Professional women's cycling will see the introduction of a two-tiered team system - WorldTeams and Continental Teams - that is set to take shape in 2020. At the UCI Road World Championships in Innsbruck on Saturday, President David Lappartient confirmed that the top-tier would include five teams in the first year, with a goal of increasing to 15 teams by 2022.
"We will start with five WorldTeams in 2020," Lappartient said. "In the second year there will be another five, and in the third year, there will be five more. We will reach 15 teams at the top level. I hope that we can reach 15 teams that would be a good opportunity. Once we have 15 teams, the last team will be challenged with another potential applicant."
Under the professional men's team structure, there are three tiers; WorldTour, Professional Continental and Continental. On the women's side there is only one category that includes 46 UCI Women's Teams, with the top 15, according to the UCI World Ranking, automatically invited to compete in Women's WorldTour events.
"We will continue with three levels for the men," Lappartient said. "With the women, currently, there are only UCI Women's Teams, so you have to recognize that there is a big, big gap between the top teams and some teams that are officially a women's teams, but in fact, they are not completely professional.
"It's a little bit different from the men," Lappartient said. "From 2020 to 2021 to 2022, we will grow by five teams each year, to reach 15 teams, and then it will move to a challenge system for the last team, based on the sports results, only after we are sure that they respect the ethical aspects and all the other criteria."
Currently, the top 15 Women's Teams are invited to compete on the Women's WorldTour, but they are not obliged to participate, something that could change in two years under the new reforms.
In two years from now, the top five Women's WorldTeams could be forced to race in the WorldTour races. Also, the UCI is set to bring in rules that will enforce a minimum salary paid to riders who are contracted with WorldTeams. They have not announced what the minimum wage will be, but Lappartient told Cyclingnews in July that it would not equal the WorldTour or Professional Continental teams' minimum salary.
WorldTour riders are currently entitled to a minimum salary of €38,115, and Professional Continental riders earn a minimum of €30,855 per year. Neo-pros, however, earn less at €30,839 at WorldTour and €25,806 on a Professional Continental team.
The UCI also explained that there will be an examination of all the athletes' contracts via the registration of these contracts by a financial audit and consultancy firm, in line with the model that already exists for the men's professional peloton.
"What we are going to do, finally, with the future of the UCI Women's Teams, is that the top teams can be promoted in the top-level," Lappartient said. "We will go forward with two levels of teams for the ladies and the top teams will be able to respect specifications that will able to be promoted at a WorldTeam."
Along with tiered teams and minimum salary regulations, the UCI will introduce a new structure for the events calendar. It will be called the UCI ProSeries that includes four classes: UCI Women's WorldTour, UCI ProSeries, Class 1 and Class 2, which it believes is more aligned with the development of women's cycling while offering a structure adapted to its future growth.
"I welcome this fundamental development for women's cycling and the strengthening of the position of women in our sport's governance, two subjects which are among the central points of the UCI's Agenda 2022," Lappartient said.
"The decisions taken increase the professionalisation of this sector by drawing inspiration from, but adapting appropriately, from the model that led men's professional road cycling to become one of the most popular sports in the world."