There’s been a lot of talk this week about the various races that have gained UCI status at short notice, and with it the chance to win valuable UCI and Olympic qualification points. Various “surprise” races have appeared on the UCI women’s calendar since the 2015 season has started, and while it’s a better problem to have than the days when races would vanish with only a few week’s notice, it still brings problems. I was interested to know more about the impact this has on teams, so I asked Stefan Wyman, the manager of British-based UCI team Matrix Procycling about decisions he makes about races, how these surprise impacts affect that, and more.
How do you make the decision for which races to target? I imagine there are issues of sponsors and so on, but what makes a difference?
Stef: Personally it starts with the selection process of riders. I get the right riders in for my team. A balance of ability, costs, attitudes, ages, ambitions etc. Once I have the riders, I then speak with them about what races they’d like to do. I add to that the races I “need” to do for sponsor needs, and between us all we come up with an overall planner. Obviously, all of that needs to be done within the working budget.
How much do UCI points matter in the equation?
Stef: UCI points matter. A lot. Even more now given what we are working to over the coming two season. So next year we will have “World Tour Events”, and to get into one you’ll need to be top 20 in the team ranking at the beginning of the year unless you want to gamble on a wildcard invite. So we need to score 200 points, let’s say. If we don’t, and we have to sign riders who have points…. and therefore maybe drop riders to balance the squad/opportunity/costs. If we don’t score “WTE” points next year, we’d not be in consideration for entry to the World Tour in 2017 as far as I understand it. Points are essential. So are opportunities to score points. But competition for points is very very high. Higher than ever. It’s almost guess work to try to plan some events when you aren’t going to be up against everyone at the top. At the weekend, we were sitting on 22 UCI going into the last stage, 10% of our target,but we came away with zero. It’s a hard system. It can be demoralising to be perfectly honest. So when a Time Trial changes status last minute, yeah, it’s annoying. Should an “invitation only” event be able to gift UCI points? No. In fact, should a stand alone TT be able to give UCI points unless it can fulfill the entry requirements of an equivalent road race?
You’re a small team and you don’t get automatic invites to the UCI races, so what’s the process of registering an interest? If you’re looking at the calendar and want to ride a race, what do you do?
Stef: We aren’t in the top 20, so we have to fight for every invitation. We have nothing guaranteed. We pay a lot of money to be a UCI team, we jump through a lot of hoops, and we invest a huge amount in our riders. But we don’t have any guarantees to be able to get in a single race. I asked every organiser of the races we wanted to go to as soon as the calendar came out.
We got lucky this year and have had a wonderful calendar of events, but we still don’t know our exact programme after the Nationals as we’ve not had too many responses. But we were certainly organised. We sent a brochure to each organiser giving them details of the team, our riders, our sponsors, our key results etc. I think for some organisers, the key is getting as many teams as possible. That’s a particular problem for me – I know we were a club team last year, and who’s to say we won’t be the future, but the amount of club teams in races is a bit of a problem in my eyes.
I’d like organisers to be limited to five club teams in a pro race (.2 and above). I’d like that restricted further to a maximum of two club team from any one country. I’d also like to see mixed teams stopped. If a team hasn’t get enough riders, it shouldn’t be there. We’ve just got back from Luxembourg where the organiser is very selective, and rightfully so. We had 3 stages, and not a single crash in the event despite the most horrendous weather and very high speeds over challenging course. The level of the riders was high, and the level of the sport for the riders was high with a lot of experience in the team cars. It was fantastic to see. But why do we pay thousands of Euros to be a pro team, just to go in the races as teams who don’t pay anything?
We’ve seen a number of surprise UCI races show up on the calendar this season – how do you get informed of the changes to race status? Does the UCI tell you?
Stef: We don’t get notified, we are expected to read over the calendar each day and check for updates. We don’t even get hints. I’m sure the top 10 teams get told – UCI rules say the top 10 are required to be invited to a .2 or .1 race. But we are left to fend for ourselves. A good example of that was the UCI Women’s Development meeting in March. It was in Italy, it was announced four weeks before the meeting. We were emailed a few days after it went into the press. We had already entered the Omloop van het Hageland. We had entered that without knowing the meeting was on, so what was I meant to do… withdraw from the race, letting my riders down, letting the organiser down? To go to a meeting where it looked like it was more of a presentation than an opportunity for 2 way communication?
I got an email yesterday (4 May) to confirm the TOUR LANGUEDOC ROUSSILLON UCI WE 2.2 would be on the UCI Calendar, provided they get 15 teams, and it starts on 22 May. That’s 18 days notice, for a five day race. I’m already registered with events in the UK now, so what do I do, flick the UK races and go there? No way. To be honest, we don’t need that kind of event on the calendar as the lack of professionalism shown holds the sport back. We also don’t need token events. Men’s Pro races with a women’s crit? I call BS. Let’s have some proper equality rules brought in for new events. It could be cleared up very quickly by the UCI saying there shall be no new Mens UCI events without an equivalent Women’s UCI event. Not on the same date, but a equivalent event. Simple as that.
When we talk about these things, some people say “but it’s a good problem to have, getting new races”, we should look on the bright side, or or “we need to support this, to show the organisers there’s an interest ”etc. What’s your response to that?
Stef: Well until there are rules in place, I guess we are just lucky there is anything. That’s why it’s so infuriating that the people with the power to make some rule changes haven’t made any significant changes. I appreciate organisers putting on events, of course I do, oherwise I’d be unemployed. What we do desperately need at the top of the sport, though, is more commercial organisers like Sweetspot. The top of women’s racing isn’t a hobby sport. It’s professional. But it’s hard for it to thrive in an amateur world 50% of the time.
The Tour de Yorkshire event is a difficult one. I agree with Laura Trott and her sentiment that we have to be grateful there was anything at all, as they weren’t required to do anything. So you have to be thankful in a lot of ways. And it wasn’t a crit, and it wasn’t only 50 minutes long. It was a proper race with a proper crowd. It’s good for the UK scene, apart from it’s clash with the Bedford 3 day. But it could have been a big event. A massive event. BUT its on the same weekend as 4 UCI events already. As you can see there are a lot of BUTS in women’s cycling. And if you look at the UCI Calendar there are a lot of Holes in the calendar as well. So I guess there are lots of BUTS and HOLES in the sport right now.
So, if we want to fix this, what are the minimum standards you’d like to see about races being added to the calendar, and are there any other things that the UCI could do to solve the problems of points?
Stef: All UCI races should be published on 1st January each year. Organisers should have to put a deposit with the UCI before this date, so that if they cancel the race, teams engaged to race are compensated. If I pull out of a race after engaging to race, I get a financial penalty, so why not the other way round?
What would you like to see with the new World Tour for women?
Stef: Well, the plans at the moment don’t bring in a minimum salary, not in the next five years. I think that’s a huge issue. I would like to see a minimum salary brought in in 2017 along with the introduction of the WorldTour. I’d like to see it start low (ish), but have a published list of increases over the next 5 year to bring it inline with Men’s cycling I’d like to see a 15 team World Tour, taking part in a predominantly World Tour and .hc and .1 races, then a second tier of teams that ride a staple diet of .2 races, with the odd .1 event. I’d like to see non-pro teams races in mainly non-pro races, with the odd .2 event, so there is a clear structure to the sport. Better for riders, better for Sponsors, better for the media, better for teams. And alongside that, a published scale of increase of prize money for races over the next five years.
But all of the proposed changes that I see for the sport are about teams, not races. More money, more fees, more staff, more courses to do, more requirements, more guarantees. I haven’t seen any proposals to increase travel funds, to increase media requirements, for races to need a website, or to be approved by 1 January, or for Prize money to be increased. So far, it all seems to be about teams, but of course I have raised my concerns with the UCI and hopefully us little teams will also get listened to.
And finally, let’s end on a positive – what changes in the last few years have made a difference to your team in a good way?
Stef: Social Media. It’s the biggest influencing factor in women’s cycling. It’s huge for us. Next up with getting more and more streams of our great sport so we can hit a wider audience. The biggest event for us has been the Aviva Tour . Sweetspot did it right. They didn’t look at the women’s minimum standard and say we will aspire that they. They aimed for the stars. Other events need to look to the Aviva Tour for their standards, not the UCI regulations. The Sweetspot team gave us the chance to go pro. We took sponsors to an event they could wowed by, and it worked. We need more races like that.
For more of my articles on how the UCI women’s road calendar has been changing over time, head over to the story stream on Podium Café. Follow Matrix Procycling through the season on their website, and with their excellent twitter. And Stef is always around on his twitter, @ds_stef.
To find out what these issue are like for the big teams, read my follow-up interview with ORICA-AIS DS Martin Barras.