The UCI toady announced the launch of a new Women's WorldTour, a series of top races for professional women which will replace the current Road World Cup, which has been in existence since 1998.
Similar to the shift in the elite men's calendar from a series of one-day races to the WorldTour in 2005, which incorporates Classics, stage races and Grand Tours, the women's Worldtour will include 35 days of racing from the Strade Bianche in March to the La Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta in September. The World Cup, by comparison, was only 10 days of racing this season.
The WorldTour will have four stage races: the Tour of Chongming Island, the Tour of California, the Aviva Women's Tour in Great Britain, and the Giro Donne in Italy, in addition to the current World Cup races - Flèche Wallonne, GP Plouay, Tour of Flanders, the Open de Suede Vargarda road race and team time trial, the Ronde van Drenthe, Trofeo Alfredo Binda, and Philadelphia Classic, but not the Sparkassen Giro or Chongming Island one-day race.
Stepping up to this top tier of races is the Strade Bianche, Gent-Wevelgem, La Course by Tour de France, La Madrid Challenge, and Prudential RideLondon.
In addition to an individual overall ranking, there will be a category for U23 riders. The top 20 women's teams will be invited to each race, but there is an option for some organisers to increase the peloton size in their event.
Most importantly, the UCI is putting a lot of weight behind promotion of the women's races across social media and the creation of a dedicated women's cycling channel.
UCI Vice-president and Chair of the UCI Women’s Commission Tracey Gaudry emphasised the importance of creating an appealing 'product' for the fans. "The UCI Women's WorldTour will present a season-long calendar of events that will help build a strong narrative around our sport. With riders battling for honours in one-day classics and stage races as well as for overall WWT rankings, I'm convinced we now have a premier product that will bring a whole new set of fans to women's cycling. This is an important moment for women's cycling."
The UCI says it spent a full year consulting with race organisers, teams, rider representatives, media and sponsors before creating the series, and other improvements are coming out of the UCI Women's Teams Working Group.
UCI President Brian Cookson had improving women's cycling on his campaign platform in 2013 when he was elected, and praised the creation of the WorldTour. “The launch of the UCI Women’s WorldTour is a major step forward for women’s cycling and reflects detailed and very constructive discussions we have had with all our key stakeholders for more than a year now. Growing the profile and professionalism of women’s cycling was one of my election pledges and so I am delighted that we have been able to reach agreement on the UCI WWT which will see competition days increase by more than 60% with the peloton taking place in 17 events across Europe, the US and China.”
Races of the 2016 UCI Women's WorldTour:
Strade Bianche (Italy)
Women's WorldTour Ronde van Drenthe (Netherlands)
Trofeo Alfredo Binda - Comune di Cittiglio (Italy)
Gent-Wevelgem In Flanders Fields (Belgium)
Tour of Flandres (Belgium)
La Flèche Wallonne Féminine (Belgium)
Tour of Chongming Island (People's Republic of China)
Amgen Tour of California (USA)
Philadelphia International Cycling Classic (USA)
Aviva Womens Tour (Great Britain)
Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile (Italy)
La Course by Le Tour de France (France)
Prudential Ride London (Great Britain)
Crescent Vargarda UCI Women's WorldTour (Sweden)
Crescent Vargarda UCI Women's WorldTour TTT (Sweden)
GP de Plouay-Bretagne (France)
LA MADRID CHALLENGE By La Vuelta (Spain)