The UCI has announced it has awarded WorldTour licences to 17 teams for the 2017 and 2018 seasons, with only the Chinese-backed TJ Sports team that took over from Lampre-Merida missing out and facing further scrutiny from the UCI Licence Commission.
The 17 places in the sport's highest division have been awarded to AG2R La Mondiale, Astana, BMC, Bora-Hansgrohe, Cannondale-Drapac, Dimension Data, Quick-Step Floors, FDJ, Lotto Soudal, Movistar, Orica-Bike Exchange, Bahrain-Merida, Katusha-Alpecin, LottoNL-Jumbo, Team Sky, Team Sunweb (formerly Giant-Alpecin) and Trek-Segafredo.
Most of the teams competed at WorldTour level in 2016 with Bora-Hansgrohe stepping up from Professional Continental level after signing Peter Sagan and Rafa Majka. New squad Bahrain-Merida has secured WorldTour status for its first season after signing Vincenzo Nibali as team leader.
The UCI said that the licences have been awarded "in accordance with the UCI Regulations and following a full review of all criteria for attribution (administrative, ethical, financial and sporting)." The UCI did not specify why a decision on the TJ Sports team had been delayed.
The TJ Sports team told Cyclingnews it had requested extra time to complete its application after a delay in obtaining some documents from China. It was confident of soon completing its application.
20 Professional Continental teams
The UCI also awarded one-year Professional Continental licences to 20 teams including the new Aqua Blue Sport team from Ireland, the Israel Cycling Academy and Manzana Postobon from Colombia.
The position of Gianni Savio's Androni Giocattoli team and the Polish Verva Activejet team are still under review by the UCI licence Commission.
The registration procedure of the Soul Brasil team has been provisionally suspended following the referral of the team to the UCI Disciplinary Commission after three riders tested positive during 2016. As recently announced, the One Pro Cycling team has decided to step down to Continental level after a shortfall in sponsorship. The full list of Continental teams has still to be confirmed.
The 20 teams awarded Professional Continental licences are Aqua Blue Sport. Bardiani-CSF, Caja Rural, CCC Sprandi Polkowice, Cofidis, Delko Marseille, Direct Energie, Fortuneo-Vital Concept, Gazprom-Rusvelo, Israel Cycling Academy, Manzana Postobon, Nippo-Vini Fantini, Novo Nordisk, Roompot-Nederlandse Loterij, Sport Vlaanderen-Baloise, UnitedHealthcare, Veranda's Willems Crelan, Wanty-Groupe Gobert, WB Veranclassic Aqua Protect and Wilier Triestina.
The UCI's Professional Cycling Council approved new rules for the WorldTour in early November after an agreement was reached with Tour de France organiser ASO. The most powerful organiser in the sport had threatened to pull the Tour de France and its other races from the 2017 WorldTour. However a compromise agreement will see 18 teams and 37 races in the 2017 WorldTour, with teams able to chose which of the 10 new WorldTour races they ride.
As part of the deal with ASO, who is keen for some kind of promotion and relegation system in the sport, the UCI intends to cut the number of WorldTour teams to 17 in 2019 and then to 16 from 2020 onwards. It is hoped that occurs due to natural turn over amongst the WorldTour teams rather a relegation process that would force teams to chase points in the 2018 season to avoid the cut.
UCI President Brian Cookson said: "This is an exciting time and I am really looking forward to the arrival of new partners on the 2017 UCI WorldTour. The confidence shown by both new and existing sponsors confirms the growing interest in men's professional road cycling's major competition. With new teams and a global calendar enhanced with new races, the forthcoming season promises to be more exciting than ever."
The 2017 WorldTour begins on January 17 with the Santos Tour Down Under in Australia.
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