This time of year is always quite busy, as everyone associated with the sport of top-flite cycling tries to make news, on the road, in the pits or anywhere else you like, thankyouverymuch. Here's a start. Feel free to add.
Dwars door Vlaanderen Receives World Tour Status
This is easily the day's biggest story. Dwars door Vlaanderen has always been a sneaky-awesome race, particularly for Flanders purists looking for the most accurate preview of de Ronde. By comparison, E3 Prijs is a bit more focused on flat cobbles, and Gent-Wevelgem is about echelons and sprints. Dwars strikes the balance that looks most like Vlaanderens Mooiste -- which is to say, all of the above elements, but kind of decided by climbs.
The only element holding it back has been its UCI rating, which was up to 1.HC (Europe Tour) as of 2013. That permits up to 70% of the UCI World Tour teams plus pro-conti, conti and national teams. This past year it was scheduled to have 12 World Tour teams, though Giant-Alpecin pulled out at the last moment, after the terror attacks at Zaventem Airport and Brussels. Not attending, along with Giant, were Astana, Cannondale, Dimension Data, FDJ, Lampre, Orica and Sky. By gaining World Tour status Dwars is now assured of all those teams' attendance. Dimension Data and Sky, for example, are teams whose presence would mean something to the race. And to anyone who was previously attending but not in all-out mode, those World Tour points will change things.
It's only fair to mention that the inclusion of WT teams means the exclusion of some other teams who might have needed the exposure. So while it's the day's biggest story, it's not good news to all. However, this spring the non-WT invitees were all pro-conti teams, who aren't begging for exposure, and this included CCC (Rebellin's boys), Gazprom, Wilier-Triestina and Stolting Service. Would losing them be so terrible? If small Belgian teams were losing their chance at a huge day in the saddle for them, I'd be saddened, but based on last year's lineup that isn't really the case.
ASO and UCI Calm the F*&k Down, Agree On Changes
Along with the promotion of Dwars, the UCI took care of a lot of other business by agreeing with ASO to reducing the number of World Tour teams -- and the automatic invites to World Tour races that go with them -- to 17 next year and 16 after that. Also, the UCI settled on two-year licenses for World Tour teams, not three. Both of these are viewed by ASO, owners of the Tour de France, as loosening up the participation parameters and allowing more teams to get invites and licenses on merit. In exchange for these concessions, ASO will allow all its races to be included in the World Tour.
The UCI also adopted -- at ASO's prodding -- a relegation/promotion system where at the end of every season (starting in 2018), the last-ranked World Tour team will face relegation to Pro Conti status, while the top Pro Conti team could be promoted, based on a "sporting classification" assessment. If that happens, the dropped World Tour team would still get wild card invites the following year, so that their two year WT license is effectively realized, but would be otherwise downgraded.
Hm, I may need to get another Transfers thread going soon, as the Tour is prime time for contract negotiations, or at least rumors of contract negotiations. In the meantime, picture Philippe Gilbert, Tom Boonen and Patrick Lefevre... together at last!