Former UCI president Brian Cookson has hit back at criticism of his management of the WorldTour by Pat McQuaid, claiming that the 2017 WorldTour was the "most successful in the competition's history."
Cyclingnews has revisited the history and workings of the WorldTour in a special WorldTour Week series of features, speaking to former UCI President McQuaid who was closely involved in the development of the WorldTour, new UCI Management Committee member Bob Stapleton, who is hoping to create unity and new wealth in the sport, and new UCI President David Lappartient who has some fresh ideas on the structure of professional cycling's leading race series.
McQuaid openly criticized the new, enlarged WorldTour introduced by Cookson for the 2017 season after he defeat McQuaid to become UCI president.
"It's a complete mess now," McQuaid said of the 37-race series, that added the Abu Dhabi Tour, the Tour of California, the Tour of Turkey and the Tour of Guangxi amongst 10 new races.
"There could have been one or two races added. It is a WorldTour, and any race that comes in should come because they're world-class races or they're in very strong strategic areas like China that are important for the sport.
"In adding all of those races it showed me that there was no vision or strategy within the UCI to be doing that. I put that down to the president and the director general [then Martin Gibbs] who didn't have a proper strategy for professional cycling."
Cookson was defeated by Lappartient for the UCI presidency at the Bergen World Championships but defends his work on the WorldTour. He claims he tried to find a balance between protecting tradition and international development.
"In my view, the 2017 UCI WorldTour has proven to be the most successful in the competition's history. There have been some great races, of all types, right across the world," Cookson told Cyclingnews after reading McQuaid's comment and the WorldTour Week content.
"By contrast, McQuaid's 2013 proposals would have been disastrous for the sport, with certain major stage races forced to lose days, other races dropped from the top level altogether, teams unhappy, etc, etc."
An out of date concept
When elected in 2013 Cookson inherited plans to reduce the number of races in the WorldTour. He soon changed tack, with McQuaid accusing him of adding races for political reasons. Cookson argues that original goal of the WorldTour, to have the best riders in the best races, is no longer valid after the races and riders became more specialized with their goals and racing styles.
"None of the stakeholders, the people who make pro cycling happen, were happy with what was proposed, so I went back to the drawing board and began a long period of debate and discussion with those stakeholders," he said.
"The issue is that the concept of "the best riders in the best events" is a nonsensical idea in the modern era - the best riders in the cobbled classics are not the same as the best riders in the hilly classics, who are not the same as the best riders in the Grand Tours. The whole idea was predicated on an outdated concept."
"The reforms that I oversaw also found a way of expanding the top level globally to places where professional cycling needs to go, whilst respecting the heritage of the sport. Clearly some elements were more successful than others, but as I said a year ago, it remains a work in progress. The important thing is that the changes were achieved by consensus, agreed by the PCC chaired by David Lappartient and representatives of all sides, and agreed by the UCI Management Committee."
What will Lappartient do?
Cookson is now out of the UCI, with Lappartient in charge. Cookson was always in favour of dialogue and diplomacy rather than a war of words with major race organisers such as Tour de France owner ASO. Now it will be up to Lappartient to stand up to ASO's dominance of the sport and protection of their assets.
Lappartient suggested to Cyclingnews that the sport and the WorldTour could benefit from the Giro d'Italia and Vuelta a Espana being reduced in length, while the Tour de France stays at 21 stages. He wants to reduce the growing number of overlaps of WorldTour races and perhaps sell television rights as a WorldTour package to hopefully grow combined revenue.
Cookson will watch from the sidelines but is curious to see what Lappartient does with the WorldTour. He reveals plans to partially separate the WorldTour into different classification strands to match the length and types of races.
"The next steps will be interesting," Cookson said.
For instance, I had already foreseen that within the UCI WorldTour there could be a classification strand for the one-day races, another for the week long stage races, and another for the Grand Tours. I'll be interested to see what ideas the new President comes up with.
"I'm sure he has some good ideas, will be able to make good progress and will want to move forwards not backwards, now that the WorldTour really is a global series, expanding the reach and strengthening the economy of the professional side of our sport."
Cookson will further share his thought on the business model of professional cycling at the Play the Game Conference in Eindhoven on Tuesday. Cyclingnews will also participate in the workshop organized by The Outer Line.