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Trek boss: We know a war over team sizes will come to nothing

Trek – Segafredo boss Luca Guercilena is worried the proposed changes to team sizes will hamstring his team in grand tours, and he's not alone.

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One less rider per team in the grand tours doesn’t seem like much, but it could mean fewer big names in the peloton.

That’s the takeaway from Trek – Segafredo manager Luca Guercilena in the wake of last week’s abrupt decision by race organizers to push for a dramatic reduction of the size of teams in next year’s grand tours and spring classics.

“It would make a big difference for the grand tours,” Guercilena told VeloNews. “You would have to make a clear decision on your strategy, whether to go for the GC or for stages. And that would mean there would be fewer stars in the big races.”

According to Guercilena, the surprise proposal unveiled last week to reduce the peloton in the name of safety from eight riders to seven for the one-day classics and one-week stage races wouldn’t change things that much. Though teams across the peloton say they largely agree with moves to create safer race conditions, it’s the notion to reduce grand tour rosters from the current nine-rider lineup to eight that would create complications.

“Already in the classics, most of the teams support one captain, so that would not be such a problem,” he said. “It is during the grand tours where it would make a big impact. It would be very difficult to go with a team that has a GC rider and a sprinter. For example, you need two or three guys to help a sprinter, and then you need four or five guys to help in the mountains. To take away one rider means that you have to make a clear definition of your goals.”

Simply put, Guercilena said it would be very difficult to bring a diverse, multi-tasking team to the Tour de France with an eight-rider squad.

A few of the major GC teams already bring squads loaded for the singular goal of the yellow jersey, such as Team Sky and Movistar, but most teams, including Guercilena’s Trek – Segafredo, try to bring balanced rosters looking to make impressions in both the GC and stage victories. With eight riders instead of nine, that gets more complicated.

Look at how Trek – Segafredo will stack up next season. For the GC, they will have both Alberto Contador and Bauke Mollema as protected riders, with John Degenkolb for the stages. If he can only start with eight riders, Guercilena could only bring five more warm bodies to try to support his captains across the mountains and sprints. That means leaving someone at home, and being spread even thinner without counting inevitable losses to injuries and illnesses that strike during three weeks.

And Guercilena said that other rationale behind reducing the grand tour teams from nine to eight, in order to lessen the stranglehold the big teams seemingly have on GC (i.e., Team Sky) doesn’t stack up, either.

“I don’t see this helping that one team will have less power to control the whole race, because alliances will form,” he said. “Just as it is now, if there are three teams that want a bunch sprint, there will be a bunch sprint. And even if they reduce the teams to eight, the top GC teams will work together to control the race in the same manner. So what I see more is that if you reduce the size of the teams, you will see fewer big names in the race because you will have to make a clear definition of your goals: GC or sprints.”

The arbitrary decision late last week by the major WorldTour race organizers — ASO, RCS Sport, and Flanders Classics that control all three grand tours and the major one-day classics — keeps rumbling around the peloton.

The UCI has already said the rule has yet to be confirmed through official channels, so it remains unclear if race organizers will stick to their guns in 2017 (perhaps setting off another ugly war going into next year’s racing season). Teams bristled because the unilateral decision comes too close to the start of next year’s racing season, throwing a wrench into their scheduling, training, and racing plans going into next season.

“A one-year time window is more realistic,” Guercilena said about how long a dramatic new rule should be implemented. “It is too late now, because we are starting next week with training camps, and in January we are already racing the WorldTour at the Tour Down Under. It’s not fair, because we invest money in ‘X’ riders to cover all the races of the WorldTour.”

Guercilena said he is not opposed to the idea of reducing the number of riders in the peloton for safety reasons, but stressed that any rule changes should be adopted with “all the stakeholders at the table,” and said that rider safety is more than just reducing the size of the peloton.

“We know that reducing the bunch is one of the steps to make the peloton safer, but it is not the only one,” he said. “There are many issues about safety that need to be discussed in an organized manner, from vehicles in the race, to course safety, to who gets to drive in the race, to having an iron pole in the middle of the road …

“We need to be positive about these discussions,” he said. “We need dialogue, with everyone at the table, and need to find an agreement with all the stakeholders. And I would like to see some statistics, to see if there is a true reduction of crashes when the peloton is smaller. If we just try to take a powerful position, it will just lead to war. And we all know wars come to nothing.”