Posted by Editor on 02/14/04
We first reported back in October (during our Road Worlds coverage) on the UCI's plans to bring in the new Pro Cycling Tour for 2005. It will replace the current worldwide system of event and rider ranking with a Premier League (to use a soccer term) of twenty teams and thirty events. Below that will be continental tours. The UCI recently released an updated and more comprehensive outline for the ProTour, and we also had a chance here at the Tour de Langkawi to question Pat McQuaid (a member of the UCI Management Committee) on the implementation, and how it will affect countries like Canada, which will fall under the continental tours. Below is an outline of the ProTour, with our comments and answers from Mr. McQuaid.
As of January 1, 2005 the world road cycling program will consist of the ProTour and 5 continental tours. There will be twenty top-level professional teams, who will be licenced for up to four years. These twenty teams will have guaranteed entry to all the ProTour events (and will actually be required to enter a team in each event). Below that will be professional teams, continental teams, national teams and regional/club teams. For each of the ProTour and continental tours there will be an individual ranking classification for riders, a country classification and a team classification.
Riders can only gain points based on the tour they are qualified for Ã‹â€ ProTour riders and teams get points for ProTour events (and none on continental tours events), and teams below get points for continental tour events (and not for ProTour events). Non-ProTour professional teams may get wild card invites to ProTour events, but they cannot get any ranking points.
At what the UCI calls the "World Level", there will only be the ProTour, consisting of 30 events. At this time, according to McQuaid, the events have not yet all been selected, but will consist of the major Tours of France, Italy and Spain and major one day events such as (former) World Cups and other major classics. Since all twenty ProTour (PT) teams are required to enter, then at most a couple of non-PT teams will get into any PT event.
At the "Continental Level", events will be ranked as Class HC (Hors Classe), Class 1 and Class 2. The UCI promises "Strict, transparent and fair criteria will be used for the reclassification of races." Basically, current category 1 events will become Class HC (this includes races such as the Tour of Switzerland, Ghent-Wevelgem, etc.), categories 2 and 3 will become Class 1 (GP Beauce, Tour de Langkawi) and everything below Class 2.
While there may be interest for non-ProTour (non-PT) pro teams to go in major events for publicity, despite the lack of points, it is sure to affect the viability of continental level events such as Beauce and Langkawi. McQuaid admitted that the UCI is still working on details, but at this point it he says that riders will not get even continental ranking points for attending continental events outside of their home continent. Therefore, for example, Canada will have little reason to attend Langkawi or New Zealand (or European events), since it would not affect our continental ranking. Without the ranking points, European teams will have little interest in coming to Canada (or Malaysia). McQuaid did point out that the ProTour schedule does not start until March, so races like Langkawi will still be of interest for early season preparation by top teams (which is definitely not the case for any Canadian events). However, the TdL organization has said that without being on the UCI calendar (ie, rather than a continental calendar), they may have little interest in continuing with the race.
However, it is still a little confusing on the continental ranking points system, because McQuaid said to us that riders only get continental ranking points when racing on their own continent, but the UCI's draft document suggests that riders can accumulate continental ranking points on numerous continents. Therefore, for example, Eric Wohlberg would get Asian ranking points for winning a stage in Langkawi, and North American ranking points for winning a stage at Beauce. The UCI draft seems to be saying that these various continental ranking points would be put together to give a total continental country ranking. Canada could actually move up in rankings under this system, since it would exclude the big name points getters who are on the ProTour teams. However, there is no suggestion as to the various weights of continental versus ProTour country rankings when it comes to deciding starting spots for Olympics and Worlds Ã‹â€ we can expect that the ProTour rankings will weigh in more, which will adversely affect Canada.
The actual definition of each level of team is as follows:
Top-level professional teams with a licence:
Twenty teams will be able to acquire a licence for a maximum duration of 4 years. Licences will be issued in accordance with strict criteria (sporting, ethical, legal and financial) and will entail clearly defined rights and obligations, particularly in terms of participation in ProTour races. Besides the ProTour, these teams can enter Hors Classe and Class 1 events.
These are professional structures having successfully undergone a financial and legal audit carried out by the UCI. Their status (label) must be renewed each year. These teams can enter ProTour events with an invitation, Hors Classe and Class 1 events
These are professional and non-professional structures recognized and certified by the NF (national federation) of the country where the majority of the riders come from. Each NF may register a maximum of 15 continental teams that fulfill the following criteria: 8 to 16 athletes, the majority of riders under 28 and regulated transfers. These teams can enter Hors Classe, Class 1 and Class 2 events.
The structure of national teams will remain unchanged. Nonetheless the UCI intends to raise their status by giving them a central role in continental circuits. National squads can enter Class 1 and Class 2 events.
Regional and club teams:
As in the past, regional and club structures will have access, to a limited extent, to races on continental circuits (Class 2 events only). Regional and club structures will be placed under the responsibility and authority of the NFs.
Current UCI plans are to provide information to the national federations and event organizers by March, informing the latter where their events will fall within the new ranking system. In late July an updated version of the new rules will be presented to the Management Committee, and entry forms for professional and continental teams will be sent out to national federations. The rules will be published in September, with the 2005 calendar approved by the Management Committee in late September. At that time (ie, during the UCI Congress at the Road Worlds), new qualification rules for Worlds and Olympics will be presented.
So, at this point, it appears that the options for North American-based riders, teams and organizers are shrinking - not to mention the effect that the system is likely to have on Olympic and Worlds selection. This is not something that Canada, or other non-powerhouse cycling nations, have much control over. It seems that the UCI and the major cycling nations and sponsors have decided to focus their attention on their core market (Europe), despite pronouncements to the contrary about making cycling more of a world sport. Unless the UCI makes a serious effort to raise the profile of the continental tours, road cycling for men has just become a lot more restrictive.
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