By Shane Stokes
Team Columbia manager Bob Stapleton has given a provisional thumbs up to what he sees as progress in improving the relationship between the UCI and the Grand Tour organisers. The American was contacted by Cyclingnews following Monday's announcement of a new UCI World Calendar, and saw several possible benefits under the proposed new structure.
"The announcement addresses some contentious issues - calendar, race entry, and a stable structure to improve the sport," he said. "It suggests the following. Firstly, it is creating a Unified World Calendar, and ultimate jurisdiction of the UCI in coordinating and operating it. It appears that this will combine the ASO/RCS events with the existing ProTour Calendar, with a few events potentially added to the ProTour calendar. This keeps the sport under a predictable, common-rules structure and governance.
"Secondly, [it features] the continuation of the ProTour as a circuit of races and elite teams, with automatic participation within the ProTour ecosystem. The ProTour can pursue global expansion and offers events a package of teams and athletes to participate, while ASO and RCS and others can develop their events with independence.
"And, thirdly, it is creating a 'World Ranking' or team standing system - where entry into the Tour de France and potentially other top races would be determined by the actual combined results of the individual teams. This will be heavily debated, but will take the shape of a merit-based system determining the selection of the majority of team spots in races. Organisers will keep wildcard and self-determined entry rights for remaining entry spots, which they have fought for and earned."
Stapleton stated that it was important to get the viewpoint of the other main stakeholder before being able to fully assess the impact of the proposed new system. "It must be noted that this announcement is a unilateral one from the UCI. It will be interesting to see what the ASO says in response," he said.
Stapleton came to the sport after a very successful career in business. The lack of a lengthy association with cycling means that he has arguably greater independence than many other team managers, with no long-running ties to either the UCI or ASO. That factor plus his strong business background makes his assessment a valuable one.
"Overall, this is a clear sign of progress and a pragmatic solution," he continued. "With a stable structure in place we can now refocus on key issues. I will be personally focused on the full adoption of the biological passport and the body of rules and actions to be taken to enforce it."
He is clear about the advantages of this. "If a coordinated anti-doping effort is undertaken, it would be powerful progress in creating fair competition. Real work has been done on the scope and sophistication of testing; now it needs to be consolidated and rigorously implemented and enforced."
Time will tell if the UCI's announcement will translate into reality, and whether the long-running political struggle between it and the Grand Tour organisers will come to an end. Stapleton concluded his analysis by stating that he expects a flurry of activity at the World Championships. "Keep your fingers crossed that this truly becomes a step forward," he said.