Over the last few years I’ve been analysing how the UCI women’s road cycling calendar has been changing, and what it means for the sport – with home-made, colour-coded charts and diagrams. You can find my posts from previous years in the Podium Café series, and you can look up the UCI calendars on their site using their drop-down menus, if you want the non-colourful versions (it defaults to 2015, so make sure you move it to 2016, if you don’t want to be confused!).
In this post, I’m going to be looking at how the 2015 calendar changed between when it was published in October 2014 and what was actually ridden, and look ahead to what’s changed in the 2016 calendar that was announced in September 2015 – and there are some pretty major moves that are exciting, and (spoiler!) really positive. Then in Part 2 I’ll look at the shape of the season, and in Part 3, the changes in the context of the past ten years or so, and a bit more about where the changes are happening. But enough talk, let’s start with a table!
The colour-coding, I hope, is pretty self-explanatory. Green is for new races in 2015, yellow is for races that were smaller than first announced, red is for races that were cancelled after they were announced last October, and blue are for the big competitions to take into account.
There’s a caveat here. For the past few years, the calendar has started with races in Golan, Syria, and in Brazil, which have never actually taken place. I have no idea why they are included year after year, especially with the war in Syria, but I don’t include them in my calculations as no one believes they’ll happen at this point, and it makes it look like we’ve lost more races than we have. If you want to add them in yourself, there were technically going to be 2 day races in Golan this year, and 1 day race, and 2 3-day stage races in Brazil. This also doesn’t include Languedoc-Roussillon appearing after the calendar was published, and then not being run, as I don’t think, after the troubles the race had in 2013, anyone ever expected it to happen.
So what does this tell us?
Well, firstly, it’s good news! Ending up with more races at the end of the year than were planned is always better for the sport than the other way round, and a really welcome change after recent bad years, when we lost race after race. Now, of course, some races folded after the 2014 season, and you can read more about that in last year’s post, but looking at it this way it’s very positive.
Looking at the new races for 2015, there’s a very definite trend in internationalisation, which is great for all kinds of reasons, but especially for the riders from “non-traditional” cycling countries, who are getting the chance to get UCI points without having to come to Europe, and also getting the chance to catch the eyes of teams who can help them develop.
It’s fantastic, too, that some of these new races are backed by some of the biggest organisers in the men’s sport. Strade Bianche was an instant classic, and hopefully will encourage RCS, the huge Italian organiser, to put on more women’s races. The Tour of California and the Madrid Challenge by La Vuelta, both run alongside big men’s races, were not as strong statements by the companies about where they see women’s racing, but with them both becoming Women’s World Tour races next year, I’m choosing to believe they were stepping stones to something bigger and better
It is shame, that some of these new international races were added late in the process. You might wonder “why does it matter that the calendar changes after publication?”, but there are important implications. Teams have to budget far in advance, so they can apply for sponsorship, and a lot of team’s budgets are notoriously tight. If an extra Belgian or Dutch race appears late in the day that’s easy to combine with another race, this isn’t so hard to squeeze in, but when races like the South African races appear out of nowhere, it’s very hard for most European teams to suddenly find the money. Of course, this has the unintended effect of opening more spaces for “home” teams in these big races, but that’s not a reason to do this – and it also means teams with bigger budgets who can change their programme mid-season, get the benefit of racing against a lower-calibre field, and get more points… You can find out more about how late additions impact teams from these pieces I did earlier in the year on the subject with Martin Barras, DS of big team ORICA-AIS, and with Stefan Wyman, boss of small team Matrix Fitness.
UPDATE! Just as I was writing this post, I saw another surprise South African race has been added to the UCI calendar for November – like I say, this will be very hard for teams to get to, especially with riders on their off-seasons already. I’ll be interested to see if it gets enough entrants to actually grant UCI points…
Then, there’s the balance of the full calendar. We’ve seen how the big Grand Tour crits, La Course and Madrid Challenge, impact on the races they clash with, and when they announce late, it leaves very little room for the races already in that slot to re-arrange.
I am also a bit concerned that the races with problems are still in France and Italy, which is an ongoing pattern. It’s always been the way that France has they great organisations running Plouay, and of course, the ASO, but while a lot of races worldwide are run by volunteers, it seems like the French ones are having a tougher time, and I hope they get help.
But! Back to positives – and a look forward to the future.
What does the 2016 calendar look like right now?
Here’s what the calendar looks like right now, including how it’s changed from 2015.
The colour coding is a little bit different – green are new races for 2016, red races are ones that were raced in 2015, but aren’t on the 2016 calendar, and blue are other important races to be aware of.
Obviously, we start with a caveat that all this is likely to change. And I strongly suspect that there’s something going on with the French races – my personal theory is that there’s been a hold-up with the French Cycling Federation signing off on them, and actually, if this mean’s they’re getting more support, that’s only a good thing, for me. So don’t be surprised if the Tour de Bretagne and Tour de l’Ardèche re-appear next year.
So what does it mean?
The impact of the Women’s World Tour
Next year, the biggest change to the calendar is moving from the Road World Cup (10 day races in 2015, a series that’s been running since 1998 – history on wikipedia). Next year it’s expanding, adding stage races, and moving to 35 racing days, with guaranteed highlights packages and 8 races shown live (more information on the UCI website, new race rules for it, and the UCI guide for races that wanted to join). It also brings the women’s calendar in line with the men’s, and there’s a really good interview with rider-turned-team-owner Kristy Scrymgeour about the implications from her point of view, including how it’ll help teams with sponsors etc, on Cyclingnews. It includes this:
“The teams will get those broadcast stats and viewership numbers and they can go back to their sponsors for future years and say; this is when we were on TV, this is how many people watched, and that’s just not something that we’ve been able to do in the past. We’ve been able to say that we are a great team and we can do so much to promote your brand, but we haven’t had the traditional ROI, which a lot of companies outside the industry are looking for. Traditionally, companies outside the industry don’t know cycling very well.
“It’s so much easier to be able to sell to sponsors, and having a structure where there’s a WorldTour, and in two years from now, all the top teams will be in that WorldTour (a top division) and racing one another.”
The races that are in the World Tour are marked WWT, but I want to talk a little bit more about some of them.
It’s interesting that the Tour of ChongMing Island has chosen to go with the Stage Race, and to lose the World Cup. They started with the stage race, and added the day race specifically to join the World Cup, and I suppose it makes sense, but you can read Chloe Hosking’s blog for why riders will be hoping they’ll be making some big changes to the race – though its pretty hard to make new, interesting courses on a completely flat island that’s 81km long and 18km at the widest point.
While it does look like the cost of the Ronde van Drenthe getting into the World Tour is losing the Novilon Eurocup, all cobbles and hills, with the podium present of a luxury floor, losing day races isn’t always a bad thing – as seen by the Tour of California. The standalone, invitational ITT has gone, but the way that was run, with very limited numbers, inviting mostly USA riders with a pretty clear goal that the winner was a home rider, makes that a positive – and presumably they’ve folded the ITT into the stage race, as we keep the same number of racing days. And with the race running alongside the men next year, in the race’s 10th anniversary, it should be a spectacular event.
I was surprised to see that the Prudential Ride London GP was added to the World Tour – the rules had said that only races that were already .1 events would be eligible, and Ride London is a crit, taking place the day before the men ride the Olympic legacy road race over the same course as 2012. Now, I always love a good crit, they’re very spectator-friendly, and Ride London has a fantastic atmosphere, with huge crowds and lots to do, but I imagine there are established UCI races that were very disappointed to lose out to them.
It is interesting that the UCI seem to be trying to make sure there are races that are guaranteed for the pure sprinters. In the World Cup there were only really ChongMing and Sparkassen Giro that could be guaranteed to come to a sprint, though maybe the new 2105 Drenthe course could be added in – but now ChongMing goes from 1 to 3 sprint stages, and now there’s one pure crit and two “crit-like” races in La Course and the Madrid Challenge. And of course, there’ll be sprint stages in the stage races – the mountain goats, and climbing fans, will all be hoping that they bring some mountains in too!
Adding stage races to the World Tour makes things interesting, and of course I’m delighted that the Aviva Women’s Tour and the Giro Rosa are in there – and it already seems to be helping the Giro, who have announced that Italian bike makers Colnago are coming on board to sponsor the general Classification and Best Young Rider prizes. I’m also super-happy that the Trofeo Alfredo Binda, a long-running, fantastic women’s race, in beautiful (rain-sodden) Italy, with vicious hills and technical descents, is still around (seriously love this race – check out the videos from this year!). The UCI’s press release missed it off, and there was a collective gasp from women’s cycling fans, followed by huge relief when it was corrected. Binda was traditionally on the same day as Gent-Wevelgem, so when they started their women’s race, there was a lot of pressure on Binda to move so G-W could be part of the World Cup, which was hard for their organisers, so it’s great they could find a way to make it work – and especially because Gent-Wevelgem are adding a UCI-level junior women’s race, which will complement Binda’s UCI junior race Trofeo da Moreno, and make a nice little block of junior racing – maybe we’ll see international riders coming over for them?
So, some stats on the first World Tour – 17 races in 9 countries (3 in Belgium and Italy; 2 each in France, Great Britain, Sweden and the USA; and 1 in China, the Netherlands and Spain) – and I really like that there are races put on by the biggest race organisers (the RCS, the ASO, Flanders Classics, and Sweetspot, which is UK only, but super-professional) as well as the ones run by volunteers. Of course there are existing races I’d like to see in there, especially the Boels Rental Ladies Tour and Thüringen Rundfahrt, and I really want to see iconic men’s World Tour races add a women’s version, like Paris-Roubaix as well as the ASO step up and expand La Course and the Madrid Challenge into more than just under-90k crits, but to me, this is a really positive place to start from, and I’m excited for the season.
What other changes are there to the calendar?
So the World Tour is the biggest change, and with 2016 being an Olympic year, there’s a natural change in the balance of the calendar. There is an unfortunate tradition, in the Olympic qualifying year, of “pop-up” races appearing on the calendar, aimed at giving riders from the country they’re held in extra opportunities to ride. They’re frustrating because these races tend to only run for one year, and can turn up too late on the calendar for teams to attend – and in the long-run aren’t good for the sport – so if some of the new races are for this year only, don’t be surprised – and also if more races appear.
What have we lost?
Along with the races that have been cancelled because of the World Tour, we’ve also lost the Tour of New Zealand. This is a shame, but it isn’t a surprise – it was cancelled before, in 2012, citing costs of anti-doping, and this time the organisers blame teams not coming, and say they’re focusing on the men’s race. I can see why it’s tough, because it’s a LONG way to go for the top European teams, especially when they’re still in the off-season, but maybe there’ll be a chance it comes back, now there’s UCI racing in Australia again, to join up with.
That new UCI race in Australia, the Santos Women’s Tour, is wonderful news for the Aussies, and racing fans everywhere. The Aussie summer racing scene is vibrant and exciting, and it’s wonderful for their developing riders that they’ll be able to pick up UCI points, and come to the attention of the top teams at home, and hopefully make the jump into international pro teams – especially as there haven’t been UCI races for women in Australia since 2008. This is the second year the race has run – watch the 2015 videos here – and with two crit stages, it seems like the UCI is relaxing it’s “no crits” rule, which hopefully should make it easier for some of the other Aussie races to join them. I’d love to see the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race, for example, step up to UCI-level, and make a mini antipodean season – and I bet even more riders who want to escape grey Euro winters will want to head down under to race it. More information on the 2016 race here.
Other new races outside Europe – the three-stage Vuelta Femenil Internacional in Mexico, which doesn’t have information up yet, and the two new races in Venezuela. At first I was wondering if this was a mistake, as the names are very similar (Gran Premio and Grand Prix de Venezuela) but there’s a bit of a tradition of day races in Olympic year – and with 4 day races and the Pan-American Road Championships happening in Venezuela over ten days, that’s a good reason for top riders from North as well as South America to come to them – and it fits nicely into the second block of UCI racing in North America too. It’s a shame for the Vuelta Costa Rica, which has moved into this block only to clash with the two new races, but maybe they’ll move again as a result? They have been moving around the calendar a lot, and it would be a shame for the race and the region for riders to have to choose between them. No information about the new courses yet.
No information about the Apple Races yet – but giving riders from the Middle East the chance to race is always a good thing.
Over in Europe, we also have some interesting-looking new races. We’ve seen women’s racing in Belgium increasing over the years, and their two new races look like fun. The brand-new Pajot Hills Classic sounds like it’ll be in Pajottenland, near Brussels, which is apparently a very pretty part of the country, with lots of rolling hills, and takes place between two huge Belgian World Tour races, so I can imagine it will attract some top riders. And hell, the words “Hills Classic” always make me happy!
The other new Belgian race, the Zuidkempse Ladies Classic, has been running at national level, part of a weekend full of races for elites, juniors and u23s. This year the races were all on the same circuit, starting and finishing in Herselt in the Antwerp province, and you can watch a video of the loop here. It’s in a busy time of the calendar, running at the same time as two small European stage races as well as the Philadelphia Classic, part of the World Tour, but in general I don’t have a problem with calendar clashes, as it gives more chances for developing riders to get results and points – but this does mean it won’t attract a field full of stars.
Will these be added into the Lotto Cycling Cup? This is a series of Belgian races, with prizes for the overall competition, and it’s been getting bigger and better every year.
The last new race is the Velothon Wales, which I’ve known for the sportive, but had a UCI men’s race this year. That started and finished in Cardiff, the Welsh capital, and a gorgeous city, and headed north to Abergavenny, a fantastic town with a wonderful cycling culture (check out their Festival of Cycling), taking in the Tumble (a famous Welsh climb) and Caerphilly Mountain. If the women’s race does that, I will be very, very happy, especially as we’ve been lacking proper races for climbers on the women’s calendar. Britain has shown the world how much we love cycling, what with the Olympic and Commonwealth Games, the Tour de France depart, and the enormous success of the Aviva Women’s Tour, and I’m sure Wales will be ready to put on a show. With a festival of cycling, this will be a really great event and worth coming over for – we can have a women’s cycling meet-up afterwards and celebrate together! Again, with big names most likely over in the USA for the USA part of the World Tour, and a clash with the Swiss race, it won’t have all the big names – but I’m very much hoping the hills will attract teams over…
So that is all good, right? A net gain in race days, which will possibly be even bigger if Bretagne and l’Ardèche come back, and some really exciting developments. Up next, I’ll be looking a bit more at the shape of the 2016 season, talking about clashes, gaps, and putting 2016 into the context of calendar changes over the last 10 years, including where the changes take place.
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