Gianni Bugno, the president of the CPA riders association (Cyclistes Professionels Associés) has described the UCI's decision to cut team sizes in races for 2018 as "bullshit" suggesting it will do little to improve safety for the riders in the peloton.
After a debate during meetings of the UCI's Professional Cycling Council (PCC), the UCI Management Committee rubber-stamped new rules that reduce the peloton to a maximum of 176 riders. Team sizes for Grand Tours will be reduced from nine to eight riders, with a maximum of seven riders per team in other races.
The UCI argued that safety concerns were behind the decision. However, teams and race organisers have used the changes to cut costs. Most WorldTour teams have reduced their rosters for 2018, some by three or four riders. There were 530 riders in WorldTour teams in 2017 but this number is predicted to fall by around 10 per cent in 2018.
Bugno is concerned for the livelihood of the riders he represents.
"I don't want to hear talk about cuts to team sizes in races being done for safety reasons. Using safety as a reason to cut team sizes is rubbish," Bugno told Cyclingnews.
"You can't improve safety at races by just cutting 20 riders, it's a far more complex issue than that. Look at the debate on the use of disc brakes; we've been talking about their use for a year and a half and nothing has been decided. Yet they've managed to decide to cut the number of riders in races just a few months."
"The funny thing is that the peloton at the UCI World Championships will still be of 200 riders. The UCI needs to explain why they've allowed that to happen in their own race if they care about safety."
Bugno explained that the CPA voted against cuts to team sizes but were left in a minority at the Professional Cycling Council vote in June because teams and races were in favour. Major race organisers ASO, RCS Sport, Flanders Classics had already tried to cut team sizes in their races last winter.
Reduced rosters means a reduced race programme
The WorldTour teams are expected to cut their race programmes to match their reduced rosters in 2018.
The 18 WorldTour teams are obliged to ride all the historic WorldTour races, but can chose to race in the new WorldTour races that were added in 2017. The major teams traditionally also ride a number of non-WorldTour races: French teams support the French Cup series, Team Sky ride the Tour de Yorkshire and the Tour of Britain and Cannondale-Drapac targeted the Colorado Classic.
However riders can only compete in a certain number of races per season due to fatigue and injury and teams often hire trainees in the summer to complete their line-ups for races in the final months of the season.
The WorldTour teams are expected to reduce the number of non-WorldTour races they ride in 2018 as they carefully plan their calendar to suit a reduced roster.
"The CPA was against cutting the team sizes unless riders could compete more in other races, outside the WorldTour. However we've now seen that the WorldTour teams have cut back the size of the teams to save money. The important riders will still ride the important races but the reduction in team sizes will hurt the lesser non-WorldTour races because teams aren't interested in riding many of them," Bugno warned.
"The team managers are happy to save money, the race organisers are happy because they have to provide fewer hotel rooms and expenses to teams. However we've lost jobs for riders, jobs for mechanics, jobs for soigneurs and jobs for other staff."
Bugno also rejects the idea that race organisers have pushed for smaller teams to inspire more open, aggressive racing in the hopes of stopping the likes of Team Sky from dominating the Tour de France.
"It's difficult to have a more exciting race if a team has five riders that could be team leaders and so dominates the peloton," Bugno said, confirming he is against a salary cap but believing teams should be limited to the quality of the riders they field in each race by a points system.
"There's an abyss between the best teams and other teams. That's why the best Grand Tours are the Giro d'Italia and the Vuelta a Espana where one team doesn't control the race."