ProTour: too many races?

By Hedwig Kröner

With the end of the 2005 season drawing near, a new president of the UCI selected and the three Grand Tours' participation in the ProTour being a provisional settlement, many details of the latter race calendar are still subject to criticism and will be discussed in the near future. With the proclaimed goal of the series being 'All the top teams and top riders to the top races', many questions have been raised over this inaugural season of the ProTour, one of them concerning the number of events the calendar includes.

Gregorio Moreno, the director of the Vuelta a Burgos, who was also a candidate to the UCI presidency, told Spanish newspaper AS that his vision of a top pro cycling calendar is different to the current situation. "You have to oblige the elite to participate in a series of races, but not in the 27 of the ProTour," he said. "For example, I would create specialty classifications: the best of the Grand Tours, the best of the classics... That would be better than to mix them all, because the result is that Di Luca, the first winner [of the ProTour] hasn't raced the Tour."

Moreno also talked about the difficulties the Continental Circuit races are experiencing in the reform. "The second division races have to assume their category, but in order for them to be able to survive, the conditions of participation of the first category teams have to regularised," Moreno continued. "One possibility would be that the so-called ProTeams wouldn't have to race the whole of the ProTour calendar, but only 70 percent," adding, "We have to try and get the best riders in the best races, not the best teams."

The 2005 season has showed that not all of the top races attracted the team's top riders, with many pros still focussing on their specialty events. While some might argue that the days where the likes of Eddy Merckx raced during the whole season are certainly over and would be impossible to realise nowadays, others say that many races overlap time-wise, and that the smaller races get sidelined in the process.

French ProTeam Crédit Agricole's manager Roger Legeay, for example, recently complained in L'Equipe that his team was forced to drop the 1.HC-rated French event GP des Fourmies on September 11 because his team was busy in ProTour races. "At the time, we didn't have enough riders to create a team because we had one in the Vuelta, the Tour de l'Avenir just finished and the Tour of Poland about to begin," Legeay said. "Mathematically, it was impossible." With most ProTeams having 25-28 riders available, a minimum of 25 being imposed by the UCI, three simultaneous events represent their maximum capacities, with all the consequences this has on the smaller races.

And the riders in all of this? German pro Jens Voigt (Team CSC), who has just been appointed as the CPA representative on the ProTour Council and the UCI Road Commission, told French Vélo Magazine that the high number of ProTour races resulted in the peloton's exhaustion. "There are too many races," Voigt said. "How can we change that now? Which organiser would accept not being included next year? We'll have to go with it, but we already see what's happening: everybody wins [with the ProTour], except the riders.

"In the Tour of Poland, 160 riders started in Gdansk and 70 finished in Karpacz," the tall German underlined his statements. "Everybody was exhausted. Before the ProTour, the peloton could ease up a little after the Tour de France and come back for the end of the season. This year, there was the Tour of Benelux right after it, the Tour of Germany, then the Vuelta, the classics... Really, it's much, much harder."

Voigt, who believes that the ProTour makes the riders specialise on certain races even more, added that the reform took place too fast and that everybody in the teams - including the assistants - suffered from it. "It's hard also on the teams' staff: since the Tour de France, how many have taken a holiday? With the ProTour, [...] the teams are more serious but there's also much more stress, more pressure and more nervousness."

Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
September 26, 2008 - UCI declares peace, appoints new VP
August 30, 2008 - UCI re-signs five ProTour races
August 22, 2008 - ProTour: Bouncing back or lame duck?
August 19, 2008 - Stapleton analyses 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - Feedback on 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'

Cyclingnews' complete coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split

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