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UCI ends Beijing tour, sets groundwork for major changes

The Tour of Beijing is left off of the 2015 schedule, and the UCI hints that major changes are on the horizon for elite men's peloton

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PONFERRADA, Spain (VN) — The UCI is pulling the plug on the controversial Tour of Beijing at the same time as the cycling federation is laying the groundwork for a major overhaul of the elite men’s racing calendar.

On Tuesday, the UCI confirmed that the 2014 edition of the five-day Beijing tour will be its last, ending a four-year run of a stage race that had some questioning the legitimacy of the UCI’s direct involvement in racing event ownership.

“I would also like to take this opportunity to thank the organizers of the Tour of Beijing as we head toward the fourth and final edition of that race and the role it has played in helping to build the profile of road racing in Asia,” said UCI president Brian Cookson in a press release.

The demise of the five-day Beijing tour was little more than a footnote in a UCI press release Tuesday. It’s unclear if Chinese officials lost interest in funding the event, or if the UCI was severing ties with the race organized by Global Cycling Promotion, an arm of the UCI created under Cookson’s predecessor, Pat McQuaid, and former UCI president Hein Vebruggen.

The Beijing tour raised hackles from some who suggested that UCI was in a conflict of interest and overstepped its bounds by trying to own cycling races for profit at the same time as it regulates the sport. When introduced in 2010, the Beijing tour was immediately given WorldTour status, which required all the top teams to attend, leapfrogging the new event over older, more established races that remained at lower ranking.

Cookson is scheduled to hold a press conference Friday, and will likely address the issue.

The UCI also confirmed the 2015 WorldTour racing calendar. Besides the exclusion of the Beijing tour, there are no major revisions for next season. The 2015 WorldTour season will open with the Santos Tour Down Under in Australia in January and close with the Giro di Lombardia in October.

The dates for the three major grand tours are as follows:
Giro d’Italia: May 9-31
Tour de France: July 4-26
Vuelta a España: August 22 to September 13

Here is link to the 2015 WorldTour calendar

Without going into specifics, the announcement also hinted there is steady progress in what is said to be a major overhaul of how the elite men’s international race calendar will look within the next few years.

With proposed changes expected to be introduced by the 2017 season, there are ongoing discussions between the UCI, race organizers, and teams on how to reshape the calendar.

A UCI working group dubbed the Professional Cycling Council met for two days during the Ponferrada world championships to discuss the issues, but there were no specifics revealed Tuesday.

Potential changes include the reduction of the number of riders per team — perhaps as low as 22 — and the reduction of race days, down to about 120. It is also said that the UCI may seek to shrink the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a España to less than three weeks.

Again, without giving away any details, Cookson said the reform “remains on track.”

“The reform of the UCI WorldTour remains on track,” Cookson said in a statement. “I am delighted with the cooperation shown by stakeholders over the last few months to move forward and ensure a simplified and more robust financial structure of the UCI WorldTour and look forward to further developing professional cycling’s showcase in 2015 and beyond.”

It’s unclear how much race organizers or teams are in agreement with the proposals. Last week, Vuelta a España director Javier Guillén said the Spanish tour, which is owned by Tour de France owners ASO, was opposed to reducing the Vuelta to less than three weeks.

The moves also come against the backdrop of efforts by teams to press for better economic conditions from race organizers. Dubbed the “Avignon project,” up to 13 major teams have been having ongoing discussions about how to create new revenue streams within the sport, and how to obtain a share of TV revenues. There have even been veiled threats that the teams would boycott the Tour de France if better economic conditions are not met.

Also on Tuesday, the UCI confirmed that such innovations as “bike cameras, geo-location technology, and audio-visual content,” such as cameras mounted inside team cars, will continue into the coming season.