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Let's Build a New Cycling League!

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Vaughters:

Would it not be more advantageous for teams, race organizers, and the UCI to have a system where a certain number of teams, and the management groups behind those teams, were assured of entry into top events on a long term basis? Maybe instead of 15 teams fighting on a year-to-year basis, 15 teams are given a 10-year contract with all the top events, based on their history, performances, and ethical foundation and then the remaining 5-7 teams are invited as new comers and potential league members after the 10 years is up.

OK, I'll bite. Ladies and Gentlemen, here is your World Cycling League for 2011!

  • Each of the following teams is a going concern with some level of stability on the performance side.
  • Each of the following is not known to be a doping factory. But I have two difficulties in making this call. First, I block out enough information on doping to write several books, so call me on my cluelessness. Second, even looking at the list of recent doping cases is of limited value. Is the standard we hold these teams to a complete lack of scandal? Or a strong, transparent program of internal doping controls? The latter is harder to track from afar and a tad subjective, while the former... lack of scandals isn't always explained by lack of cheating.
  • I am eliminating the stable funding foundation element from consideration here. In Vaughters' idea, I believe he is suggesting that the league itself will bring in the sponsors. If you build it, they will come.

The Sure Bets

These teams will receive a 10-year contract which assures them they will be invited to the top events in the world, as identified in the UCI World Tour. And they have to show up. Each of these teams must institute an internal doping control system which is certified by the World Cycling League as meeting the ethical standard. The contract can be rescinded in the event of systemic ethical breaches, though a single doping case which does not appear to involve the team would likely not breach the code, depending on the circumstances. In the event a team disbands prematurely, the contract is rescinded and offered to another qualifying team.

Failure to finish in the top 15 teams in the world ranking in two consecutive years would result in the team being placed on probation, which would result in a one-year demotion to the second group during which the team must finish in the top 15 to automatically return to the top status. The team will also receive certain specific goals that must be met in the following year in order, and if not met the team faces a permanent change of status to the second division.  Moreover, the year spent as a temporary second-division team counts toward its requirements for maintaining second-division status as well (i.e., outside the top 20 could result in contract rescission). [This is needed to prevent teams from getting a 10-year license and pocketing the money earned off the prestige of the contract while fielding mediocre teams. Not likely, but there needs to be a clause in the contract just in case.]

  • HTC-Columbia
  • Garmin-Cervelo
  • Quick Step
  • Katusha
  • Movistar
  • Omega Pharma
  • Rabobank
  • Liquigas

The Sure, Why Nots?

These teams constitute a second division within the League. They are offered ten-year contracts to compete in the world's top events, but the contracts are reviewable each year and can be rescinded if the teams do not meet certain competitive criteria (in addition to the ethical criteria outlined above). [One possible wrinkle: they can turn down up to three invites a year.] If a team scores in the top 15 of the world ranking, it automatically meets the competitive criteria for the following year. If the team falls between 16-20th in the rankings, it can continue for another year with the League contract but must finish in the top 15 the next year to maintain its status thereafter. Finishing outside the top 20, or finishing outside the top 15 in consecutive years, can result in contract rescission in favor of a more competitive team. [Not sure if this should be subjective or based on quantifiable metrics. IOW, don't kick someone out unless there's a worthy replacement.]

  • Euskaltel -- As stable a fixture as any team, but their targets aren't broad enough as the top division 
  • Lampre -- Headed in the wrong direction, and their ethical profile has been in question.
  • Astana -- Used and abused since their post-Puerto inception, though they're likely evolving into something more like a first-division outfit.
  • Team Lux -- All a bit unofficial, no?
  • Sky -- Sure, they're wealthy, but it's not fair to compare them to institutions like Movistar who started out in the 1980s. Anyway, staying in the second division should be a snap for them going forward. This is a good example of how the two divisions work. On the road, they're indistinguishable, entitled to the same race invites. The only real difference is that their status is subject to greater scrutiny in the offseason.
  • BMC -- Same story as Sky, really.
  • Saxo-Sungard -- it's a shame to even think of putting them here, but they seem to be in freefall right now.
  • Ag2R -- More like a top-division outfit, though their results are a cut below, consistently in the 12-15 range.

Alternates? 

These teams are waiting in the wings for a World League contract, but they have to receive invitations to the top races. I am not sure if there's a status we can confer on them which is any different from no status at all. Or, if there is, whether it's worth trying.

  • The Shack -- No way can they claim the same future plan as the above teams. Big stage races will be interested in them, but that's it.
  • Vacansoleil -- Upwardly mobile, waiting for one of the second division teams to fail, before they pounce!
  • Geox -- Funnily enough, but the team whose status launched this entire conversation and the Vaughters Idea would almost certainly end up right back where they are now under anything but a ridiculously generous system. The only wrinkle that might be worth considering is using the points scored in 2010 by guys on the 2011 roster to rank their worthiness for moving up. Sign Menchov? That moves you up.
  • FdJ -- A little harsh? I think they'd be flirting with rescission a lot, based on their results. But two years ago they were clear second-division material.
  • Cofidis -- Already pro conti. Similar profile to FdJ. If they ramp it up, they could get into the contract conversation.

This is a pretty rough sketch. The point is to try to work with the Vaughters Idea to foster certainty among the teams who deserve it, a bit less certainty to allow the yearly turnover and evolution the sport naturally enjoys, and to keep the numbers of both "in" sets low enough to allow for ample wild cards. Whaddya think?