ADELAIDE, Australia (VN) — UCI president Brian Cookson confirmed on Wednesday that cycling’s calendar is under review, and the sport’s world governing body is looking closely the status of current WorldTour events such as the Santos Tour Down Under. Changes could come by 2016.
“From what I’ve seen so far, this is event is absolutely worthwhile [of WorldTour status],” Cookson told journalists at the weeklong stage race. “WorldTour is a top-level status and I would hope there is always an event [in Australia] that is worthy of that status.”
The Tour Down Under began in 1999 and gained WorldTour status as the first non-European race in the series in 2008. The race currently holds a WorldTour license through 2015.
Cookson, who arrived in Australia overnight, told journalists Wednesday that the structure of the sport’s top race calendar was under evaluation.
“Nothing’s ruled out and nothing’s ruled in at this point in time,” Cookson said before the start of the second stage in Prospect. “There is a chance that every event’s role will change a little bit, but we are taking a detailed look at everything.”
One of Cookson’s agenda items since winning the UCI presidency in September has been to review the structure of the elite men’s calendar.
While such pressing issues as an independent review into alleged wrongdoing inside the UCI are taking priority, an analysis of what works and what does not is already underway. It’s part of an ongoing examination of professional cycling that could result in fewer race days and smaller professional rosters.
In an interview with VeloNews last month, Cookson said major changes were coming down the pipeline, but he also stressed that discussions are only beginning.
“I want to protect the heritage of cycling, and at the same time, we have to look to new markets and strengthen the financial base of our sport. Too many teams and races have disappeared, so something clearly has to change,” he said. “There will be some restructuring of the calendar. We want a vibrant season that has a narrative that makes sense to the public.”
All ideas are on the table, including the reduction of grand tours to two full weeks, the reshuffling of the schedule to avoid overlapping, and the shortening of the racing season by several months.
“The calendar is not a coherent narrative at the moment, and that is something I need to try and do something about,” Cookson said. “It’s right and proper when you have a new administration that you look at everything.
“We have lost teams, we have lost some events around the world; other events like this one [Tour Down Under] are doing very, very well. So our aim is that we develop the calendar, develop the sport in a structured, strategic way, and not just in an ad-hoc way.”
Some observers agree that the current racing calendar is too long and has no logical narrative. The WorldTour calendar, for example, starts at the Tour Down Under in January, but the next events are not until March, with Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico overlapping each other. It later extends into October, with season-ending races in Italy and China.
The sport’s international footprint beyond the WorldTour has also expanded, especially with the emergence of new, early-season races, such as the Tour de San Luís in Argentina and events in the oil-rich Middle East, where well-funded organizers pay top dollar to attract big stars.
San Luís arguably has a deeper and higher caliber field than the Tour Down Under this month, with such riders as Peter Sagan (Cannondale), Giro d’Italia winner Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), Omega Pharma-Quick Step stars Tom Boonen and Mark Cavendish, and Tour de France podium finishers Nairo Quintana (Movistar) and Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha) all choosing Argentina over Australia to debut their racing seasons.
Others, however, fear any effort to squeeze the international cycling calendar into a smaller format could cut off future markets and growth, and scare away possible investors into new events.