EDWARD PICKERING TEAM SIZES AND DEMOCRACY
It looks like we’ll have teams of nine at the Grand Tours and eight at the Classics in 2017, after the organisers’ late and clumsy attempt to reduce numbers was protested by teams and overruled by the UCI. The decision was announced in late November, after most teams had finalised their rosters and planned their calendars. It isn’t surprising it went down badly.
It’s a shame it was so handled so badly, because the fallout became political and so an interesting debate – whether fewer riders would be a good idea – was lost in the noise.
The idea is that having fewer riders per team should make races safer. Riders will still take risks and encounter bad luck but a less crowded road is a safer road.
The more subjective argument is that it will make races more exciting. It’s a compelling one: I’m impressed by Sky’s ability to lock down the Tour de France but don’t find it exciting. I like the Tour of Britain because its six-rider teams ensure a high level of unpredictability. However, the Tour isn’t suddenly going to explode into anarchy because the teams have eight riders. I’ve seen both brilliant and boring racing with nine-rider teams, so it’s not an exact science. The 1986 Tour, one of the best ever, had 10-rider teams, as all Tours had since 1974. Before that, there were a couple of years with 11-rider teams, and only 132 riders in total. Riders finish Grand Tours on their knees: smaller teams might make that worse and flatten the action.
Nevertheless, I think it’s worth a try. It just has to be planned with the teams, and announced a lot earlier than November.