On Friday evening, the organisers some of the biggest European races agreed to reduce team sizes for major events in 2017. Today, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) issued a statement in reponse, informing the Tour de France organisers Amaury Sport Organisaion (ASO), Giro d'Italia organisers RCS Sport and Flanders Classics, who put on the Tour of Flanders, that they cannot decide to change the sport's rules.
"The UCI wishes to clarify the current position regarding team sizes. Whilst a potential reduction in team sizes may reflect a view held by some stakeholders, including some race organisers, any changes to the regulations governing men's professional road cycling must be agreed by the Professional Cycling Council (PCC), on which the race organisers are fully represented," the UCI statement read.
The three race organisers issued a press release after the General Assembly of the International Association of Cycling Race Organizers (AIOCC), announcing the reduction of team sizes for the Grant Tours from nine riders to eight, and from eight to seven in the other events.
In the UCI regulations for road races article 2.2.003, it states that team size is decided by the race organisers, with a minimum of four and maximum of eight, "9 for Grand Tours", but adds a caveat for the WorldTour events:
"In UCI WorldTour events, the number of starting riders per team is 9 for Grand Tours and 8 for other events. However, subject to prior approval by the Professional Cycling Council, the organiser may fix the number of starting riders per team at 7. The organiser shall request the permission of the Professional Cycling Council on or before 1st January of the year of the event."
The UCI stated that the reduction of team sizes was discussed at the most recent meeting of the PCC, but "it was agreed to consider in detail the implications of such reduction over the coming months, with no change for 2017".
Cannondale-Drapac manager Jonathan Vaughters complained about the race organisers' announcement via Twitter, saying, "I don't disagree with the concept of smaller teams. But letting us know AFTER our planning and rosters are well in motion...Not considerate!"
The UCI has been discussing a reduction to team sizes for years, and ran an experiment on having smaller teams in 2013 at the Eneco Tour and Tour of Poland, hoping to make racing more exciting and provide a safer environment for the races on roads that are increasingly becoming more hazardous for 198-rider pelotons with traffic calming 'furniture'.
The ASO has also threatened to pull its race from the WorldTour if the UCI does not reduce the number of teams in the sport's top tier. It is pushing for a system of promotion/demotion and wants to keep more control over which teams it invites to the Tour de France and other events.
Patrick Lefevere told Het Nieuwsblad he was categorically against the idea, and that the race organisers hadn't consulted with the teams or riders groups.
"Why should we take on 30 riders per team in 2018? Then you can continue with five less riders per team. Then there are one hundred additional riders out on the street. Plus twenty five other support staff because they are no longer necessary."
Lefevere also indicated that reducing team sizes isn't the first step that should be taken to improve safety.
"They should start with safer streets, rather than using old cart roads. And it should not be like in the Tour of Switzerland with a finish line fifty metres after a sharp turn."