The 2017 UCI WorldTour will include a maximum of 18 teams, including Dimension Data if their application is in order, after an agreement for the reforms of professional cycling was thrashed out at a long and often tense meeting of the UCI Professional Cycling Council (PCC) in Geneva on Tuesday.
The PCC includes different stakeholders from the sport, such as race organisers, teams and riders, and is responsible for the technical and administrative organisation of the UCI WorldTour. They have been at odds over the future of professional cycling but have now reached an agreement at least for 2017 and 2018.
As Cyclingnews reported on October 26, the UCI and Tour de France organiser Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) have put aside their earlier assent to reducing the number of teams to 17 in 2017, thus safeguarding the future of the Dimension Data team. It appears that an agreement to include all the teams applying for WorldTour status was reached in order to avoid the risk of legal action from several applicants.
It seems that the estimated €2 million sponsorship agreement between ASO and Dimension Data to provide on-bike data during races convinced ASO to accept 18 WorldTour teams and so save the Dimension Data team from relegation to Professional Continental level.
The UCI confirmed the news that there will be 18 WorldTour teams in 2017 in a press release issued on Wednesday morning.
The UCI Licence Commission has still to officially confirm the names of the 18 WorldTour teams but new team Bahrain-Merida and world champion Peter Sagan's new team Bora-Hansgrohe look certain to be part of cycling's highest division in 2017, provided their licence applications are in order.
New races but no obligation to ride
The UCI has already announced the list of WorldTour races on the calendar for next season, with an expansion from 27 to 37 events. The new races are: Amgen Tour of California, Tour of Qatar, Abu Dhabi Tour and Tour of Turkey, and one-day races Dwars door Vlaanderen, Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, Prudential RideLondon, Eschborn-Frankfurt and Strade Bianche.
There are reports that an extra race, the Tour of Guangxi in China, will be held in mid-October, with organiser Wanda Group also organising a women's race and the UCI Gala event. Cyclingnews understands the event is under consideration due to the business interests of many of the stakeholders. However, the race has yet to be confirmed as part of the 2017 WorldTour calendar.
The UCI will award two-year licences to the 18 WorldTour teams and three-year registration to the WorldTour race organisers, giving them some short-term stability. However the 18 WorldTour teams will not be obliged to compete in the new WorldTour races added to the 2017 calendar, with those race organisers forced to attract the best teams and riders on individual terms.
This decision will help placate the anger of smaller organisers, especially in France, who feel their races will be damaged if major teams are obliged to ride all the WorldTour races without being able to increase their rosters. On Tuesday the French Pro League headed by FDJ manager Marc Madiot threatened to take legal action against the UCI to protect the French races.
The RideLondon Classic and the Abu Dhabi Tour have already struck deals with the 11 teams that have formed the Velon business group to help secure a quality field for their races. However some other new races could perhaps struggle to attract WorldTour teams, thus devaluing their presence in the WorldTour.
No relegation system for now
Cyclingnews understands that the rules of the relegation or so-called Challenge system, wanted by ASO, have still to be agreed, with no teams relegated until after 2018. It is likely that any reduction to the number of WorldTour teams will happen gradually with stakeholders hoping this will occur organically, without the need to relegate a team and threaten its future.
The UCI confirmed in its press release that the rolling World Ranking points scale will now be used to determine the UCI WorldTour rankings. This ranking could eventually be used to decide which teams are given places in the WorldTour going forward.
Further details of the 2017 WorldTour are expected to be revealed at the annual UCI WorldTour seminar, which this year will take place in Mallorca on December 6-7.
UCI President Brian Cookson has always said he prefers dialogue and diplomacy to a power struggle. He welcomed the changes to the 2017 WorldTour.
"We are pleased that a new set of UCI WorldTour regulations have been agreed. We welcome the robust changes which bring about clearer guidelines in relation to team licensing and provide greater financial stability for UCI WorldTeams, as well as expanding the series globally in a sustainable manner," he said in a statement released by the UCI on Wednesday.