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Clash between teams and UCI heats up in Doha desert

The Association of Professional Cycling said it will "take whatever action is required to protect [teams'] economic rights."

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Cycling’s top teams say they will retaliate if the governing body continues with its planned reforms for 2017. They do not want to see the WorldTour series cut to 17 teams and be forced to race an expanded schedule.

Uncertainty is in the hot Middle East air as the UCI’s chiefs meet in Doha, Qatar, to enjoy what should be the biggest moment of their season, the world championships. They received a letter from the International Association of Professional Cycling teams (AIGCP) that says they are “killing” off their main players with their reforms. The association said the teams “are ready to take whatever action is required to protect their economic rights.”

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“The UCI has embarked on a strategy for growing/expanding the number of WorldTour events, and at the same time, killing a number of well-functioning WorldTour teams,” reads the letter.

“By reducing the number of WorldTour licenses for teams, the UCI is taking away the economic rights of teams without any justification for it.”

The UCI plans to reduce the top division from 18 teams to 17 next year and to 16 for 2018. Assuming the teams meet the other criteria, the cuts will be made based on points.

Looking at the WorldTour points, 15 teams should be in the top division and three teams will be fighting for the remaining two licenses. One of three top teams — Dimension Data (with Mark Cavendish), Bora – Hansgrohe (Peter Sagan), and Bahrain – Merida (Vincenzo Nibali) — will be left to race in the second-tier Pro Continental division if the UCI’s reforms are followed. South African team Dimension Data looks to be at the greatest risk, as it has the fewest points.

And with the UCI’s planned schedule expansion, those 17 teams will be required to travel further around the world to race more. In 2017, the WorldTour series will grow from 27 to 37 events. That does not sit well with the AIGCP.

The association met on September 30 ahead of the final WorldTour race, Il Lombardia, and agreed to protest the governing body.

“Is that what cycling really wants?” AIGCP president and team Giant – Alpecin general manager Iwan Spekenbrink said two weeks ago.

“We are creating more races, so why do we need to limit the number of teams? We should not be telling one of the big team sponsors we don’t want them in cycling. Sending them to the second division would kill them.”

Any team outside the top 16 at the end of the WorldTour season will be considered a “candidate” team, which is the case for Dimension Data, according to new UCI rules. They will be considered license candidates with the new teams (Bahrain – Merida) and those asking for a promotion from the professional continental level (Bora – Hansgrohe).

Many insiders, however, say the WorldTour would be weaker without one of these three teams.

The AIGCP said, “The proposed Challenge System will not be accepted by the teams and any attempt to implement such a system will be opposed in whatever manner necessary to avoid its implementation.”

If it does happen, those 17 teams would face a more intense WorldTour schedule than ever before. The UCI promoted several events, including the Amgen Tour of California, to WorldTour status. It means that instead of electing to attend the smaller races in the Middle East or Turkey, those top teams may have to race.

The series starts in Australia in January, passes through the Middle East, and covers most of the traditional races in Europe, including the classics and grand tours.

“No proper process was followed in the expansion of the WorldTour,” reads the letter. “The UCI reform outlined a clear process for the evaluation of races … which was not adhered to and the UCI unilaterally submitted a list of races to become WorldTour without consideration of the interests of teams, riders or race organizers in lower category of races.”

The AIGCP added, “Under no circumstance will [the teams] accept or comply with any attempt by the UCI to implement any system by which a team is directly or indirectly forced” to attend the new WorldTour events.