Key stakeholders representing every part of professional cycling will gather in Barcelona on Monday for a vital two-day seminar to thrash out the details of the UCI WorldTour reforms.
The use of disc brakes in the WorldTour is also expected to be on the agenda after their approval this week, despite doubts and objection from the riders’ association, the CPA (Cyclistes Professionels Associés).
Several representatives who will attend the WorldTour seminar have described it as a turning point in the future of professional cycling. The details of the reforms have to be agreed if they are to be implemented in time for the 2017 season. Doubts about the long-term future and structure of professional cycling often dissuade sponsors from entering the sport.
The WorldTour reforms were approved by the UCI Management Committee at the Richmond World Championships in September after much debate and discussion by working groups and the UCI’s Professional Cycling Council. The reforms aim to help the WorldTour grow and develop and help teams and races became more economically stable. More races will be added to the WorldTour calendar in years to come and current teams will be given three-year licences (with annual reviews) but face more stringent rules of rider management and support to reduce the risk of doping.
Despite the approval of the reforms by the UCI, Tour de France organiser Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO) and the race organisers' association AIOCC (Association Internationale des Organisateurs de Courses Cyclistes) voted against the reforms at the decisive Professional Cycling Council meeting and have so far pushed back against the changes. Two weeks ago AIOCC said it was against the implementation of the reforms, calling on the UCI to return to an original project presented in 2014 and re-open talks over the future of professional cycling.
In June ASO, which controls the Tour de France, Vuelta a Espana, and many other big events, threatened to pull its races from the 2016 WorldTour calendar but appeared to back down during the summer as talks were held to find a diplomatic solution. ASO has always tried hard to oppose any changes that could weaken its dominance of the sport and its business interests. It has refused ideas that reforms could benefit the whole of the sport, believing that groups such as team business group Velon want a part of ASO income.
ASO has so far refused to discuss their position and opposition to the WorldTour reforms with Cyclingnews despite requests for interviews.
One representative, who will attend the WorldTour seminar but who did not want to be named, told Cyclingnews it is vital that an agreement on the reforms is reached.
“We have to hope that there’s a wider understanding of the reforms project. We’ve got to find the conditions so that the reforms can begin,” said the stakeholder.
“I don’t think anybody wants a war or a power struggle. It’s not in anybody’s interests. Sport is facing a lot of problems at the moment and this is a chance to improve our sport - we don’t need to spark further problems.
“ASO has said some aggressive things in the past about the reforms but they’re still at the table. I hope we can talk about the details and find solutions. I’m also ready to fight for my interests but do that while understanding that the reforms are vital for everyone’s interests. We can’t stop the reform process because of personal interests.”
The WorldTour seminar, and reaching a peaceful outcome with ASO and AIOCC, is considered as a key test of Brian Cookson’s presidency of the UCI as he enters the second half of his four-year term. Cookson was elected in 2013 based on a mandate of trying to restore credibility and to improve globalization and the commercial prospects of the sport.
There is general consensus amongst stakeholders is that Cookson is "doing the right thing" by backing the new reforms and for "standing up to ASO", as another put it.
“The seminar is important for Brian’s role as president. He’s got to show he can listen to people and find solutions but also be firm,” a stakeholder told Cyclingnews.