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APRICA, Italy (VN) — BMC’s Jim Ochowicz kicked the hornet’s nest this week when he suggested, in a bid to reduce crashes in the peloton, that smaller, less-experienced teams should not be invited to WorldTour-level races like the Giro d’Italia.
As reported in VeloNews, the BMC general manager suggested the presence of wildcard teams is one reason behind the recent uptick in high-profile crashes marring the Giro, simply because the peloton is too crowded.
“One step toward eliminating the chances of crashes and carnage is to reduce the size of the peloton,” Ochowicz said. “In this case, the UCI needs to reduce the number of teams in the races — and not the number of riders on the team at the starting line, which is something being proposed for future seasons.”
While some agree with that sentiment, including Tinkoff-Saxo owner Oleg Tinkov, those comments did not play well with the very teams that Ochowicz suggested should be excluded.
Gianni Savio, manager of Androni-Sidermec, lives and dies by the wildcard, and he had some pointed words about Ochowicz’s suggestion.
“We have an expression in Italy, ‘Ochowicz missed a good opportunity to keep his mouth shut,’” Savio told VeloNews. “I have always appreciated Jim Ochowicz, whom I have always considered a good manager, but in this case, he should have kept his thoughts to himself.”
In an open letter posted on the BMC website, Ochowicz cited a number of differences between WorldTour teams and second-tier, Professional Continental squads such as Savio’s, which gain invites to WorldTour races through discretionary wildcards.
As reported by VeloNews’ Caley Fretz, Ochowicz pointed out that Pro Continental teams do not have to meet the WorldTour’s strict financial requirements, and also noted that WorldTour teams have top industry partners to provide the best equipment, and have the staff and budget to perform extensive reconnaissance of courses, implying that lower-level teams may not have the same behind-the-scenes support.
“The idea that the Professional Continental teams have inferior equipment to the World Tour teams is completely false,” Savio said. “The idea that Professional Continental riders are not at the same skill level of the World Tour teams is completely false.”
A clearly agitated Savio also took the opportunity to cite the rationale behind wildcard teams invitations; they often spice up the races.
“When you speak of an elite cycling, a true elite, not of hypocrisy, the facts reveal that in this Giro, and I will not mention names, that several WorldTour teams are completely anonymous. More than that, they are almost invisible,” Savio said. “Maybe the ‘big teams’ fear the ‘medium’ teams can take their place. Because many of the WorldTour teams who come to the Giro bring riders who are not motivated, who are not in good condition, whereas the ‘invited’ teams give the spectacle, they attack, they are protagonists in the race. That’s what the public appreciates. We always honor the Giro. We ‘medium’ teams are honoring the Giro much, much more than several ‘big’ WorldTour teams. How can you be a ‘great’ team when you are like a ghost?”
One argument is that the peloton has grown too large, and that modern roadways are too crowded with 200 riders from 22, nine-man teams. One answer is to reduce the teams to eight-man squads, giving more breathing room in the peloton, and perhaps even opening the door for additional wildcards. That’s a concept that the WorldTour teams shoot down, because they insist the rigors of a grand tour require nine riders to start the race. The counter is to reduce the number of teams in each race.
Ochowicz’s comments also reignited the debate about a possible “closed” WorldTour system, with permanent licenses awarded to select teams. Savio has always been a vehement opponent to that business model.
“How can we sustain cycling at a high level if it’s a closed system limited to just the WorldTour teams? What they want is to create an oligarchy. That was the very, very bad idea of [ex-UCI president] Hein Verbruggen in 2005, and we are still living with that very bad idea today,” Savio continued. “If we have a closed system, with only 17 WorldTour teams, it would be the end of cycling.”
Savio promised to further study Ochowicz’s comments, and perhaps file an official complaint with the international cycling teams’ association.