UCI Calendar Refresh: PC’s Take on Change

By Kit Hinders Current UCI president Brian Cookson has been all about change in his year of office. Next on his slate seems to be the racing calendar. It is no surprise cyclists detest racing from January to October. A ten month race calendar is especially detestable when most riders sacrifice parts of November and December to preseason training.

Peloton Cafe || Brian Cookson
Peloton Cafe || Brian Cookson (image copyright Sirotti)
What of it then? Cookson has spoken of a ground up rethink to take effect for the 2017 season. In the past months he’s mentioned that no events are safe. That’s not entirely true, though it would be foolish to think the Tour would ever take place in any month but July. However, the other races are less secure in their time slot, duration, and permanancy. After three plates of Thanksgiving feast, six pieces of pie, several cookies and a stint on the trainer, a brilliant thought came about. Why wait for the UCI? Let us do this now, what should the new cycling calendar look like? There’s no way to put this gently, but the year’s first WorldTour race, The Tour Down Under, has to move. What about March? Sure the weather is below 40 degrees, yet it could be nice, right? Probably…Maybe?
Stage 5 was the Queen Stage and finished up Willunga Hill.
Stage 5 was the Queen Stage and finished up Willunga Hill.
Shucks, two races in and this is all ready far more difficult than anticipated. So many races fighting for the calendar. And the argument does not end with location, timing, and logistics. Many of these races offer hefty pocketbooks to boot. How do we decide? The races that are most awesome often are not big money makers. Likewise, why are there so many great races in the Spring, yet so few in the fall? Is it possible to rearrange them in a way that everyone wins? Right, right- back to the adjustments. Even if they complain, the riders of the Classics have to have some warm up races. They really do not want to show up in Belgium come April with zero race days in their legs. Therefore, we’ll keep the Tours of Qatar and Oman in February, but we’ll move them back a few weeks to occupy a single 12 day event (with a rest day in the middle) to culminate at the end of the month.
Peloton Cafe - 2013 Tour of Oman Stage 4 - Chris Froome
Peloton Cafe – 2013 Tour of Oman Stage 4 – Chris Froome (image courtesy Team Sky)
Then, we jet to Australia around the beginning of March for the 7 stage Tour Down Under. This should not cause a problem, as most classics riders bypass Australia altogether. It will still be a chance for a grand debut, lots of fans shouting, and more than a few pints of beverage. We’ll then have a week off, returning to racing with Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico to be run simultaneously. Strade Bianchi will take up the last weekend of March to set up an action packed month of April. Gara Ciclistica Tirreno Adriatico - Ultima Tappa Really, no jokes here, April is nuts. First weekend, Milan San Remo. Followed by a Saturday-Sunday weekend combo of Gent-Wevelgem and E3 Harelbeke. Then we have our traditional The Ronde Van Vlaanderen/Paris-Roubiax holy week. We admit, by pushing these races back a few weeks, there’s less chance of crazy weather. However, if given the choice between racing in idyllic and pleasant weather and pelting snow, pouring rain, and wind from the Gulf Stream, we pick sunny Sunday’s every time. 2013 Paris - Roubaix (3) Unlike the current calendar, we will not move straight into the Ardennes classics- those will come later. What of the Giro? Two weeks or three weeks? There’s something special about a three week stage race. The UCI may be prepared to shave the grand tours, but we are not going to make that call. The Giro will stay at its three week format. Here’s the key reason: the list of riders that can win a one week long stage race is rather lengthy. Conversely, those that can endure three weeks of racing is scant in comparison. Putting the most prestigious races in the two week range will degrade the product. Its like cake: do we want two weeks of cake? Goodness no, three weeks please! Giro d'Italia 2014 - Tappa 16 Ponte di Legno - Val Martello However, we still need some build up for the Giro, so while the Classics teams are butting heads in Belgium, the stage race squadrons will be partaking in races like The Tour of Romandie, Vuelta Ciclista al Pais Vasco, and Volta al Catalunya. The order and length of these races does not need to tied down at this point; just know that in the month of April there will be a set of races to help riders prepare for the Giro. The Giro then takes up the month of May, like normal. We’ll then have just three weeks between the end of Giro and the beginning of the Tour. In that time, the Tour d’Suisse, and Criterium du Dauphine, like our spring stage races, will happen concurrently. The Tour will then begin during the last week of June and finish mid-way through July. PIC298102901 We will then take another three weeks hiatus before tackling the Vuelta a Espana. In those three weeks, we shall slot the Ardennes Classics. Thus making Amstel-Gold, Fleche-Wallon, and Leige-Bastogne-Leige the focal point of late July. amstel Gold Race August will be a month of compact racing. The Vuelta will start the second week of August, concluding at the end of the month. The Eneco Tour, USA Pro Challenge, Tour of Britain, and various Canadian races will all happen during the same three weeks as the Vuelta. That sets up the World Championships for mid September and Giro d’Lombari occurs the weekend after the World Championships and everyone goes on holiday before October 1st. 2014 UCI Road World Championships Elite Men's Road Race (16) Problems: Ding dang, this calendar is not perfect though. It should be! We started with a blank slate, right? Truth is, we’re so confined to predetermined patterns that this mock up calendar ends up being less than creative. The proposition of putting the Northern Classics anywhere but Spring seems downright unholy. Likewise, the Tour continues predominately in July. Likewise, the Grand Tours stayed put in their May, July, August slots. The only inspiring change we made was to push the Ardennes to July. Is that enough to save the cycling calendar? The best answer? Maybe… Think about the problem most World Tour teams face: staffing. Each star rider gets pushed, pulled, and torn in every which direction. In the current set up, riders could face fewer impossible race dates because a sponsor insists ?x? rider goes to this race, while the next week, doing ?x? race will hit a necessary training goal, with the big ?x? race occurring the very next weekend. Constructing the calendar as such will mean some race combinations are simply not possible. Under any circumstances. It could be a liberating change for riders. Giro d'Italia 2014, 19a tappa - Cronometro Individuale Bassano del Grappa What of the Giro-Tour double, or the Tour-Vuelta, or Giro-Vuelta? Still bloody difficult. This mock up has reduced recovery time and means that it could be suicidal to attempt to race the Giro and squeeze in the Suisse or Dauphine in preparation for the Tour. In fact, it could be difficult for a Giro contender to even fit in a training block between the races. Creating a scenario where there’s two very difficult trajectories for the race could be dramatic. Imagine a Contador coming off the Giro victory and recovering while Chris Froome dances through the Dauphine. Could be a fresh twist to affairs. Balance is something this new calendar has in spades though. Look at April and August. Each month is chock full of big races. By compacting the Spring Classics, it makes hitting and maintaining peak performance much simpler. What would happen if Sagan, Cancellara, Boonen, etc would all be at their best for all the classics? That’s a jolly thought. Likewise, August holds several different avenues for riders to prepare for the World Championships. The three week Vuelta would stay a popular choice, but the linking of the Eneco Tour, Tour of Britain, USA Pro Challenge, or the UCI Canadian races can provide just as many race days with a greater degree of variety. The best riders would be all over the world competing in a volley of races at the same time. It is exactly the sort of sport and competition cycling needs. There we go. Through some difficult decisions and tough calls, the race calendar is now two months shorter. Riders ought to be happy about that. Yet, does this offer the best product to the fans? Will the teams go for it? Tough to tell. The announcement and establishment of Velon complicates matters slightly. It is unclear exactly what this organization will do for teams, but they will likely advocate, on behalf of the teams, for a shorter, more compact calendar. If there’s anything we know about the UCI, it is that when two parties have the same idea, there will never be collusion. Those are our changes to the calendar. How would you go back tackling the task? Please share – we love variety.

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