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UCI’s plans to reduce WorldTour teams come under fire

With the WorldTour calendar finished for 2016, there is new scrutiny on the UCI's plans to chop 1-2 teams out of the top division.

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FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — The race for 2017 WorldTour spots will be a three-way battle after Giant – Alpecin scored enough points in Saturday’s Il Lombardia to solidify a place, but it remains to be seen if the UCI will insist on reducing its top series to 17 teams.

When the dust settled in Bergamo after Esteban Chaves’s (Orica – BikeExchange) Lombardia victory and Warren Barguil’s (Giant) eighth-place finish, IAM Cycling and Dimension Data found themselves 17th and 18th in the WorldTour rankings.

The top 16 teams, reduced to 15 with second-place Tinkoff folding this offseason, automatically meet the sporting criterion for the 2017 selection. The UCI’s rules say the bottom two squads will be “candidate” teams as other outfits such as Bora – Hansgrohe (with Peter Sagan) and new teams such as Bahrain – Merida (with Vincenzo Nibali) seek inclusion into the sport’s top division.

Giant had sat 17th before Il Lombardia, but Barguil’s 20 points helped the German team leapfrog IAM Cycling in the rankings. Swiss team IAM, though, will also fold at the end of 2016. That means three “candidate” teams — Dimension Data, Bahrain – Merida, and Bora – Hansgrohe — will be fighting for two spots, assuming the UCI sticks to its guns to reduce the WorldTour series to 17 for next year and to 16 by 2018. There is a feeling, though, that the teams will fight back.

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“Is that what cycling really wants?” Giant general manager Iwan Spekenbrink said. “We are creating more races, so why do we need to limit the number of teams? We should not be telling one of the big team sponsors we don’t want them in cycling. Sending them to the second division would kill them.”

The UCI is expanding its race calendar from 27 to 37 events. It will have newly promoted events in Australia, the Middle East, the U.S. (Amgen Tour of California), and in the old continent of Europe. A WorldTour license guarantees entry to all the events in that series, which includes classics like Paris-Roubaix and all three grand tours.

Race organizer ASO has been pushing cycling’s governing body to reduce the number of teams in the top series. The UCI issued a document to the teams on July 25 outlining its plan.

“The 16 highest-placed UCI WorldTeams at the end of the final UCI WorldTour event of the 2016 season [Lombardia] will be considered to have automatically satisfied the sporting criterion for the 2017 season,” the UCI wrote.

“The two last-placed WorldTeams on the WorldTour ranking will be afforded ‘2017 UCI WorldTour candidate’ status. All other teams existing in 2016 and newly created teams may also be declared ‘2017 UCI WorldTour candidate” teams. The candidate teams described are evaluated on the basis of the WorldTour individual ranking [of their five best riders.]”

This is bad news for Dimension Data. VeloNews calculated the points of the three candidate teams: Bora will have around 864, Bahrain 759, and Dimension Data 272. Those figures are surprising for some, considering that Dimension Data earned five Tour de France stage wins with Steve Cummings and Mark Cavendish, but general classification results and classics wins count for more.

It would also be surprising for the UCI to show the South African outfit the back door, since that’s the team everyone welcomed into the WorldTour with open arms only one year ago. Manager Doug Ryder brought it up from the third to second division with mostly African riders, and he pushed further into the WorldTour with several smart signings, including Cavendish. Along the way, it has kept its African charm with cyclists like Eritrean Merhawi Kudus.

Bora – Hansgrohe and Bahrain – Merida are strong candidates as well. Bora, which has battled in the second division for years, comes from a re-emerging Germany. Bahrain brings in new Middle East sponsors to the sport’s top teams. The UCI would also come under fire if it left either one of them out to fight for wildcard places in the Pro Continental division for 2017.

“It’s not what cycling needs,” Spekenbrink added. “We need to support the teams as much as possible, not discourage them.”

The UCI did not comment directly on this article. However, teams had to submit their documentation to the license commission by Monday. The UCI will report on those applying teams by the end of this week.

The points race, and uncertainty, will continue to brew this week. Spekenbrink said his team and the other teams will not back down in the face of the UCI’s planned move.

“We will fight it, so we will go to the PCC, which is the professional cycling council, and the license commission that issues licenses on behalf of the UCI,” Ryder said in an article that appeared on South Africa’s IOL website. “If we fail, we will go to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) because we are an ethical, honest team.”