WorldTour Woes

After five stage wins in this year’s Tour de France and a place on the top step of the podium with Steve Cummings in the Tour of Britain, cycling fans have grown used to seeing Team Dimension Data accomplish epic feats in the saddle throughout 2016.  The South African team; home to Mark Cavendish, lead-out specialist Mark Renshaw, and the aforementioned British ace Steve Cummings, have become fan favourites with their top level riders and charitable ethos – riding for Qhubeka, World Bicycle Relief’s South African programme, and promoting the Bicycles Change Lives hashtag.  Yet the team’s WorldTour licence is under serious threat as a result of a feud between the sport’s governing body the UCI and the company behind races such as the Tour de France and Paris-Nice, ASO.

ASO announced last year that it would pull all its races from the UCI WorldTour in 2017, as the long running battle between both organisations rumbled ever onward.  Removing the Tour de France from the UCI WorldTour classification would mean the event would go ahead as part of Europe Tour, classified as an Hors Classe (HC) event.  HC races cannot include a field of over 70% WorldTour teams, which, in a 22 team Tour de France, would mean only 15 WorldTour teams could enter.  The remaining teams would be invited by ASO from the Pro Continental classification.

The 2016 Tour de France saw 18 WorldTour teams secure automatic entry into the race.  Reclassifying the world’s most prestigious bike race as an HC event would mean that at least 3 top class teams would be unable to secure a Tour slot, potentially putting sponsorship in jeopardy.  In response to ongoing problems, the number of UCI WorldTour licences are being cut from 18 to 17 for the 2017 season, which is the cause of Team Dimension Data’s woes.

Currently, the South Africa based team lies in 18th place in the team rankings, despite a successful 2016 season for its WorldTour debut.  The team ranking positions are determined by adding up the total points of the top five riders within the team, taking the points from the WorldTour individual ranking system. Despite a successful season clocking up over 28 victories, only 9 of these will currently count towards the rankings, as the majority of wins came from races which are not part of the WorldTour series – including Steve Cummings’ yellow jersey at the Tour of Britain.

The five stage wins that Dimension Data clocked up at this year’s Tour de France, arguably putting the team second behind only Team Sky in terms of Tour performance, did not add enough points to the overall total, due to the somewhat bizarre system of allocation.  A top ten finish in the GC at the TdF can see a rider awarded 50 points, whereas a stage win will only rack up 20.

Despite Tinkoff and IAM Cycling departing the scene at the close of the 2016 season, two Pro Continental teams are likely to be moving up to take up the vacant spots in the WorldTour grouping.  Bora-Hansgrohe – star signing for 2017 Peter Sagan – will benefit from said rider’s lead in the individual WorldTour rankings.  The other team looking for a WorldTour spot are the Bahrain Cycling Team, who have managed to secure Vincenzo Nibali for the forthcoming season.  This leaves Dimension Data and Lampre scrapping it out for the 17th place as the racing season draws to a close.

It seems a shame that both ASO and the UCI can’t come to an agreement which will benefit the sport – with sponsors less likely to lend financial support to teams that might not make WorldTour races, riders will feel less secure about their futures.  Considering the huge successes that Team Dimension Data have seen throughout 2016, it is hard not to feel aghast at the suggestion that their one season as a WorldTour team will also be their last.  With a handful of WorldTour races yet to be run before the end of the year, and a few riders playing their cards close to their chest in terms of new signings, it’s far from a done deal.  Let’s hope for a last minute reprieve for Team Dimension Data’s sake, as well as for the good of cycling as a whole.

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