Looking back at the 2016 Road Cycling Calendar – and ahead to 2017

For the last six years, on and off, I’ve been doing some research and analysis of the women’s cycling road calendar.  I started this in the first place because I wanted to really understand the impact of losing and gaining races because I hadn’t seen it anywhere else; and because I work visually, I ended up with lots of colour-coordinated charts and spreadsheets.  You can find the earlier posts in the Podium Café series, and then the posts from last year under the women’s road calendar tag on this website.

Now, I usually do this when the UCI announces the coming year’s calendar, around the Road World Champs, but this year, I couldn’t face it, and saved it up until a newsworthy time – which turned out to be a good move. The thing that stopped me doing it  is that it changes so much in the months between the announcement and when the races actually take place.

We see this every year – new races that are announced that never run (I’m thinking of the Syrian races, which were included in the calendar for years, even though the war made it perfectly clear they’d never happen, as the most egregious examples, but every year there are more), ones that move around the calendar between initial announcement, and the “pop-up” races that are given UCI status so late in the year that of course most big teams, who have to set their racing schedules in the summer, can’t get there.  If you want examples, check out my posts about the 2016 season:  the initial announcement in October, changes between October and December, and then more changes by February.

And now it’s time for my annual look at the difference between was was initially on the calendar for 2016, and what was actually raced – and then I’ll look ahead to what we know about 2016.  Prepare for the colour coding!

How did the 2016 calendar change between original publication and racing?

To have a closer look, click on each image, or you can open the PDF version.

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I hope the colour-coding is pretty self-explanatory.  Green is for new races for 2016, yellow is for races that were smaller than first announced, red is for races that were cancelled after they were announced last October (or that came onto the calendar after October, but were never raced), and blue are for the big competitions to take into account.  Races in italics were added or changed between the initial announcement and actually being raced.

I get my information about what was raced from the UCI results pages.  If you’re not sure what the rankings mean, I have an explanation of how races work over here.

What does this mean?

I’m used to the calendar changing a lot, but this feels like more than normal – an incredible 45 races that changed between the calendar being announced in October 2015, and of those, 22 were races that were added after October (7 of these came onto the calendar late, but were never actually run).   9 races were moved from their slots on the calendar published last October, and 8 other races that were on the original October calendar were also cancelled.

Of course, it’s hard to tell exactly why some races were added to the calendar late – was it problems getting national Federation or UCI accreditation, or just being disorganised, but with so many new races getting moved or cancelled, or just being too late to attract the top field, this is an issue the UCI needs to look at to make sure it doesn’t happen again

One obvious change would be for the UCI to have a solid cut-off date, where if a race hasn’t been accredited by a certain time (ideally when the calendar is published) they can’t be added to the following year’s calendar, and must wait for the following year.  And then, when there are changes made to the published calendar, these should be relayed to the teams, and definitely published on the UCI website – maybe in a monthly bulletin.  It seems really inefficient for the teams and media to have to keep checking the calendar themselves.

And the number of new races allowed onto the calendar that are never actually run suggests that the UCI needs to have another look at the criteria for giving races ranking.  It is a huge disadvantage to the new races that have good organisers behind them, but I can see why a lot of teams might decide not to race something in the first year, because there’s such a record of new races falling apart before they’ve even begun.

I should add a caveat here, that part of the problem is that 2016 was an Olympic year, and there are some Federations that are notorious for allowing “pop up” races that are only planned to run in the Olympic qualifying period.  A cynical person might see it as an advantage for this kind of race to be added onto the calendar late, and so have fewer entries from the big international teams, so more opportunities for domestic riders to grab those UCI points.  I will be showing this in diagram form later in the week.

***

How does the 2017 calendar compare to 2016?

View PDF version here

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Another set of tables!  In this one, green indicates a new race for 2017, red is a race that was run in 2016 but isn’t on the calendar for 2017, and yellow is a race that has reduced between years.  This year, the biggest change has been giving UCI ranking to women’s crit races (45min-1 hour-long multi-lap races around a very short circuit) for the first time.  These are pretty much all existing Crits, mostly in the USA and the Netherlands, and I’ve coloured them cyan, so they don’t get confused with the road races.

***

Races we’ve lost

We’ve lost a big chunk of the “pre-season” races – the hilly Tour de San Luís in Argentina, which is a real shame, as it had live streaming and amazing social media; the races in Thailand and Israel, which were less of a surprise, as they were added late to last year’s calendar, and felt like “pop-up” races, as did the Mexican race.  It frustrates me that the races in the “non-traditional” cycling nations tend to only happen in Olympic years, because of course it’ll be so much harder for women in those countries to gain the skills needed to win them.

But the biggest early race to be cancelled was just announced yesterday, the Ladies Tour of Qatar, and this is big news.

The LToQ was seen as the real start to the season for a lot of fans – the first time we got to see the new iterations (and kit) for a lot of the big teams.  It’s always been a race that left me conflicted, for a lot of reasons.  On one hand, it’s provided me with some of my favourite racing moments, because when the wind blows, and the riders are out in the desert, it’s just spectacular, non-stop attacking, and gorgeous riding – although with a caveat that if it’s not windy, it can be hard to escape, and therefore dull.  And I’ve loved that we’ve been able to watch it, and that the riders got to stay in Five Star luxury,

But on the other hand, it’s in Qatar, with all the human rights abuses that go with that, so I’ve always felt guilty enjoying the race.  And the 2016 Road World Championships, with the weird dystopian vibe, the difficulties of getting water to the riders, vehicles in the road and the truly awful story of junior Susanne Andersen being deliberately knocked off her bike by a Police officer, has soured me to it.

The organisers are the ASO, who of course run the Tour de France, and many more important races, but it’s been bankrolled by the Qatari government, with a strong suspicion that it was there to help them with their Olympic bid.  The official reason for it being cancelled is lack of sponsorship, but my personal theory is that it’s because the Qataris have realised they won’t get the Olympics, with a side-order of pique about the (justified) criticisms of Road Worlds..  I’m gutted for the riders, because it was a great start to the season, but for everything else, I think it’s right that it’s gone.

What else has gone?

The Ronde van Gelderland and the Boels Rental Hills Classic have both gone as a result of the new Amstel Gold Race:  the Boels Classic because it was basically the same race as Amstel, just different organisers and later in the season; and I’m pretty sure the fact Boels Rental is a sponsor of Amstel put pressure on the race organisers to put the women’s race back on the programme again, and make it a Monument.  Gelderland, on the other hand, was unlucky to be on the same day as Amstel, and so didn’t really have a choice, though I hope we see it re-emerge, because it was a good race.

Some of the Venezuelan races have a history of only running in the Olympic qualifying period, but with the civil unrest there, I can give them a break for not running next year.  The Finnish race, .4 NEA, clashed with so many other races, I can understand why it struggled for teams this year, so I’m not surprised it’s gone – as did Auensteiner-Radsporttage.  All of these races suffer from there not being a development level of UCI races for the women, like the men have, so they’re all chasing a finite number of big teams.

The Tour de Pologne also struggled for big teams, as it also clashed with some big races – and being part of the men’s race, it can’t move to try to help itself, though I’d love to see some more UCI-ranked women’s racing in Poland.

The French races?  I just don’t know.  Last year, Tour de Bretagne, Tour de l’Ardèche and Chrono des Nations weren’t on the calendar when it was published, but they still managed to run, but they both struggle year after year.  Some people excuse this by saying run by volunteer committees; but the same goes for the majority of women’s races, who get sponsors and media, and are run like clockwork.  Will they come back?  I hope so, because we need the races in France.

Update!  A couple of people have told me that the Tour de l’Ardèche is definitely going ahead, and that the UCI has confirmed this – BUT it’s not on the calendar.  Apparently it’s to do with the French Federation not sending in the paperwork?  The race website hasn’t been updated with any 2017 information, and it seems ridiculous that if this is the case, it’ not been dealt with, as the calendar was published nearly two months ago – and it’s also ridiculous that teams can’t trust the calendar when they’re making decisions.  It’s bad enough that the women’s calendar is published so late in the year (the men’s comes out earlier) – and last year I talked to two team DSs to ask them about the impact the calendar problems have on their decision making:  ORICA-AIS’ Marv Barras, for the bigger team perspective, and Matrix Procycling’s Stefan Wyman for the small team PoV.

Finally, the South African races.  The UCI have the ones that ran in 2016 listed on the 2017 calendar, but in a really odd way, so I don’t know if this is some policy that the “year” runs from November now?  It could be anything with those, but if they are counted as the 2018 season, that’s hard – and I feel for them, because while they’re not on the calendar, it’ll be harder to attract big teams, many of whom, unless they have South African connections, will see the season as closed after Worlds already.

***

So what about the new races?

The Crits

The biggest impact on the calendar are the addition of the Crits.  There have been UCI-ranked men’s Crits since 2012, but this is a first for the women’s races, and it’s been a “quick win” that makes it look like we’ve not lost so many races in 2017.  In terms of the numbers, we had 95 races last year, with 203 racing days, and in 2017 it will be 215 racing days over 107 races.  But that 2017 figure includes 32 new Crits, and because some of them have multiple days racing, 45 race days.  Remove them from the total, and we’re looking at a significant reduction in women’s road racing next year, and that’s a real issue.

I’ll come back to how this fits into the history of women’s racing, and talk about the problems, and the impact of the Olympics on the women’s calendar, in Part 2, but I wanted to mention it here as a detail that adding the Crits could mask.

Then there’s the interesting set of Crits that have UCI status.  The USA has a strong Crit culture (with all kinds of unique additions, especially the many in-race cash prizes for laps that can make them more profitable to race for the money than for the overall win) but they’re not the only ones, even though they’re the biggest block of new 2017 races.

I’m wondering why, for example, the Mitchelton Bay Crits, which are UCI-ranked for the men as CRT haven’t added the women’s?  And why none of the UK Crits have been added?  Is it because they didn’t see the point, or because they didn’t know it was possible?  I totally missed that this was a new thing for next season, so I’d be very interested if anyone knows more.

And then there’s the interesting question of whether having UCI status will make a difference to the Crits.  It’s hard to say – for example, the Winston-Salem Crit already gets the riders from the Road Race on the same weekend, so I don’t see it adding incentive for teams to race them, especially as it seems the CRT races don’t give riders, teams or nations points in the various UCI rankings.  It’s great that this is another step to giving the women parity with the men, but I wish it had been a more meaningful structural change.

The new road races – Women’s World Tour 2017

Amstel Gold and Liège-Bastogne-Liège are well known to fans of men’s cycling, and I’m always happy that the women get to ride the big Spring Classics, especially the Monuments like Liège.  Peter van der Veen blogged about the negative side of Amstel, but overall I’m happy about having them there.  I’m especially interested in Liège, as that’s run by the ASO, who don’t seen very interested in women’s racing – so I really hope this helps change their mind, especially with the loss of Qatar, and I really hope that we see a women’s Paris-Roubaix in the future (and of course a multi-stage Tour de France).

Of course the addition of these to the Women’s World Tour is interesting, as the parameters for the 2016 WWT included already being a .1 race, and having significant tv/streaming.  I’m guessing the UCI will keep bending these rules for races with big names (we didn’t get great coverage of Flèche Wallonne this year, eg) so if really hope we get to see these ones live.

And two existing races have taken a step up to WWT – the Ladies Tour of Norway and the Boels Rental Ladies Tour, which are races I really love.   I’d love to see them joined by Thüringen Rundfahrt and the Emakumeen Bira next year (both of which have struggled with being expected to move for WWT races)  – and of course I’m very disappointed that La Course has actually reduced in length for 2017, rather than expand into even a two-day race.

The other new races

Dwars door de Vlaanderen is a fun race that’s taking a step up from domestic to UCI after 5 years, and of course I’ll love more racing in Flanders!  It’s run by Flanders Classics, who also run the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Gent-Wevelgem and Omloop het Nieuwsblad, and this leaves only Scheldeprijs and Brabantse Pijl as races in their stable without UCI women’s races.

The Semana Ciclista Valenciana is a brand-new race that I can’t find much information about (there’s no website yet), but it’s great to see more racing in Spain, one of the heartlands of cycling.

The GP of Boise is a stand-alone ITT, the only UCI-registered one in the USA.  It’s aka the Chrono Kristin Armstrong, named after the triple Olympic ITT Champion, and it will have races for men and women.

***

So overall, fewer new races this year – but having seen how many “new” races last year never made it to actually running, and how many of the new 2016 races aren’t running in 2017, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing – though the overall net loss of races and racing days is worrying.

I’ll be back with more analysis very soon – taking a closer look at the shape of the 2017 season, and how 2016 and 2017 fit into the patterns of the last ten years.

If you have any questions, comments, or have spotted holes in my maths, please do leave me a comment below, or talk to me about it on twitter.

As always, I’m funded to spend time doing this kind of thing by my wonderful Patreon supporters.  If you want to join them, for as little as $/£/€ 2 a month, I’d be very grateful – all the information about that is over here.

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5 thoughts on “Looking back at the 2016 Road Cycling Calendar – and ahead to 2017

  1. As ever a brilliant and comprehensive analysis Sarah. I’m obsessive enough (as Twitter followers know) to be really interested in this topic too – particularly as a newbie to pro women’s cycling. I find the comings and goings in the calendar completely bizarre. Can you imagine a tennis player or a track & field athlete starting the year not knowing which tournaments were going to happen and which weren’t? It seems to me that the UCI have essentially failed to take a sensible overview of this. The calendar has evolved rather than being created to deliver a rational programme of x.WWT and x.1 events for the top riders, and x.2 events for the next tier. That development tier, both in terms of national events and x.2 events is critical for the future health of the sport, and is not being given enough attention.

    The introduction of the crits is interesting. I’ve been following racing in Australia closely this winter and have enjoyed the crits there (the Launceston event had great live streaming coverage, the St Kilda Shimano Supercrit somewhat less good coverage). I agree that it seems bizarre that the Michelton Bay women’s race hasn’t applied for UCI recognition – I suspect they didn’t because they didn’t know they could. Crits definitely have a place – but the huge number of American races that just seem to have been dumped into the calendar without obvious planning as to how they may affect other races… that’s an issue.

    Two other big problems I have:

    1. Ridiculous clashes. For example, at the end of April we have Elsy Jacobs, Tour de Yorkshire, Gracia Orlova and Zhoushan Island all running simultaneously. Certainly Elsy Jacobs and Tour de Yorkshire are competing for the same riders. The year after clashing with the Olympics, Route de France is going to be even more inconvenienced by clashing with the road race in the European Championships. Chrono Champenois is a race that should get a big boost as the best standalone ITT in Europe – but it clashes with Madrid. (Fortunately this year it isn’t also clashing with Toscana). Arranging the calendar to avoid such daft clashes is not rocket science, frankly. It just needs someone logical and thorough at the UCI to sit down for a day or two and sort it out.

    2. The awarding of WWT status seems to be more related to whether your face fits than how good your race is. What Tour of Norway and Boels Rentals Ladies Tour have done right that Bira and Thuringen Rundfahrt haven’t is beyond me. The Bira organisers must have really irritated the UCI – there was that crazy suggestion at one point that the race would be run in February. Which as Yolanda Alvarez pointed out on Twitter is rather interesting now we know what has happened to Qatar. Personally I’d have liked Lotto Belgium Tour to be WWT too, but I am biased and I guess a step up from 2.2 to 2.1 is going in the right direction.

    Couple of other things. Paris Roubaix would be great (and there’s not much happening that weekend) – but so would a women’s Milan San Remo (tricky as this is the same weekend as Trofee Alfredo Binda) and a women’s Il Lombardia (Elle Lombardia maybe? – the week after Giro dell’Emilia and Bruno Beghelli is perfect). And good riddance to Qatar frankly – after the Susanne Andersen incident I don’t want any of my favourite riders anywhere near the place.

    • You should follow the people I follow on Twitter (including Sarah, @_pigeons_). They’ve been the best education to this amazing sport that I could hope to have had.

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