Vuelta boss believes in nurturing the sport from the bottom up rather than imposing limits

Vuelta a España boss Javier Guillén says the UCI is not taking aim at reducing race days at the Spanish grand tour and he would fight vigorously against it if it was.

“I know people have talked about this, but I also know right now the UCI is not seriously considering this,” Guillén told VeloNews. “And the UCI has said as much.”

The UCI is pushing a reform package that could reduce the number of WorldTour teams from 18 to 15 as soon as 2020, but so far it appears the cycling governing body is not looking at cutting back on the grand tours.

Despite some suggestion that the Vuelta and Giro d’Italia might be better off if they were trimmed to 16 days of racing over three weekends instead of 21 days spread over four weekends, the UCI reform plans currently do not call for a major shakeup of the racing calendar.

Speaking to VeloNews, Guillén said reducing the number of race days at the Vuelta or Giro while maintaining the Tour de France as a full three-week grand tour would be a step backward.

“I believe it would be a grave error to do this,” he said. “Every sport has its icons. It would make absolutely no sense for a sport to ‘self-amputate’ parts that are functioning perfectly.

“I believe the Giro and Vuelta are two extraordinary races and they have to continue being what they are — three-week grand tours,” he said. “I don’t believe the Giro or the Vuelta would be more interesting by reducing the race days. Until someone can demonstrate that, we will continue to defend our position that the Giro and Vuelta should have 21 stages.”

Guillén’s comments come as the UCI is working to push through a reform package that could see preliminary approval as soon as the end of September.

Top UCI WorldTour teams have pushed back and members of the AIGCP told the UCI in a meeting last week in Madrid it would not support a rollback of WorldTour team allocation.

Much of the reform push is centered on reorganizing teams. The plan would reduce the WorldTour from 18 to 15 while restructuring the Professional Continental level into a newly branded “Pro” level. The plans call for a new qualifying points system that would allow five second-tier teams to race in the grand tours as well as leave two wild-card invitations.

Former UCI president Pat McQuaid cautioned last week in an interview with VeloNews that the UCI plans would play into the hands of race organizers.

As a race organizer, Guillén said the Vuelta organization is not opposed in principle to what’s inside the current version of the UCI reform plans.

“I believe that would be something healthy to help sustain the second level of pro teams,” he said. “What we need to do is help ferment the base of the sport. We’ve seen that there are a lot of differences inside the WorldTour, when there are two or three top teams well above the others. And when you compare the WorldTour to the teams below them, there is an even bigger difference. This isn’t healthy.

“We need to create more opportunities to grow the sport from the bottom so that the smaller teams are closer to the top teams,” he said. “I don’t think the solution is to put limits. It’s better to look for alternatives to grow the sport from the base up.”

Guillén, meanwhile, said the Vuelta is enjoying a boom that’s been in the works for more than a decade.

Guillén and other Vuelta officials are satisfied to see the Vuelta GC battle come down to the final days of racing. In Saturday’s gripping finale in Andorra, Simon Yates (Mitchelton-Scott) hung on for victory, but the lower podium spots were played out on the Vuelta’s final climb.

That’s just what Guillén wants to see in the Vuelta.

“What makes the Vuelta special is that the race doesn’t have that level of control that we see at other races,” he said. “The race can be decided up to the final mountain stage. That’s what the Vuelta brings and I think that’s why the Vuelta is the best race of the season.”

The Vuelta — now fully owned by Tour de France owners ASO — has worked with regional governments to bring the race into Spain’s unseen corners. For example, this year’s race was held for more than a week across Andalucía. A few years ago, the race spent a week in northwest Spain in Galicia.

“Already for 10 years we are taking the Vuelta into the ‘pueblos’ of Spain. We have to go where the people are and where they want to see the race,” he said. “We have brought innovation to the race and the public has responded.”

Guillén said the Vuelta numbers have been steadily rising over the past five years.

“The epic scenes of cycling today are the short, impossible climbs and discovering new places,” he said. “The Vuelta is in a good way and we’ve worked hard to improve the race.”