Marianne Vos (Rabo Liv) applauded the UCI's decision to implement the new Women's WorldTour, the 17-round series that recently wrapped up with Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans) winning the first-ever title. Despite its success, the Dutchwoman believes the series has some improvements to make in the years to come.
"It was necessary to come up with the Women's WorldTour to further develop the racing, teams and structure for riders," Vos told Cyclingnews. "The WorldTour came, but there are no big changes made, yet, because there are no rules regarding the series, yet."
The UCI announced the start of the new series late last year to include 17 of the best one-day and stage races around the world. It replaced the 10-round World Cup that consisted only of one-day events. For the Women's WorldTour, organisers were obliged to invite the top 20 teams to one-day races and the top 15 teams for stage races, among other rules.
More rules, tiered women's teams and tougher qualifications for event organizers
UCI Vice President Tracey Gaudry gave the Women's WorldTour series a top grade during its halfway point in June, in an interview with Cyclingnews. The series brought better promotion to women's cycling, with video highlights, social media and press packages, which was a priority, and those aspects will continue to improve in the coming years.
Vos was involved with the UCI Women's Commission during their talks of creating the Women's WorldTour, and she currently sits on the UCI Road Commission and the UCI Athletes Commission, where she voices her concerns about women's cycling.
Vos is convinced that there is more work to be done to improve the structure of the Women's WorldTour for next season, and for seasons to follow.
"[The UCI] will need to implement rules for the Women's WorldTour in the coming years, and that will make the biggest change. But it has been a good step so far, and it's not easy to come up with all those new rules all at once because organisations will struggle, teams will disappear, and that could harm women's cycling," Vos said.
"I hope in the coming years the UCI will make some strong statements and strong regulations that will help improve professionalisation of women's cycling."
Gaudry suggested that the next step in creating a more competitive and professional Women's WorldTour is to create a tiered team system, similar to the men's divisions; WorldTour, Pro Continental and Continental. She noted that there are working groups currently in place to discuss and implement the progress of the women's racing structure.
Women's teams are currently under no obligation to offer minimum wages to their contracted athletes, and although Vos believes this needs to change, she also believes there are other aspects of women's cycling that need improvement first.
She agrees with Gaudry that creating a tiered team system first makes the most sense, and that minimum wage obligations should follow. Also, Vos believes that events and organisers should be held to the same high standards before being allowed to join the WorldTour as teams are, even if that means downsizing to a calendar with fewer races.
"It's not only about minimum wage, but that is one aspect that needs to be considered," Vos said.
"If you look at the number of UCI women's teams that we have [40 registered UCI women's teams in 2016, ed.], and the level of those teams between the best of them and the lower regional teams, there is a big difference.
"It would be good to have a WorldTour where the best teams offer minimum wage and full staff; soigneur and mechanic - you would have to implement logical steps for those teams. And then you would have the best teams, best riders and the best races in the WorldTour. That is what you want.
"Right now there is a big discrepancy between the teams and organisations. We have to go through standards and start small; maybe there would only be 10 teams that are capable of going to the WorldTour level, and then other teams could try to get to that level, same with events and organisations.
"We have a strong WorldTour at the moment; the best races are in, but there is still a big discrepancy between the organisations, rules of the road book and prize money. It would be best if the races go in the same line as the team progressions."
Looking back on the 2016 UCI Women's WorldTour
The series kicked off at Strade Bianche in March and world champion Lizzie Armitstead won the opening round. Boels Dolmans continued its dominance of the series with Chantal Blaak winning Ronde van Drenthe and Gent-Wevelgem, while Armitstead won Trofeo Alfredo Binda-Cittiglio and Tour of Flanders. Vos' Rabo Liv teammate Anna van der Breggen won La Fleche Wallonne.
The series travelled to China for the Tour of Chongming Island won by Chloe Hosking (Wiggle High5), and then to the US where Guarnier won both the Tour of California, where Vos won a stage, and the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic. Guarnier then moved into the overall WorldTour lead.
Back to the UK and Armistead won the overall title at Aviva Women's Tour. But Guarnier continued to build her series lead after winning the overall title at the Giro Rosa.
The series ended with a handful one-day races. Hosking won La Course by Le Tour de France, Kirsten Wild (Hitec Products) won Prudential RideLondon Classique, Boels Dolmans won Crescent Vargarda team time trial and Emilia Fahlin (Ale Cipollini) won Crescent Vargarda road race. Eugenia Bujak (BTC) went on to win the penultimate round at GP de Plouay and Jolien D'hoore (Wiggle High5) won the finale at Le Madrid Challenge by Le Vuelta a Espana.
Guarnier completed the series with 946 points, a massive advantage over second-placed Leah Kirchman (Team Liv-Plantur) who had 604 points, while Armitstead finished third with 545 points. Boels Dolmans also won the team classification.