The Dimension Data Cycling Team staved off possible execution Tuesday as the UCI, in agreement with Tour de France owner ASO, agreed to put off the reduction of the World Tour teams slate to 17. For several years the World Tour has featured the top 18 teams in the world by various standards (money, performance, etc.), and although two of last year’s 18 teams -- IAM Cycling and Tinkoff — have folded their tent, the arrival of Bahrain Cycling and promotion of Bora-Hansgrohe meant that a cut-back was still in play for 2017. Most observers felt that Dimension Data was the most vulnerable.
Now, however, the agreement to keep an 18th team means the only African-registered team, home to stars like Mark Cavendish and Edvald Boasson Hagen, need only meet the usual WT standards to continue on another year. No further information was given regarding a possible future relegation, but since the reason cited for the change of heart is threats of legal action, it’s logical to presume that any future contraction will have to involve a team leaving the sport. Relegation as it’s known in other sports is officially off the table for now.
A more tangible change for 2017 was also announced, in the form of expansion of the World Tour calendar from 27 to 37 events:
- Omloop Het Nieuwsblad
- Dwars door Vlaanderen
- Strade Bianche
- Eschborn-Frankfurt City Loop
- Cadel Evans Great Ocean Race
- Prudential RideLondon
- Amgen Tour of California
- Tour of Abu Dhabi
- Tour of Qatar
- Tour of Turkey
Rumors persist that there will be a Tour of Guangxi in China that will gain World Tour status, but that is unconfirmed. Guangxi is home to some of the most spectacular and stereotypically Chinese landscapes, limestone formations that are almost impossible to believe, and I have to believe that its network of frequently flooded dirt roads has probably been upgraded since I was last there 20 years ago.
Oh, and one last major development is that these newly-added races will not come with an obligation for all teams to ride them, at least not in 2017. That too was the subject of some lawyerly threats, so for now these races will try to balance the interest in attracting WT teams that really want to be there, and lower-ranked squads in place of the WT teams that don’t.