UCI President David Lappartient has said that he hopes the new mixed World Championship team time trial 'relay', set to debut at next year's Worlds in Yorkshire, UK, will help to promote gender equality in cycling.
Unveiled on Wednesday evening in Innsbruck, Austria, during the current World Championships – along with the proposed routes for the 2019 World Championships in Yorkshire – the team relay will see teams of three men and three women complete a lap each of a 14-kilometre loop.
The event replaces the short-lived trade team time trials, which the UCI announced in May would have their final outing at this year's Worlds, and which took place last Sunday, with Canyon-SRAM winning the women's event and Quick-Step Floors the champions in the men's race.
Although it took until June for the UCI's management committee to agree to the new format, Lappartient came up with the idea back in February when he was watching another sport.
"I got this idea during the Pyeongchang Winter Olympic Games. I was watching the biathlon – the team relay – with my brother, and I thought, 'Why can't we have this in cycling?' Immediately, I spoke with Gary," he said, referring to the Chief Executive of the Welcome to Yorkshire tourism agency, Sir Gary Verity.
"He said, 'OK – let's do it for the first time. I want to have it for the first time in Yorkshire,'" Lappartient explained on stage following the unveiling of the 2019 courses.
"In the UCI, we really want to promote gender equality. In the road race, we have no race with men and women. I was thinking about what we could do to promote a race together. I remembered what we were able to do in mountain biking: we have the mixed team relays, and they have been hugely successful. I thought, 'Why not in road cycling?' Of course, we can't have a road race with both together, so the team relay was a perfect event for this."
Speaking to Cyclingnews after the event, Lappartient explained the new format further. The event will be open to elite and under 23-level riders – although there is currently no under-23 category in women's racing, so it would be just elite women. By opening it up to additional categories and keeping the teams limited to three each of men and women, the UCI hopes to entice a large number of nations to take part.
"We wanted to be sure that we had the opportunity to have as many teams as possible," he told Cyclingnews. "To have a team time trial, you need at least two [riders], but two is not enough for this, so we need three. But then if it's more than three, then maybe some countries won't be able to enter the race. We wanted the best compromise, and we believe that three men and three women would be the perfect size. We wanted to have the men for the start and for the women to record the finish time, which I think is wonderful for the women."
Perhaps the most intriguing and challenging part of the new format will be the changeover. The men will leave the start ramp and complete their lap, with the time being taken on the second rider to cross the line. Once that rider has finished, the women will then start their effort from the start ramp, and again, the clock will stop when the second rider crosses the finish line.
The lap in Yorkshire is only 14 kilometres long, so it's very possible that two, or even three, teams could come to the line at the same time, so there will need to be plenty of room on the ramp for multiple teams to prepare themselves. With such fine margins potentially deciding the winners, a quick getaway will also be key, and Lappartient suggested that some sort of lighting system could be used to make sure everything runs smoothly.
"It's not so easy to organise, and we have been thinking about how to do this in the perfect way," said Lappartient. "Because you can have a team catching another team and arriving at the same moment, you need some space for this, and the commissaire will be on the ramp to give the start for the women.
"We have been working on the technical points, but we have to clarify some small details because, after a 14km lap, the gaps [between teams] could be very small, so we'll need to be very organised at the point when the relay happens. We've been working hard on this to find the best solution. We may have green lights [for the women to start] when the second male crosses the line."
Rumours of what would replace the trade team time trial have been rife ever since the announcement of its demise in May, but riders and fans alike have been in the dark about the plans.
Lappartient said that the UCI had not consulted with any riders over the proposed plans, and that little, if anything, is likely to change between now and the 2019 Worlds. However, the UCI President did say that he would listen to feedback on the event in order to improve it for future editions.
"The UCI management committee made the decision in June, but it was a request from Gary Verity to have it under embargo until this evening [Wednesday]. I do hope that it will be welcomed by the riders and the national federations," said Lappartient.
"Official world champions' jerseys will also be presented for this event, which is not the case for the current trade team time trials," he added.
"I think that this is the way it will work next year, but, of course, after one year we we'll have to assess it, and discuss it with the athletes' commission, to see how we can improve it for the future.
"We're always open to innovation, and how we can organise it. The input and the feedback from the riders and the federations will be very important in this."