Cycling tries to go global with new one-day UCI Classics Series

New format could shake up men’s WorldTour in 2020

The framework of the new UCI Classics Series - the new men's WorldTour one-day races set to be introduced in 2020 - emerged during the UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck, with the changes likely to shake-up the men's WorldTour and divide the WorldTour calendar into Grand Tours and short stage races and the one-day Classics.

While commercial and technical details have still to be thrashed out with the race organisers, teams and riders, the UCI hopes the creation of a season-long Classics series can make the sport more global, more seasonal and ultimately attract more revenue that will be shared between the race organisers, the teams and the riders.

The 20-25 race UCI Classics Series could eventually develop into a Formula 1-type series, with the best one-day riders competing in all the weekend races and targeting overall victory in the series. They would perhaps still ride the Grand Tours but could reduce the number of stage races they ride per season in order to focus more on the UCI Classics Series.

UCI President David Lappartient has been cautious about making major proclamations about the format for the UCI Classics Series because he has yet to fully convince the major race organisers and the leading teams to work together on the plans. As part of the wider WorldTour reforms agreement, all the stakeholders have to agree for the project to move forward. If one refuses, the UCI Classics Series will not happen. 

"We can perhaps compare it to being at the foot of L'Alpe d'Huez," Lappartient said in Innsbruck, perhaps knowing he has a mountain to climb to stop race organisers and teams fighting over revenue and control of the new-look race series, where television rights and other income will be pooled and any profits shared.

"We've never agreed on a series like this before," Lappartient said. "Everyone of the stakeholders agreed in principal with this new idea, now the second stage is to enter discussions on commercial rights. I think we have to build a system and deliver what is best for cycling and for the market, then we can discuss how to share and how the sport benefits from this."

20-25 races in spring and late summer

The UCI Classics Series would shake up the current cycling calendar, with between 20 and 25 one-day races held on weekends from January/February to April and from mid-August to the end of the season.

Stage races will then dominate the racing calendar from the Tour de Romandie in late April, via the Giro d'Italia, the Criterium du Dauphine, the Tour de Suisse, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana.

The 20-25 races will have the five monuments – Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardia as the cornerstones of the calendar. Other established one-day races will be included, but there are plans to create new events in new markets to help push the global impact and visibility of professional cycling. There are currently 19 one-day races in the WorldTour calendar, suggesting up to six new events may be added for 2020.

The UCI Classics Series is likely to crown an overall winner based on points, with the best riders expected to compete on the cobbles, the Ardennes hills and across the whole UCI Classics Series calendar.

"We want our sport to be as global as possible and have a worldwide calendar throughout the season and across different continents," Lappartient said. "We don't have races in key markets in the Americas or Asia, and that's why we need a global model. Those markets can also help European teams find major sponsors."

The WorldTour teams will be obliged to ride all the current one-day WorldTour races in the UCI Classics Series but have the right to skip some of the new races. There will be places for the best-ranked Pro Continental teams, and race organisers can invite some wildcard teams.

The UCI Classics Series will overlap with stage races on the existing WorldTour calendar and other continental calendars, with global travel from race to race perhaps also an issue to resolve to protect rider health.

The UCI Classics Series will perhaps overshadow long-standing stage races, but leading race organisers may be prepared to sacrifice stage races that struggle to make a profit to defend the Grand Tours and be part of the UCI Classics Series.

"The idea is not to increase the number of race days for riders and teams and not to push the team with extra travel costs. This us just an idea, it's not set in stone, but for example the UAE could reduce its stage race by one day and add a one-day Classic," Lappartient suggested.

Create new revenue growth for all

Only Paris-Roubaix secures any real television rights revenue amongst the current one-day Classics, with Milan-San Remo apparently only shown live on terrestrial television in four European countries.

Lappartient and his advisors hope that bundling television rights and using new digital technology and a possible united digital platform can significantly raise revenue, as has occurred in other sports. The idea is also to combine the best skills of each race organiser to ensure the best image and data production, secure global distribution and so sell the sport to a wider global audience.

Lappartient, despite coming from the Brittany in the traditional heartland of French cycling, is not afraid to innovate or go against the historic structure of men's professional cycling.

"It's risky, but there's always risk in life," Lappartient told Cyclingnews. "We know we can expect challenges ahead but believe that together we can work out a good solution."

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