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Salary cap still an option as part of 2020 WorldTour reforms

Further details of the reforms of men's professional cycling for 2020 have emerged, with salary caps or maximum team budgets still on the table, proposals for requirements for top-tier teams to fund development programmes to be discussed, and an emphasis on the new UCI Classics Series.

In a letter sent to teams, riders and race organisers last week, UCI President David Lappartient described the UCI Classics Series as the "pillar to build a new economic model for professional cycling." Lappartient is convinced a new economic model for the sport can be built "around the voluntary pooling of stakeholders' rights."

The UCI Classics Series will divide the WorldTour season into blocks of one-day races between January and April and August and October, with stages races and Grand Tours taking centre stage in the European summer. This could, in theory, change the balance of power in the sport and perhaps curtail the dominance of Tour de France organiser ASO.

Cyclingnews has seen the latest version of the 60-page presentation document sent out by the UCI that confirms the structure of the 2020 WorldTour. Several key details and new initiatives will be thrashed out at the annual UCI Men's Professional Cycling Seminar, which this year will be held in Montreux, Switzerland on December 4 and 5.

There will be 18 teams in the next three-year phase of the UCI WorldTour, with several new teams expected to challenge the current WorldTour teams for a place in the sport's highest echelon. Places will be decided on rankings from the last three years, favouring the current teams, with some kind of 'soft landing' compensation paid to the current WorldTour teams that lose their place. The 2020 WorldTour will include 38 races and 186 race days. The now one-day Driedaagse Brugge-De Panne race has been quietly added to the 2019 WorldTour calendar and could become part of the UCI Classics Series in 2020.

The Sky is not the limit

With the wide discrepancy between current team budgets and some in the sport looking to limit Team Sky's dominance, the idea of a rider salary cap or maximum team budget remains on the table for 2020 even if the UCI still has not provided any details of how a salary cap would work and be controlled.

In July, an unidentified directeur sportif told French newspaper Liberation that "the problem in cycling isn't doping anymore," he said. "It's money."

Lappartient has always denied any bias against Team Sky but suggested the British team may be too successful for the wider good of the sport.

"They win, and they'd be wrong to do otherwise, but the public sees things differently, they want a show. Sky are like a football team that plays very well but without exciting its fans," Lappartient said, confirming the UCI has created a working group to look at the attractiveness of professional racing. "When the viewer sees eight riders of the team dictating the pace and locking down the race, they quickly change channels to watch a soap opera. The ball is in our court, it's up to the UCI to make sure that its races are attractive."

"I'm against an individual salary cap. If a team wants to pay a rider €8,000,000, that's not a problem, but I think we could regulate the overall payroll budget of the teams, to balance their strengths."

WorldTour teams obliged to fund women's or development teams

Other proposals up for debate at the December seminar include changes at Professional Continental level, the introduction of young rider development fees to Continental teams and Federations and changes to points rankings.

The current Professional Continental teams will be renamed ProTeams for 2020 and compete largely in a new ProSeries that includes current HC and Class 1 races, with the best two ranked teams automatically securing invitations to the Grand Tours. This will leave race organisers with just two discretionary wildcard places.

The WorldTour teams will have to make a still-to-be-decided ‘mandatory contribution to the development of cycling' by funding a women's team, a Continental-level development team or by supporting a national level academy set-up. Several teams already have development teams and from 2020 riders will be swapped between teams for some races but WorldTour and Development teams will not be allowed to compete in the same races.

The UCI has also proposed what it calls a ‘Training Compensation Fee', where professional teams pay a fee to the Continental team, club team or national federation that help develop the young riders who step up to the professional level.

UCI Classics Series

While legal, commercial and technical details have still to be thrashed out, the UCI hopes the new Classics Series can make the sport more global and attract more revenue for all the stakeholders. Teams and riders will be shareholders in the project and are likely to work hard to make it a success rather than argue with each other about revenue and control.

The 20-25 race series will dominate the racing calendar between January and April and August to October and will include the five monuments – Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege and Il Lombardia as the cornerstones of the calendar. Other established one-day races will be included, but there are plans to create new events in new markets to help push the global impact and visibility of professional cycling. There are currently 20 one-day races in the WorldTour calendar, suggesting up to five new events may be added for 2020.

Only Paris-Roubaix secures any real television rights revenue amongst the current one-day Classics, with Milan-San Remo apparently only shown live on terrestrial television in four European countries.

Lappartient and his advisors hope that bundling of television rights and using new digital technology, big data and a possible united digital platform can significantly raise revenue, as has occurred in other sports.

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Stephen Farrand
Stephen Farrand

Stephen is the most experienced member of the Cyclingnews team, having reported on professional cycling since 1994. He has held the position of European editor since 2012 and previously worked for Reuters, Shift Active Media, and Cycling Weekly, among other publications.