Professional cycling may see the return of the defunct World Cup format in 2020, and such a competition has the backing of UCI president David Lappartient.
L'Equipe reported on Sunday that Serge Arsenault, who organises the two Canadian WorldTour races – the GP Cycliste de Québec and the GP Cycliste de Montréal – wants to re-launch a season-long 'World Cup' made up of the sport's best one-day races.
Arsenault is proposing a 16-to-18-round circuit of one-day races, running from March to June, and then again from August to October. It would be an "international circuit of Classics decided on points."
His own races – both won this weekend by Team Sunweb's Michael Matthews – would naturally be included, as would the famous Paris-Roubaix and Tour of Flanders, as well as races based in Asia and Oceania.
"In the beginning, we would not ask for television rights," Arsenault told L'Equipe. "The important thing is to attract international sponsors for the whole circuit, and to ensure a worldwide distribution of a product of very high quality and consistency.
"Each event would keep around 30 per cent of its advertising space for its partners, and part of the profits would be given to the teams. In turn, the riders would benefit.
"It's not right that today the best riders earn the same salary as average [ice] hockey players," Arsenault said. "When tennis and golf understood that they had to unite, they increased their revenue tenfold. Cycling must do the same."
The current UCI WorldTour is made up of races that include stage races such as the Tour Down Under, Paris-Nice, the Giro d'Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España, as well as newer one-day races – such as the two Canadian races – and the sport's five 'Monuments': the one-day Classics Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Il Lombardia.
At the end of the season, a UCI WorldTour champion is crowned – although there seems to be limited enthusiasm among riders or fans for the title, which was won by Greg Van Avermaet (BMC Racing) in 2017.
The current WorldTour competition does pit everyone against each other, but it's difficult to understand how or why a bulky sprinter finishes above a lightweight climber, or vice versa. Separate season-long competitions that see similar riders compete against each other arguably make more sense, and Lappartient has implied that three separate competitions could be on the horizon.
"This project can be found in the cycling reform document submitted to the different cycling parties,” Lappartient said in L'Equipe on Sunday, referring to Arsenault's suggestion of a separate world circuit of one-day races.
“Next Wednesday, in Madrid, there will be a general debate on the reform and more particularly on this subject," he continued. "It will be developed at the end of the year during the WorldTour seminar.
“We could launch this circuit in 2020. There are three categories: Grand Tours, five to eight-day [stage] races, and one-day races. In this last category, we'd have a more international vision of our sport, with races in historically important Europe, others outside Europe, such as here in Canada, and then new races on other continents.
“We must move to become a truly international sport. However, today, we have very few international sponsors, and TV broadcasting isn't sufficient on a global level. In this potential market, we don't really have that many events or riders, but that is how we need to develop."
Van Avermaet would certainly be in with a huge chance of winning a revived'World Cup, pitting the world's best one-day riders against each other. Current world champion Peter Sagan (Bora-Hansgrohe) would surely be a favourite, too, as would Quebec and Montreal winner Matthews (Sunweb) and Astana's Michael Valgren.
The old UCI Road World Cup ran from 1989 until the introduction of the WorldTour – or the ProTour, as it was initially known – for the 2005 season. Like this new proposal, the competition was made up only of one-day races, and included all the Monuments, plus Paris-Tours, Amstel Gold, the Clasica San Sebastian and Züri-Metzgete.
It also included British one-day race the Wincanton Classic (later the Leeds Classic and the Rochester Classic) from 1989 to 1997, and the Japan Cup in 1996. The final edition of the World Cup took place in 2004, with Paolo Bettini sealing a record third successive title at that year's Tour of Lombardy.
In turn, the World Cup was preceded by the Super Prestige Pernod, which was more like the current WorldTour, and included both stage races and one-day races, and it proved to be extremely popular in a way that the WorldTour hasn't really been.
The points structure was much simpler, and few events overlapped, and it was often described as season-long, points-based world championships. It ran from 1959 until 1987, and was won by the likes of Jacques Anquetil, Raymond Poulidor, Bernard Hinault, Sean Kelly, Greg LeMond and Stephen Roche.
The simple reason for its demise was that France banned the advertising of alcohol at sporting events in 1988, and along came the World Cup.
Now, a season-long, one-day race world circuit is again on the cards, and the face of professional cycling may change once more.
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