The leading WorldTour and Professional Continental teams have told Cyclingnews they will give constructive support to the modest changes to the UCI WorldTour for 2020. The modifications were announced on Tuesday by UCI president David Lappartient after the teams were given a bigger voice in the running of the new UCI Classics Series that will bring together the biggest one-day races in the sport.
The Association Internationale des Groupes Cyclistes Professionnels (AIGCP) defends the interests of the teams and is recognised as key stakeholder in the sport, along with the UCI, the Cyclistes Professionnels Associés (CPA) riders association, and the race organisers Association Internationale des Organisateurs de Courses Cyclistes (AIOCC).
These stakeholders have discussed different reforms for many years, with historical influence from Tour de France owner ASO often stifling real change and the creation of a new, more modern, business model.
In the summer the teams were up in arms about proposals to reduce the number of WorldTour teams from 18 to 15 and threatened to circumvent the WorldTour structure and begin negotiations directly with equally distraught race organisers.
However, a final nine-and-a-half-hour UCI Professional Cycling Council meeting on Monday during the World Championships in Innsbruck, led to compromise on all sides, with the UCI backtracking on the idea of reducing the WorldTour to 15 teams. The WorldTour will instead retaining the current number of 18 teams from 2020, with teams awarded three-year licences to provide stability and sponsor security.
AIGCP president and Team Sunweb manager Iwan Spekenbrink represented the teams in the final PCC meeting and posed with Lappartient and other stakeholders as the deal was announced on the president's Twitter feed.
More than just cosmetic changes
Just a few hours before the PCC meeting, LottoNL-Jumbo team manager Richard Plugge had described the reforms to Cyclingnews as 'cosmetic' as they failed to change the business model of cycling and resolve the team's dependence on sponsorship. But Spekenbrink left Innsbruck more optimistic, believing the teams had secured an opening from the UCI with a guarantee to work together on an equal basis to develop new business initiatives such as the UCI's new one-day Classics Series, race data and a new digital platform.
"The teams have really come together this time. They understand that this reform is not huge but that it allows us to work differently for the first time," Spekenbrink told Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview.
"We look at the new plans for the 2020 WorldTour with the glass half-full, not half-empty. We feel that the door with the UCI is open so that we can talk; it's no longer only just about obligations and rules which used to put more burden on teams and riders, with the benefits going to others. The new constructive approach marks a subtle difference but it's significant for us.
"Our point of view is that we bring a lot of money into the WorldTour, we pay the UCI to be part of it but if our obligations continue to grow, and the burden falls more and more on us, in the end we'll reach a breaking point. We got very close to this in recent weeks. Fortunately the UCI listened to us.
"The teams put an estimated 410 Million Euro into the sport thanks to our sponsors but we get zero profit. Only half of teams survived the years of the WorldTour since it was created and that showed how wrong the business model is. The organisers put in something like 260 million Euro. We know that many suffer to break even but two expect to make a big profit, something like 100 million from the 260 total. That doesn't seem fair."
The latest reforms do little to address that economical divide but Spekenbrink is convinced that the new approach expected for the UCI Classics Series, race data and the digital platform, is a real opportunity for the teams to play a more active role in the management and future of professional cycling.
The details of the UCI Classics Series has still to be thrashed out among the stakeholders. It is supposed to include the five monuments - Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardia - plus up to 10 other top tier races. For the first time the teams will be a directly involved in deciding the format and business plan of the series.
Spekenbrink and the AIGCP teams hope the race organisers will permit TV rights to be bundled together to boost revenue and global distribution. In return the teams promise to field their best riders in the UCI Classics Series and work hard to build and promote the series. In exchange they want a share of any new revenue and decision-making process. Major organisers such as ASO and RCS Sport have still to confirm they are ready to share revenue and control of their historic one-day Classics.
"In the past the UCI just regulated the relationships between organisers and teams and that prevented the parties from working together and creating a complete product. It caused fragmentation instead of unity for a common good," Spekenbrink suggested.
"Our biggest point when discussing these latest reforms was that the UCI didn't put any more obligations on our shoulders. New initiatives should be by choice, we shouldn't be forced into something. With the new UCI Classics Series, the teams are an integral part of it all. We're the ones bringing the quality to the races, fighting for the victories and we connect all the races together.
"We really feel part of the project and we'll enter the final negotiations about the UCI Classics Series with a positive attitude. But if any eventual agreement doesn't offer the teams and riders what we believe is right, then we are not bound to participate and our decision should not spark a new round of conflict between stakeholders."
The WorldTour teams have already hinted that without an agreement, they will begin to seriously look for an alternative to the UCI WorldTour calendar, perhaps negotiating directly with race organisers.
Devil in the detail of the 2020 WorldTour reforms
In the 24 hours since the UCI announced the WorldTour reforms, Cyclingnews has been able to fill the gaps left by the UCI's initial information. The devil really is in the detail, with even apparently small aspects or changes potentially having a huge impact.
For the 2020 season, the 18, three-year WorldTour team licences, will be awarded based on ethical, administrative, financial, organisational and sporting criteria.
A new UCI World Ranking for teams, based on the results of the 10 best riders of each team from the 2017, 2018 and 2019 season, will rank the WorldTour teams and play a huge role in deciding who secures a place in the 18-team elite echelon of professional cycling. The system appears to favour the current WorldTour teams and so may make it difficult for new or Professional Continental teams to step up in 2020.
The current WorldTour and Professional Continental teams have pushed back against points systems and rankings that leave them "racing for points to survive" with little scope to develop other business interests and agreeing better appearance fees with some organizers as Velon has often done in recent years.
The teams accepted a points system as a sporting criteria for the 2020 license application but in return secured a guarantee they will lead the development of a new and improved method for the sporting criteria for 2023.
The WorldTour race organisers of all the 37 WorldTour teams are obliged to invite all the 18 WorldTour teams. The 18 teams are obliged to ride the long-standing WorldTour races but can still opt to skip the so-called 'new' WorldTour races added in 2016.
Races such as the Tour of California, the UAE Tour, the RideLondon Surrey Classic, the Tour of Turkey and the Tour of Guangxi in China have to attract at least 10 WorldTour teams or face relegation from the WorldTour. A draft system among the teams will be used if race organisers fail to secure ten WorldTour teams in their races. The 2020 WorldTour will consist of approximately 185 days of racing.
Despite recent reductions to team sizes in races, the 2020 WorldTour teams have to hire a minimum of 27 and a maximum of 30 riders. There will be no further reduction in team sizes, with Lappartient's call to reduce teams to just six, in the hope of reducing Team Sky's dominance at the Tour de France, being kicked into touch.
This will please the CPA riders' association concerns about job losses but will raise the costs for teams and limit places for smaller teams in the 'new' WorldTour races if a high number of WorldTour team decide to accept invitations.
The UCI has also revealed a shake-up at Professional Continental level. Teams will be named UCI ProTeams and ride a new look ProSeries that includes the current HC and Class 1 races.
The two best ranked ProTeams will have the right to participate in the Grand Tours and so race organisers will be able to award fewer wild card invitations to other teams based on business or nationality reasons. The three best UCI ProTeams will have the right to participate in events in the UCI Classics Series and in other events of the UCI WorldTour.