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Participation a concern for Philadelphia Cycling Classic as Women's WorldTour calendar expands

The UCI recently announced the second edition of the Women's WorldTour with four new events bringing the total to 21 races in 2017. The expanding calendar sees the Aviva Women's Tour start three days after the Philadelphia International Cycling Classic causing participation concerns for the American one-day race.

Last year, the Aviva Women's Tour began 10 days after the Philadelphia race. Robin Mortin, co-founder of race organisers G4 Productions, says that bringing the two events closer together will make it hard for teams to commit to travelling to both, and she is concerned that her one-day race might lose racers.

"Aviva Tour has moved a few days closer to our event in Philadelphia, and that could be impactful for us, in terms of travel for the teams," Morton told Cyclingnews. "That necessitated us making a change in the race schedule for next year."

For the past two editions, the Philadelphia Cycling Classic has made their women's event the marquee show, starting at noon, while the men's UCI 1.1 event starts early in the morning. But because of the calendar changes, G4 Productions decided to move the women's event back to its original early-morning slot to allow for teams and riders to book international flights out of Philadelphia to London on the same day.

"The riders will get to London on Monday, and the race starts on Tuesday [Wednesday - ed.], so I don't know if that will be impactful on some teams and maybe they will choose not to come and race in Philly. We will see how that goes.

"At least our schedule change gives the riders an opportunity to leave on Sunday night, on a direct flight from Philadelphia to London.

"The UCI is always looking at it and trying to find ways to make it better and improve each year, so we will see how it goes."

Stricter obligations on teams

Morton was pleased with the first year of the Women's WorldTour and the expansion of the calendar for next season. However, she would like to see the UCI enforce stricter obligations on team participation in events that invest in being part of the new world-class series.

There are currently 18 men's teams that compete in the WorldTour, and all are obliged to participate in the series' historical events. There are currently no tiered-team categories for the women's teams. Organisers are instead obliged to invite the top 20 teams in the UCI ranking to one-day events and top 15 teams to stage races that are part of the Women's WorldTour. However, teams are not obliged to attend.

Morton says this discrepancy makes it hard for organisers to guarantee top-class fields and generally makes organising start lists a challenge.

"Teams don't have to accept our invitation, and that is what makes it a little bit difficult," Morton said. "There need to be some criteria placed on the teams as well as the organisers.

"We have to invite the top 20 teams, and once they have accepted or declined, we then have the ability to invite other UCI teams or national teams. Sometimes teams don't respond to our invitations, or they are late in responding, and at that point, other teams have filled up their calendars.

"There needs to be some structure for teams to accept within a reasonable amount of time. And maybe it would make sense for the top five or 10 teams to be obliged to attend the events. It can't be incumbent on the organisers alone to provide everything, send out invitations, set up our races and then not get a response."

Morton says she understands that women's teams have less funding and fewer riders on their rosters than the men's teams that race on the WorldTour, and that that places additional restrictions on how many and which events they can commit to each season.

"We help teams a lot in terms of their expenses, and we know that it is a big undertaking for some [international] teams to come to the US to race. The Women's WorldTour is new for the women's field, and with new structures in place, so I think it will take a while to sort out."

New UCI Criterium and potential course changes on tap for 2017

During the last four editions, the Philadelphia Cycling Classic has finished at the top of Manayunk Wall, a short but steep climb that has always been a feature on the downtown circuit.

But in 2015, Morton acknowledged the possibility of a return to the old start and finish area along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, where the finish line was located just a few hundred metres away from the stairs to the Philadelphia Art Museum. That sprinter-friendly finish line was used during 19 editions of the women's race, and 28 editions of the men's race.

Although Morton said there are some potential course changes in 2017, she could not confirm if the race will once again start and finish along Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

"There are potentially a few course changes," Morton said, reiterating that G4 Productions is hired by the City of Philadelphia to produce the race and so any changes to the course need to be supported and implemented by the city.

"We are finalising those at the moment. We are working on having each event be a little bit longer.

"The start-finish is great in Manayunk and makes for a more dynamic finish on the climb. But the start-finish on the parkway was great because the footprint is so much bigger and it allows us to do much more in terms of hospitality, expo and race set-up. It's nice to change things up and have different starts and finishes.

"We will know before the end of the year, but we have to work with the city on tweaking the course."

While the organisers await any potential course changes for the Philadelphia Cycling Classic's road races, Morton confirmed that there would be the addition of a new UCI Criterium for both men and women next year.

The criterium will be held on Friday, June 2 in the late afternoon to allow riders and teams time to travel and arrive in Philadelphia on Friday morning and set up to race the criterium.

The event will start on Lemon Hill, one of the climbs used as a King and Queen of the Mountain during the road races on Sunday. It will run along a 0.7-mile circuit.

"We have added a UCI Criterium on Friday for both the men and women," Morton confirmed. "It will take place on Lemon Hill, but it will not use the whole climb. It's a nice climb, and it will be an interesting race."

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Kirsten Frattini

Kirsten Frattini is an honours graduate of Kinesiology and Health Science from York University in Toronto, Canada. She has been involved in cycling from the community and grassroots level to professional cycling's WorldTour. She has worked in both print and digital publishing, and started with Cyclingnews as a North American Correspondent in 2006. Moving into a Production Editor's role in 2014, she produces and publishes international race coverage for all men's and women's races including Spring Classics, Grand Tours, World Championships and Olympic Games, and writes and edits news and features. As the Women's Editor at Cyclingnews, Kirsten also coordinates and oversees the global coverage of races, news, features and podcasts about women's professional cycling.