The ASO announced on Friday that it would hold its races, including the Tour de France, outside of the UCI WorldTour, after rejecting the reforms which were approved by the UCI earlier this year. Speaking to Velo101.com, the Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme outlined his reasons for requesting Hors Categorie (HC) classification for 2017, explaining that the decision keeps the races under the auspices of the UCI but allows more flexibility on which teams they can invite, and how many riders will make up the peloton in their races.
Prudhomme and the ASO have long objected to a "closed system" that forces them to invite all of the WorldTour teams. The UCI's reforms, which offer three-year licences to teams and races, continue to limit the ASO's choices. Prudhomme says he is "in favour of an open system in which sporting merit is the dominant criterion".
He insists that the move to classify the races as HC in 2017 does not constitute a stand-off with the UCI. "Our races will remain under the auspices of the UCI, but as Hors Categorie. We are simply saying to the UCI that we are not in agreement with this reform," Prudhomme said.
Prudhomme named several objections to the WorldTour reforms, one of which is the number of racing days. In 2014, he says, the race organisers wished to see a reduction in days on the WorldTour calendar. "Today, instead of having 30 days fewer, they offer us thirty more," he said.
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"Weighing down the WorldTour schedule will prevent the biggest teams and riders from competing in events other than those of the World calendar in the future." He expressed concerns for races that are not on the WorldTour calendar and could see fewer of the top riders appearing in their races.
"Take the example of Vincenzo Nibali, winner of three Grand Tours. In September he raced the Coppa Bernocchi and won. It's great. Compelling the teams to race a WorldTour schedule overloaded in racing days will leave no room for this. Similarly, Thibaut Pinot racing a Tour du Doubs." Prudhomme says it is essential to keep the base of cycling's pyramid strong.
An additional benefit to organising the Tour de France and other races as HC is more control over the size of the peloton. The UCI requires all 18 WorldTour teams to be invited to a WorldTour race. For an HC race, the WorldTour teams can only make up 70 per cent of the peloton. "For us this will not be a problem," Prudhomme said. "With thirteen WorldTour teams instead of 18 at the start of the Tour de France, it will enable us to open the floodgates to second division teams. At the same time, it will allow us to take fewer teams, 20 in total, to implement what we want, namely a smaller peloton at the start, primarily for security reasons."
The applications for the 2017 WorldTour are due in January.