky and a set of races which are guaranteed decent coverage the sport will be more appealing to sponsors and may help to bring in the big names and other companies who've been wavering. At the minute - with doping, failing races, unclear criteria for obtaining licenses, and every other issue surrounding the sport - cycling is not a sport you'd want to put a lot of money into. Bringing the sport onto a stable footing will help everyone.

All that being said, I don't pay for any cycling coverage (or any sport) so I'm not sure how I'd feel about the TdF ending up on Sky. If there was a real improvement in the quality though I'd probably sign up as long as I could watch everything on this World Series.

robdaykin (not verified) | 11 years ago

quite agree, it seems confused and will undermine and divert riders from events like the Tour of Britain, Paris Nice, Tour of Romandie, Tour of Poland etc, etc, etc. Rather see those events being given Grand Prix status rather than inventing new ones under the aegis of an FIA style media circus.

notfastenough | 11 years ago

"Points accumulated throughout the season would result in one rider and one team being crowned ‘world champions’"

I don't mind the principle, but what happens to the worlds, and for that matter, the rainbow jersey?

Also, the UCI responsible for dope testing? Really??!

Gkam84 | 11 years ago

This is a great idea.....for woman's racing and to get it on tv. Not good for men's

bikecellar replied to Gkam84 | 11 years ago

Gkam84 + 1. Leave the mens established classics grand tours etc alone, Bugger F1 etc. I for one do not want to see cycling run by a small cadre of money men, it's bad enough as it is with the dictatorship of the UCI. But yes, want to put some money in, then give it to the ladies racingthey would be great value.

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