Is smaller better?
This year’s Tour de France was raced with eight-rider teams with mixed results. Some say the roster reduction from nine to eight did not make the Tour any safer or make it more exciting, two of the rationales for trimming team sizes in 2018.
UCI president David Lappartient now wants to take it even further and reduce Tour rosters down to six.
In an interview with the Swiss newspaper Les Temps, Lappartient suggested that rosters could be trimmed even further in the quest for a less controlled and more exciting Tour.
“We should go further with a reduction to six for the measure to be really effective,” Lappartient said. “At seven, Team Sky is still racing as a unit.”
Echoing comments Lappartient has made since elected to the UCI presidency last fall, Lappartient seems convinced that smaller teams will mean more exciting and unpredictable racing.
“With six-rider teams, there are only five guys to ride, and they would tire more,” Lappartient continued. “At the same time, it would take more team to have the peloton to a respectable size.”
The reduction from nine to eight saw ripple effects across the entire peloton this season.
Several teams slimmed their roster sizes coming into 2018 because fewer riders were needed to fill out starting lineups. Other teams trimmed some staff positions by quietly letting go a few sport directors or mechanics.
Coming into the Tour, riders were under pressure to fight for slots on the reduced rosters. Other teams were also pinched on whether or not to bring a sprinter to the Tour. Mitchelton-Scott, for example, left home its star sprinter Caleb Ewan in part because it was dedicated to backing Adam Yates in the GC.
Teams would likely recoil at further reductions of team rosters for the grand tours. Many seemed to embrace eight riders as an acceptable compromise, but anything below that would leave squads with reduced Tour ambitions to a singular goal, be it bringing a sprinter or supporting a GC rider.
With eight starters, a few teams saw their Tour squads depleted by crashes, abandons, time cuts, and illnesses. Lotto-Soudal arrived in Paris with just three finishers. Katusha-Alpecin made it to Paris with four and Ag2r La Mondiale finished with five.
Lappartient also hinted that the UCI will undertake a study to consider larger questions facing the sport, such as the international calendar, roster sizes, the format of stages races, and possible bans of earpieces and power meters during races.
“We must consider everything,” Lappartient said. “We will launch an ‘attractiveness’ study because there are many aspects to consider.”