Dimension Data looks set to keep its place in the 2017 WorldTour after an agreement between the UCI and Tour de France organiser ASO to modify their deal on WorldTour reforms that originally reduced the number of teams to 17 next season, Cyclingnews has learned.
Several key stakeholders involved in the reforms and management of the UCI WorldTour who wished to remain unidentified have confirmed to Cyclingnews that the 2017 WorldTour is set to include places for all 18 teams who applied, pending approval of the licence applications.
The decision will not be final until approved by the Professional Cycling Council (PCC).
The UCI will hold its meeting of the Professional Cycling Council to finalize the rules for the 2017 WorldTour in November. The final decision on who secures the WorldTour places will then be confirmed by the UCI Licence Commission.
Cyclingnews understands that the plan is to award two-year licences to the teams, giving them some stability and confirmation that they will in theory have a place in the sport's biggest races, including the Tour de France. The teams will be free to decide if they compete in the 10 new WorldTour races added to the 2017 calendar.
It appears that an agreement to include all the teams applying for WorldTour came about after a protracted discussion and the risk of legal action and paralysis.
Dimension Data manager Dour Ryder had threated to appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if his team was not given WorldTour status due to different legal interpretations of the loosely written UCI rules. He believes that the demise of the Tinkoff and IAM Cycling teams lifted Dimension Data into the top 16 of the 2016 WorldTour and so secured an automatic place in the 2017 WorldTour.
However, Cyclingnews understands that Bahrain-Merida and Bora-Hansgrohe had also threatened to appeal to CAS believing the WorldTour rules should be interpreted in a different way to protect their application.
To avoid a protracted legal battle that would likely run over into the start of 2017 season and leave race organisers such as the Tour Down Under unsure who will take part in their race, the UCI has asked ASO to modify the existing deal on WorldTour reforms and increase the number of agreed teams to 18. That would satisfy all the current teams hoping to be in the 2017 WorldTour.
It seems that the estimated €2 million sponsorship agreement between ASO and Dimension Data to provide on-bike data during races perhaps convinced ASO to accept 18 WorldTour teams and so save the Dimension Data team from relegation to Professional Continental level.
A reduction to 16 WorldTour teams in 2019
While Dimension Data's place in the 2017 WorldTour now appears safe, dependent on their successful application for a licence, the number of WorldTour teams is expected to be cut to 16 in 2019 at the end of the new two-year WorldTour contracts.
A reduction to 16 teams likely means the two teams will be cut from the 2017 WorldTour based on their results and points total scored during the 2018 season.
A reliance on rankings for WorldTour survival could influence the way the entire calendar is raced - with teams perhaps opting to secure points rather than risk going all out for important victories in Grand Tours and other races - and could create a transfer market free-for-all that would drive up the costs.
Cyclingnews understands that ASO still wants some form of relegation and promotion system to be introduced as previously agreed with the UCI for the 2019 season. Agreeing to 18 teams for 2017 has only strengthened their hand for the reduction to 16 teams.
However, the AIGCP teams association headed by Giant-Alpecin manager Iwan Spekenbrink is firmly against the culling of two teams just to satisfy ASO demands, fearing it will mean a loss of jobs amongst teams and only strengthen ASO's influences on the sport and its finances.
- ASO vs. UCI: the consequences of their power struggle
- AIGCP warn UCI against approving WorldTour reforms
WorldTour teams not obligated to race new events
Cyclingnews understands that the WorldTour teams will no longer be obliged to ride any of the 10 new WorldTour races included in the 2017 calendar and that the points from those race - the Tour of Qatar, the Abu Dhabi Tour, the Tour of California, Strade Bianche, RideLondon Classic, Tour of Turkey and others - will not go towards any eventual raking that will decide who is relegated.
If this rule passes, it weakens the importance and prestige of the new races and naturally left the race organisers angry after they have agreed to pay extra fees and be burdened by extra cost to be part of the WorldTour.
Cyclingnews understands that additional costs for a four- or five-day stage race to be in the WorldTour are close to €100,000.
FDJ manager Marc Madiot threatened to take the UCI to the Court of Arbitration for Sport if the teams would be obligated to race all 37 events on the calendar, saying that they would need 40 riders to compete in all of the overlapping events.
- Madiot and LNC could take UCI to CAS over 2017 WorldTour calendars
- Marc Madiot Blog: The new WorldTour calendar is unacceptable
Cookson to face further WorldTour negotiations in his Presidential election year
It will be up to UCI President Brian Cookson to use his diplomatic skills to broker any deal with ASO on the reforms of the WorldTour. However, he is in the final year of his first term in office and could face a challenge from current UCI Vice President Davide Lappartient of France.
Lappartient is often supportive of ASO and so a change in UCI President could spark further conflict between the race organisers, teams, UCI, and new business initiatives such as the Velon group of powerful teams.
- David Lappartient: A UCI President in the making?
- Lappartient plays down talk of running for UCI President
Cookson told Cyclingnews that the WorldTour reforms are still a work on progress and he is confident of finding an agreement that pleases everyone.
"We brought ASO back into the WorldTour and we need to make sure everyone is happy with the terms and conditions of the WorldTour for the next few years. Going forward if things work, then good, if they don't work then we'll change them," Cookson told Cyclingnews.
"We still have to get a final agreement on some of the details but I'm confident we'll get there. But all of the talks I've had in recent weeks have all been about people saying we want to find ways of making this work. The UCI is wiling to make compromises if we can take things forward. Nobody wants to have another conflict in cycling, we can't afford that, so everyone has to work together."