Incredibly shrinking peloton: Orica, Katusha continue trend of reduced squads for 2018

The trend of the incredibly shrinking peloton continues for 2018 as teams brace for a racing season featuring smaller rosters for major races.

This week, Katusha-Alpecin and Orica-Scott joined a growing wave of teams trimming their lineups for next season, confirming 26- and 25-rider teams, respectively, for 2018.

Though these two teams reduced their respective rosters by only one rider, a smaller WorldTour is becoming a reality for 2018. Teams such as BMC Racing and Movistar have also joined the trend of taking scissors to their team rosters.

The reason? The UCI is introducing a rule to reduce grand tours from nine to eight starters per squad, and seven starters for one-week stage races and one-day classics.

Teams simply say they do not need to carry as many riders to round out their WorldTour racing calendar. As a result, dozens of WorldTour slots remain empty for next season.

“The teams don’t want to reduce the rosters, rather it was a decision taken by the UCI at the insistence of the race organizers,” said Movistar manager Eusebio Unzué, who trimmed his roster from 28 to 25 for 2018. “They seem to think it will create more spectacle, and it’s a decision I respect, but we will see if it works out that way or not.”

The downward trend is striking. In 2017, there were 530 riders across 18 WorldTour teams. Though rosters have yet to officially close across the entire WorldTour, that number could shrink to as low as 467 for 2018. That is a potential drop of 63 professional riders, or about 12 percent of the WorldTour.

Based on what’s been confirmed by teams and reported in the media, every WorldTour team except Bora-Hansgrohe — which will remain at 27 from 2017 to 2018 — could see a roster reduction for next season. Ag2r-La Mondiale could drop from 33 to 27, with FDJ dipping from 32 to 28. Education First-Drapac might run as low as 22 riders for 2018. Even Team Sky, with the peloton’s biggest budget, could race next season with one fewer racer, dropping from 28 to 27.

Many team rosters have yet to be officially confirmed, however, so a few more riders still might find WorldTour slots before the year is out. The exact number remains to be seen, but it looks close to a 10 percent roster reduction across the WorldTour peloton going into 2018.

The website ProCyclingStats lists 25 active WorldTour riders still without a confirmed contract for next season, though more than a few of those names, such as Gianni Moscon and Dani Moreno, are expected to already have unconfirmed contracts for 2018.

A wave of retirements — including Tom Boonen, Alberto Contador, Tyler Farrar, and Andrew Talansky — is also helping teams ease the burden. Instead of signing new riders, teams are simply leaving those slots unsigned.

Teams, meanwhile, are being more selective for the spots they currently have available. Even in this season’s active rider market, teams can afford to be picky as riders and agents are angling to stay in the game.

Orica-Scott, for example, brings on five new riders. Cameron Meyer and Lucas Hamilton join from Mitchelton-Scott, while Mikel Nieve (Sky), and Matteo Trentin and Jack Bauer (Quick-Step Floors) join the Australian outfit for 2018.

“We are in a better place than we were 12 months ago in all areas,” said Orica-Scott sport director Matt White. “One of the reasons for that is we have bought very well. Our new signings definitely compliment the squad we already have in place.”

Less is more could be the mantra for 2018. That might not count for riders caught out in the squeeze.