Posted by Editor on 10/23/03
Big Changes in Pro Cycling
During the World Championships, the UCI Professional Cycling Council (PCC) held a press conference to announce the proposed Pro Cycling Tour (PCT) format for the top level of professional men's road racing. UCI President Hein Verbruggen was present at the press conference, as well as Alain Rumpf, the UCI manager for the PCC.
The program is ambitious, still incomplete, and will concentrate cycling in the powerhouse nations of Europe, with outlying regions (read: North and South America, and Australia-Asia) mostly ignored. Verbruggen and Rumpf admitted that they did not have answers for many of the questions raised during the meeting, but made it clear that the UCI was committed to following through on the PCT. The UCI plans to begin phasing the program in starting in 2005.
Briefly, the Pro Cycling Tour will work as follows:
30 races will be designated as the events in the series, and will include the Grand Tours of France, Italy and Spain, plus other major one day races, such as the existing World Cup races and other classics. Verbruggen made it clear that the PCT events are to be drawn from the cycling powerhouse countries - France, Italy, Spain and Belgium. These events will add up to about 180 days of racing. The only non-PCT events of importance remaining will be the World Championships, Olympics, Commonwealth Games, etc. Entry to the Worlds will still be by country, but there is no word on how allotments of riders will be decided per country.
There will be 20 Pro Tour teams (they will replace the current Division I category, effectively), with approximately 25 riders per team. The teams will be licenced by the UCI for 4 years, after satisfying (primarily) financial requirements. Each team will be required to enter a squad into all of the PCT events, and those squads must contain a "to be decided" number of their top ranked riders (so teams can't brush off certain events). There are also plans to make sure that one or two teams don't scoop up all of the top riders. The UCI has also said that they are looking into minimum requirements for the number of younger riders per team, or possibly requiring the PCT teams to fund development squads.
The PCT teams will each have a team of 9 riders in the Grand Tours, with space for two non-PCT squads at each event (and you can guess what country they will be from for the Tour de France...). The other PCT events will have teams of 8 riders, leaving space for five non-PCT squads per event.
The current points and ranking structure of the UCI will disappear. Instead, at the beginning of each year, all riders will start at zero points and will gain points from competing in PCT events through the current season. Non-PCT events will have no value, which means that there will be almost no interest from the PCT teams in competing in such events. As a sop to the rest of the world, there will be continental calendars for Europe, North America, South America, Asia and Africa.
However, since there will no longer be a UCI points system, there will be no incentive for the Euro (and especially the PCT) teams to send squads to races outside of the PCT series. Yes, that's right: the current system of UCI ranking for riders and teams will be scrapped, and the only thing that will effectively matter is the PCT points standings. Verbruggen candidly admitted that he has no interest in trying to compete against sports such as hockey and (American) football, and that the UCI sees their market as Europe. The PCT is clearly an attempt to give fans a team structure to follow that is comparable to other sports.
Continental calendars, in our opinion, will become less and less important over the years to the pro men's peloton, with the possible exception of the European one, which will act as a feeder for the PCT teams. This will mean that in North America cash could become king in deciding who goes to which event, since UCI status becomes meaningless. Therefore, excellent races such as GP Beauce could lose teams to big dollar criteriums.
On the other hand, this also means that there is a opportunity that is ripe for someone to step in with a well structured national (or continental) series. In the absence of a UCI ranking system, the national associations need to come up with their own systems and series. One of the things that made the Canadian Tire series work so well ten to twelve years ago, was that riders knew that it was used for national team selection, plus it provided an identifiable program to sell to sponsors (both for the series and the teams).
In the early stages, such a series doesn't even need to have that much cash incentive - it could be used to decide national team project participation, for projects overseas, for example. Linking together races such as Beauce, Montreal-Quebec, BC's developing Superweek, and other new and existing races could rekindle competition on a national east-west level, rather than the existing north-looking-south variety. Add in the existing women's races - Tour of Montreal, GP Feminin - and you have enough for both a men's and a women's series.
Since the U.S. has proven to be less than effective at producing their own national road series, Canadian organizers and associations have the opportunity to seize the initiative. We hope they do not let it slip through their fingers.
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