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UCI to roll out ‘reform light’ by 2020

The UCI will open the door for two top-ranked second-division teams to race grand tours and will create a Classics Series.

The UCI revealed more details of its new-look calendar and team restructuring set to be in place by the 2020 racing season for the elite men’s peloton.

The most significant changes are the inclusion of a new, still-undefined UCI Classics Series within the WorldTour as well as two guaranteed places for top second-tier teams in the grand tours and a streamlining of the points systems.

The 2020 plan does not include some of the more radical ideas UCI president David Lappartient was floating last summer, but it does include significant changes going forward.

Top teams and race organizers pushed back against some of the most ambitious elements of the so-called reform. The latest plans, confirmed in a press release late last week, represent a major win for the teams as well as consolidation of key points for the UCI.

The WorldTour will remain at 18 squads operating on three-year licenses. Teams stood firm against efforts last fall to trim the WorldTour to as few as 15 teams and rejected suggestions of relegation or promotion based on team rankings. Instead, it’s status quo, with squads operating with 27 to 30 riders per team. Rosters for the major grand tours will remain at eight riders.

The second tier of racing will be rebranded, with the Professional Continental series set to be called the UCI ProSeries. The calendar will consist of a selection of hors categorie and Class 1 races. Most squads will have between 20 and 30 riders. The Continental circuits remain unchanged, with a mix of smaller teams, ranging from 10 to 16 riders, racing across the existing five continental tours.

The biggest update for the second-tier teams will be guaranteed start spots in the grand tours for the top two teams based on rankings from the previous season. With the grand tour peloton remaining at 22 eight-rider teams, race organizers such as ASO (Tour de France) and RCS (Giro d’Italia) will only pick two of four “wild card” invitations per race. Teams can decline automatic spots, leaving the organizer with another invitation to dole out.

The plans also replace the stand-alone WorldTour rankings with season-long rankings for individuals, teams, and nations. Though the weighting of points is still yet to be defined, the individual ranking will be based on all international events, with sub-rankings for one-day and stage races. Teams rankings will also include all international events, based on the top-10 ranked riders per team. That will prove decisive for teams in the second division racing to try to earn guaranteed spots for the next year’s grand tours.

The other major addition — and one that could be the most impactful — is what will be called the UCI Classics Series, which will be a repackaging of the major one-day races into an umbrella series similar to the former World Cup that will operate within the WorldTour.

There are ongoing discussions that this part of the calendar — set to include about 20 of the major one-day races — could become a commercial operation that would share proceeds between the teams, organizers, and UCI. Those talks are ongoing.

The upshot? There’s something for everyone in the latest compromise but it stops well short of a major overhaul of the underlying business model. The WorldTour remains at 18 and teams retain their three-year licenses (based on meeting key criteria) and there’s no more talk of relegation/promotion. The race organizers don’t see their events reduced or challenged in any way, and the UCI remains the arbiter of the sport via rankings and licensing.

The most interesting element is the possibility of the “UCI Classics Series” developing into a commercial project. That is sure to be center of some heated discussions in the months to come.