By Neal Rogers
Although the UCI revealed its new 2005 Pro Tour schedule on April 22, very little information has yet to come forth on how this top-down restructuring will affect the burgeoning domestic race scene here in North America. With races like the Dodge Tour de Georgia and the T-Mobile International popping up over the last few years, North America has drawn some heavy hitters, including Lance Armstrong, Jens Voigt, Gilberto Simoni and Mario Cipollini.
A look at the UCI’s Web site reveals that the presentation of the “new rules to the management committee” for the continental circuits, of which Europe, Africa, America, Asia and Oceania are all now considered, is scheduled for July 24, with validation of the 2005 calendar not expected until September 27.
Okay, so…what about before then? That doesn’t provide a lot of time for teams looking to sign riders and sponsorship contracts to familiarize themselves with the new rules. Fortunately, there is some information to be gleaned from documents online; after a few agonizing hours I came away with some basic understandings I’ll try to share with you in conjunction with an interview I had with Pat McQuaid, president of the UCI road commission and also a member of the UCI’s management committee.
First, here is a look at a few of the most important changes that will affect our new continental calendar:
• Instead of the current system of Division 1, 2, and 3 teams, next year’s team structure will consist of Pro Tour (elite) teams, professional teams (consisting of both elite and under 23 riders), and continental (elite and U23) teams. Continental teams will be recognized and certified by the national federation [USA Cycling, for instance] from the country where the majority of its athletes come from, and registered with the UCI.
• Mixed [composite] teams will not be allowed in men’s elite category races. The creation of mixed teams is only allowed for women’s races and those in the junior men and U23 categories. Mixed teams are only allowed to participate if they are made up of athletes that do not come from teams already taking part in the race.
• Each national federation may register a maximum of 15 men’s continental teams per year. Continental teams are required to have a minimum of 8 and maximum of 16 athletes from the elite and U23 categories.
• Under the new continental calendar structure, there are only Hors Classe, Class 1 and Class 2 races. No more Classes 3, 5, 6, or 7. Pro Tour teams may take part in Classes HC and 1 races, but cannot score points in any ranking within those events. Professional teams may participate in HC, 1 and 2 races, and Pro Tour events through a wild-card invitation. Continental teams can race in HC events and Classes 1 and 2, but not Pro Tour events.
• In order to be able to be registered on the UCI calendar, races in classes HC, 1 and 2 must ensure the participation of at least 5 foreign teams.
• For 2005 there are no H.C. races planned in North America; among the Class 1 races in the U.S. are all the one-day Wachovia races (1.1), T-Mobile International (1.1), Vail Circuit Race (1.1), USPRO Criterium (1.1) and the Tour de Georgia (2.1) and Tour de Beauce (2.1) stage races. (The number before the decimal signifies whether it is a one-day or stage race event, the number after signifies the Class.)
All professional teams (including all the current American D3 teams) and national teams can compete in these events. Starting in 2005, Pro Tour teams cannot compete at North American Class 2 races, such as Redlands, Sea Otter, Univest Grand Prix and Montreal-Quebec.
The 2005 structure of race Class
Categories of calendars
• An agreement is required between continental teams and their athletes; for an athlete to be a member of a continental team it is obligatory to have a contract for a set minimum period of 12 months.
Contract? That’s something new. No more instances where Cesar Grajales can stroll into the local Athens bike shop, introduce himself to team director Micah Rice and walk out with a Jittery Joe’s jersey and an offer to try out with the team.
Changes to the women’s team structures were less clear. As there will be no women’s Pro Tour, the World Cup will likely be the highest level of competition from women’s teams coming from different continental calendars.
While in Georgia, upon first hearing that domestic teams will likely be required to pay riders a minimum salary starting in 2005, I had a chance to fire a few questions at McQuaid.
Below is the transcription. It’s a lot to digest. You may find yourself saying, “Huh?” more than once.
Welcome to the new UCI.
VeloNews: Please tell me what you can about the UCI’s changes for 2005, and how they will affect the domestic race scene. Pat McQuaid: We need to tighten up quite a bit on the continental teams, because some of them, quite honestly, are sponsored club teams, really. If you want to be a professional team you’re going to have to follow certain criteria.
At the three levels you’ve got the Pro Tour level, which is very strictly controlled by accountants, by Ernst & Young, and all the administration is completely overlooked and overseen by Ernst & Young, and every one of them is operating at a very high level of administration.
Below that, you have the professional teams, in other words those that can compete in the Pro Tour would be the current division 2 teams, and they likewise have to go through the same strict administration criteria as a pro team does — insurance, proper salary structures, pensions, and all that other stuff. That’s in place right now and will continue to be in place.
Below that we have what are TT 3 teams currently, which will be the continental teams. In every continent at the moment there are what are called professional teams coming out. In Asia and Oceania they just call them professional teams because they have a professional image, but within the UCI structure they’re TT 3s or what will be known as continental teams in the future. At the moment we’ve restricted the number in each country to 15, in order to ensure that the 15 that are there, if there are 15, are operating on the correct level and they’re not just sponsored club teams but they do have a structure in place and certain minimum standards, minimum salaries, and minimum insurance. They don’t have to go through a very rigid administration; they will be controlled by the federation, rather than the UCI.
We know from within the UCI, we have been controlling the TT3s over the last couple of years, and a lot of them, at what you’d call the lower level, really don’t deserve to be called trade teams, or professional teams, because they’re really just sponsored club teams.
What we want to do is to clean out that situation and put in a correct procedure in place, and a correct level of professional teams that follow a certain criteria, that they are approved and controlled by the federation. And the federations are happy enough with that because it gives them a standard that these teams must adhere to in order to call themselves continental teams. And the ones that don’t meet those standards can be club teams, or whatever they want, but not registered trade teams.
VN: Who will set the salary requirements, the UCI or the federations?
PM: No, the UCI will set the standard requirement, but it will be based — as currently happens within the new structure of the UCI — each country is looked at on a worldwide basis and the level of fees that they pay, registration fees, et cetera, – on the standard of living within the country, so there is a coefficient for every country, and that coefficient will be used for the salary structure as well. So what is a basic salary in the States can be quite different from a basic salary in Australia or someplace else.
[The coefficient for Europe A, America A (USA and Canada), Asia A, Africa A and Oceania A are set at 100%, meaning the salary requirements and other UCI financial obligations will be the same for each.]
VN: Any idea what that figure will be?
PM: No, no. No idea.
VN: How about a ballpark figure?
PM: I haven’t a clue. We’ve been very busy this year, first of all on the Pro Tour, getting that up and running, and the calendar was announced, and there’s a lot of work to go on now in the background. Likewise from my point of view in particular, because I’ve been involved more on the continental calendars than the Pro Tour, as the road commissioner I’m responsible for the continental calendars and have been heavily involved with the structures of that, but we haven’t gotten down to that question you’re asking. We haven’t gotten down to that level yet, but we will be, probably in the next couple of months.
VN: If you look at a team like Webcor Builders — which was more or less a club team the past few years, as you’re describing — it was only at the end of the season when they realized that they could sign a big talent like Chris Horner. It sounds as though a salary requirement might hinder small teams looking to make the jump to the next level.
PM: They might be hindered, but at the same token, at the end of the day’s commercial reality as to what is available, the fact that Horner became available was commercial realism because the team that he was with had folded up. If the Webcor situation comes up, at the end of the season they can go to the sponsor for more money, they can therefore become a continental team if they meet the criteria, they can apply to the federation and become a continental team. The federation will approve their various criteria and they will become a continental team. A lot of things don’t change in that situation. Riders come, riders go; teams come, teams go; sponsors come and sponsors go.
What we want to do, and this happens from the very top to the very bottom…there are other examples currently in Europe of trade teams 2, where a rider’s father is paying the team $50,000 a year to have the guy in the team. In other words, the father is paying the guy’s salary. That’s not correct procedure. There are all kinds of things we’re trying to clean out at various levels. At the continental team level we need certain criteria and they must meet those criteria.
VN: On one hand it sounds better for riders, because there is a guaranteed salary, and on the other hand there are some teams that will not be able to make the salary requirements. Will those teams that can’t afford to pay their riders then not be allowed to race at certain events, or will that depend on the race organizers to allow amateur teams into their event?
PM: Within the new structure of the continental calendar — there are pros and cons with this, as is any time you’re bringing in something new — the Hors Classe races, the firsts and the seconds each have different criteria as to which teams can ride which, and so forth. If you go for an HC or a Class 1 you can have professional teams and continental teams, and not in HC but in Class 1 you can have national amateur teams. But in Class 2 level you can have regional or club teams, you can’t have the trade teams 1. So you’ve got to make a choice as to where you want to go on the calendar and what you want to be.
That’s up to the race organizer to decide which case he wants to come on, but the federation will also have to control the rules from the point of view that if a race doesn’t go on the UCI calendar, you can only have three foreign teams maximum. But to be on the calendar it’s got to have five foreign teams. And both the UCI and the federation will control that, so an organizer can’t sort of not go on the calendar and then think he can run the same race and invite all the same teams. That won’t be allowed. So the organizer has got to decide which level he wants to do.
Having said that, and looking at the States in particular, and that’s why we’ve been here [in Georgia] for the past few days, is to discuss with the people here — the federation people and the race organizer here and various interested parties — what progress, or what the future holds for the States. When you talk about teams, you also talk about events, and it’s a bit of a chicken and egg type of thing, but from what I can hear about the potential events and new events, there is going to be the potential there, and the guarantee for certain sponsors that if they come into the sport and sponsor a team they’re going to get good exposure. When the events come over the next year or two, well I have no doubt that the sponsors will come. People will see, ‘Now here’s a possibility for us, we can ride this race and this race, all big races with good television on them, and good organization, therefore we need a trade team in order to achieve that,’ and then they go on and get the finance for that level of a trade team. In order to get into it, they’ve got to have a trade team of a certain level. It means that at the end of the day, you don’t have a situation, which is incorrect, where you can have Lance Armstrong and the U.S. Postal Team competing in events with club teams, which under the current situation can occur. That really is not the correct way to run the sport at the very highest level. You need to have certain structures, and this continental calendar will allow that.
Another element of the continental calendar, which I think is very advantageous to the U.S. in particular, is for a new event, like the United Tour of Texas. They’re looking to put on a 10-day race, but under the current system they wouldn’t get 10 days. They would get a six-day maximum and not alone that, but when they apply to go on the calendar whatever date they applied on the Europeans would look at it and say, ‘Oh, no, that clashes with this race, that clashes with that race, we can’t allow that,’ and they’d start shifting them around and messing them around. That, over the past 20 years, has hindered the development of cycling on the American continent, or outside Europe, because it’s all controlled by Europe, and the European currently existing traditional races protected their positions and didn’t want any other events occurring at the same time. As a result, promoters were pushed away and out of the sport.
Now, within the American continent, it can develop as it wishes. And if North America develops a 21-day Tour de France of America type of thing, it can happen. It couldn’t have happened in the past, but it can happen in the future. It gives much better leeway and much more autonomy to the U.S. to develop its own calendar of races, and once you have those good quality races going on, then the teams follow. So, to my mind, that’s one of the most exciting things about this whole development. And it will also, to some extent — even though organizers look to Europe for teams — hopefully, in 10 years time, that won’t be the requirement. There will be big events here, with big teams, and that is the main aim of these current reforms. Not just in America but in other continents.