Tag Archives: UCI World Tour

Meanwhile, not at the Vuelta…

I love the Vuelta as much as any self-respecting cycling fan with a penchant for hot weather and steep hills, but as we’ve reached the first rest day in the big Spanish race, it’s a perfect time to go ‘around the grounds’, as football commentators used to say.

There’s been a lot happening in cycling outside the Iberian peninsula, here are my picks.

 

  1. Tour de l’Avenir

We say this a lot, but Australia continues to develop some really outstanding young riders. This year’s Tour de l’Avenir produced some outstanding results for the Australian team (it’s an U23 race and riders represent national teams), particularly Robert Power who finished second overall.

Some recent riders who have made the podium in the race include Tejay van Garderen (2009), Bauke Mollema and Tony Martin (2007), Jan Bakelants and Rui Costa (2008), Tejay van Garderen (2009), Nairo Quintana (2010), Esteban Chavez (2011), Warren Barguil (2012) and Adam Yates (2013).

Generally, to win or podium at this race is a good sign of impending World Tour contracts and big time success. You’ll also notice a lot of Colombians win it, and this year was no different, with Miguel Angel Lopez taking the title. Watch out for him.

Power, who rides for the Jayco-AIS World Tour Academy team, has perhaps been less widely heralded than some of his contemporaries. That will change, now that he’s become the first Australian to reach the podium. It’s a big deal. Especially when you consider he’s only 19.

His teammates also had a big week: Campbell Flakemore won the opening prologue and wore the leader’s jersey; Caleb Ewan won a stage; and Jack Haig finished 12th overall. The production line of Aussie road talent continues.

 

  1. Goss to leave Orica-GreenEdge

Matt White has confirmed to Cycling News that Matt Goss is leaving the team at the end of this season. It’s sad to see the departure of the team’s original marquee rider, but the last two seasons have been disappointing for Goss.

He simply hasn’t won enough races, and the team has moved on as Michael Matthews has proven to be a more than able replacement in the sprints.

What’s next for Goss? He turns 28 at the end of this year, so he’s still got plenty to offer if he can recapture his spark. The rumours are that MTN-Qhubeka is interested, and that would be an interesting parallel with another former Columbia/HTC-Highroad alumnus Gerald Ciolek, who has successfully rebooted his career with the African Pro Continental team.

Goss could also be a hugely valuable contributor in the World Tour as a lead-out man. He made his name leading out Mark Cavendish, and a return to that role might be a viable way to keep himself in a big team at the big races.

Whatever happens next for Goss, I don’t think anyone could say they were surprised to see him moving on. For whatever reason, things just haven’t been working for him. This might be the kick in the arse he needs to get his career back on course.

 

  1. Tiffany Cromwell rides into top ten at GP Plouay; stakes claim for World Championships spot

Tiffany Cromwell should be the first Aussie rider picked for the women’s road race team at the World Championships, if recent form is any guide.

After missing a bronze medal by a tyre’s width at the Glasgow Commonwealth Games, Cromwell bounced back to claim 5th overall at the Tour of Norway, and then an aggressive 10th at the GP Plouay this week (read her race report for Cycling Tips here).

The good results against the best in the world are becoming more and more consistent, and Cromwell has shown she can perform well on tough courses. First picked, I tell you.

 

  1. Daryl Impey is back

Orica-GreenEdge’s South African sprinter Daryl Impey has beaten his doping rap, and will return to racing this week at the Tour of Alberta. His defense team successfully demonstrated that his positive test for the banned diuretic Probenecid was due to contaminated gel caps sold by his pharmacist, who’d been dispensing the banned substance to a previous customer.

Plenty of people will be sceptical – we’ve hashed this one out again and again, and people’s views don’t tend to shift much – but I feel for Impey. As he said on his website, he’s been put through hell because his pharmacist got sloppy:

“It has been definitely the hardest two months of my life, it has been a huge financial loss and has been tough on my whole family. But I was determined to show that I am clean and that I would never cheat to try get an advantage over my competitors.  I am so relieved that this has now been proven.”

The stress on athletes that occurs because of the extreme rigour of anti-doping protocols is enormous. It’s not just the early-morning door knocks and post-race urine samples, it’s keeping your whereabouts updated every day, reading the labels of everything you ingest. But the most difficult and frustrating thing is that athletes are quite literally trusting their careers to strangers, and feel like they have no control over their fates.

Plenty of people simply won’t believe Impey, or will argue that he got off on a technicality (as with Michael Rogers). I’m starting to wonder if the combination of strict liability, a huge ever-changing list of banned substances, and incredibly sensitive testing methods is actually damaging the athletes it’s supposed to protect.

If your career can be ended by having the bad luck to have a sloppy pharmacist, then the whole anti-doping system starts to look like a big dumb lottery.

Have we reached a point where we’re jailing people for jaywalking because of a recent spate of murders?

This piece first appeared on The Roar.

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Has Fernando Alonso’s Cycling Team stalled?

What is going on with Fernando Alonso’s cycling team?

The former F1 world champion says he’s still planning to bring a team into cycling’s World Tour in 2015, but murmurings from within the current ranks have led some to wonder whether the project has stalled in the pits.

Alonso insists the project is still going ahead, but rumblings of discontent and rumours of special treatment have brought to light some serious problems with the UCI’s process for selecting teams for the World Tour.

Embed from Getty Images

Just to refresh your memory: Alonso initially proposed to buy the World Tour licence of the famous Basque team, Euskaltel-Euskadi, when the team ran into financial problems in 2013 and announced it would fold.

Alonso, who is from Asturias, not all that far from the Basque country, is a close friend of former Euskaltel leader Samuel Sanchez (now supporting Cadel Evans’ tilt at the Giro for BMC). He’s also a keen cyclist himself (something he shares with a number of F1 drivers including Mark Webber and Jenson Button).

That deal ran out of time, and Euskaltel met an unfortunate demise, but the seeds of an idea were well and truly sown, and Alonso committed to launching an entirely new team, with the working name Fernando Alonso Cycling Team (FACT), in 2015.

So far, all good, but more information has so far been thin on the ground.

Of course, this being professional cycling, the vacuum has been filled by rumours, leaks, intimations of preferential treatment, sniping from other teams, and a general sense that perhaps there’s some bending of the process but nobody is really sure what the correct process is.

Let’s step back again.

FACT doesn’t yet have a major sponsor, and it hasn’t signed any riders.

It does have former double world champion Paolo Bettini as team manager. This is a big deal, because Bettini quit his job as head of Italy’s national team to take on the role.

In March, Bettini hinted that FACT was soon to announce a major sponsorship deal, rumoured to be worth €20 million from the United Arab Emirates, but two months later no public announcement has yet been made.

Dubai seems like a good match for a World Tour team led by an F1 star: it’s got money; its own shiny new race operated by Giro d’Italia owners RCS Sport; and a UCI Continental team, Skydive Dubai. A World Tour team would turbocharge this effort.

Alonso visited the Dubai Tour in February and met with some Very Important People: his celebrity status in Formula 1 is clearly something that can open doors in Dubai that are several layers of doors beyond what most cycling team managers could hope to achieve.

In fact it’s hard to imagine a sportsperson better connected with the kinds of businesses willing to sponsor a sporting team: for any company that can afford to sponsor an F1 team, a cycling team’s budget costs peanuts.

Then there’s Alonso’s personal fortune. As one of the highest-paid people in world sport, he could clearly fund the team out of his own pocket for a year or two, if required.

So we can probably assume that money is not the problem here.

What about riders? Well, rival teams and riders’ managers have been happily (and anonymously) backgrounding Velonews to the effect that FACT has not been approaching riders.

Curious, and this is where things get interesting for FACT.

Unless the team can sign some major riders, it’s in big trouble.

The UCI’s points system requires teams to have enough UCI racing points to earn its place under the UCI’s “sporting criterion”.

There are two parts to this criterion: the individual point scores for the top ten riders on the team; and the team’s collective component.

The riders’ component for 2015 is calculated by adding the points earned by the top ten riders signed, but the points were earned in 2013 and 2014 when they were riding for different teams.

Can you imagine if a team that finished mid-table in the English Premier League in one season was relegated for the next season because its best players signed with bigger clubs? It would be ridiculous. That’s the situation in cycling.

Effectively, Alonso needs to sign riders with ‘enough’ points before anyone knows if he’ll even have a team. The final decision won’t be made until November, just a few weeks before the 2015 season starts at the Tour Down Under.

But how many points are enough? What if FACT signs 15 riders and then falls short, or there’s a problem with some other aspect of the application and the team doesn’t get approved?

What do those riders do then?

Can you see the problem? From a rider’s point of view, the risk of signing with a team that may not even exist is huge. By the time the outcome of FACT’s application is known, if the deal fails it may be far too late to sign with another team.

As a rider, how eager would you be to take a big risk on a new team, even one with a big budget and celebrity owner, where there’s a reasonable chance that your career could come crashing to a halt if there’s a problem inside the black box containing the UCI’s approval process?

The likes of Peter Sagan, Alberto Contador, Fabian Cancellara, Edvald Boasson-Hagen, and Tony Martin have all been mentioned as possible targets, but all seem to be keeping their options open.

Simon Gerrans is another rider with lots of points who is out of contract this year.

From Alonso’s point of view, it’s a huge headache. He’ll be on the hook to pay out contracts even if the team fails to materialise.

Even for a man with pockets as deep as Fernando Alonso, it isn’t nice to waste millions of euros.

On the 20th of May, CyclingNews reported that Alonso had asked for certain guarantees from the UCI regarding his application. These guarantees were not extended to the other teams in the World Tour, or any others applying for 2015.

The possibility that Alonso might receive special treatment really, really irritated some of the other team managers.

Garmin-Sharp’s Jonathan Vaughters had this to say:

Now, I can sympathise with Vaughters, too. Why should Alonso get handed the breaks just because he’s come in with big money and glamour?

Rules are rules, right?

UCI President Brian Cookson was quick to reach for the fire extinguisher, telling CyclingNews on the 23rd that,

“Everyone has to follow the rules, no one will get special treatment. We will be as helpful with Alonso as we are with everyone else. It’s great they’re interested, we want to support a new team like that because we’ve lost too many teams but they have to respect the regulations.”

Cookson gets points for dodging that minefield, where his predecessors may have just resorted to old-fashioned nepotism, but the fact is the current regulations are junk and they need to change.

The current process seems determined to discourage new entrants into cycling with the UCI’s usual cocktail of inefficient bureaucracy and complete lack of transparency.

All it achieves is protecting the old guard of ex-dopers and their backers, discouraging the renewal that cycling desperately needs.

Alonso offers a clean slate, fresh ideas, money, power and an introduction to the really big time of global corporate sponsorship. You may not like him on the race track, but there’s no doubt he knows what success takes, and I believe he has the right intentions.

Sure, he comes from a sport as riddled with corruption and cronyism as cycling’s darkest days. Sure, F1 has the governance standards and transparency of a hessian sack full of vipers. But it’s also a sport with a powerful culture of innovation and excellence across technology, science and business, at the team level.

I think the UCI understands that it needs FACT to succeed, but doesn’t want to upset its incumbents, and that is fair enough. Balancing the conflicting viewpoints will require gobs of political skill.

But a new team launching in 2015 needs to be able to negotiate with riders and sign them in good faith. It needs to be able to provide guarantees to potential sponsors.

Riders need to know that they are signing with a real team.

This means licences need to be allocated much earlier than two months before the season starts, and the whole process needs to be much more transparent.

The regulations need to be changed. Add it to Cookson’s list.

In the mean time, Alonso is still insisting that plans are on schedule, telling Eurosport,

“We are doing [things] in a very professional way. We are doing step after step. There are some rules to respect, and we are respecting those. That is a surprise for some people but we never stop and everything that we want to achieve in these last couple of months we are doing.”

I hope he succeeds. If Alonso can’t make this work with his money and connections, who else can?

UCI to introduce electric motors in 2015

I’ve just received this press release from the UCI. It’s certainly a major innovation, and I can’t wait to see how it changes the tactics used in races!

The UCI hasn’t said so, but I suspect this is partly a response to bike industry pressure: e-bikes are a fast-growing segment of the market, but they’re definitely not sexy, and manufacturers need professionals adopting them to add some bling and take sales to the next level with the cafe racer segment.

Personally, I can’t wait to hit my favourite Strava segments with a UCI-legal 200 Watt motor on board.

UCI Technical Committee meeting: introduction of electric bicycles in 2015
1.04.2014
The UCI Technical Committee (PCC) met in Aigle (Switzerland) on March 31st to confirm the introduction of electric motors to UCI road racing events for the 2015 season. The new regulations require teams to install small electric motors within the frames of racing bicycles, to provide power assistance up to 200 Watts during road races, or 250 Watts in time trials, to be used at the rider’s discretion.The Technical Committee decided that the new regulations, which all UCI World Tour and Pro Continental teams will eventually have to adhere to, shall go through a test phase in 2014 before being adopted permanently. This is an important step in the reform of professional road cycling, and follows the example of Formula 1 motor racing in its commitment to ongoing technical innovation in the sport.

The teams’ terms of reference contain a certain number of rules that aim to change the culture of professional cycling in order to guarantee spectator interest.

The committee indicated that the introduction of electric motors is a response to fan objections that recent racing has “lacked panache” and that the new, cleaner cycling movement has damaged the spectacle of cycling for TV audiences. In particular, it is a question of maintaining the ability of riders to perform at extraordinary levels without pharmacological assistance.

Taking its lead from Formula 1, the new motors will incorporate energy recovery technology (KERS) and riders will be able to deploy a power boost in a short burst or in a sustained release, as required.

During the 2014 season, the teams and manufacturers will be provided with a UCI standardised motor and battery specification to be implemented by the beginning of 2015.

A UCI spokesperson said,

“The UCI views the introduction of electric motors to cycling as the natural evolution of racing, and is excited to bring a new element to the World Tour in 2015. Fans will love seeing riders climbing Hors catégorie mountains at the equivalent of 10W/kg, and can you imagine how good these things will be on the cobbles at Paris-Roubaix?

Everyone loves it when Formula 1 messes around with its engines, and we really love the sound of their new cars, so why not add some of that excitement to bike racing? We’ve been holding back innovation for so long it’s definitely time to do something drastic.”

“Besides, Fabian Cancellara has been using a motor for years, and it’s only made him look like a complete badass.”