NEW Briefing: team sizes in focus
The rationale and impact of smaller squads
You probably know by now that the UCI has agreed to cut team sizes from nine to eight in Grand Tours, and impose a maximum of seven for other international races. The official reason for doing this is rider safety, although some in the sport believe that it is at least partly to try and loosen Team Sky’s stranglehold on the Tour de France, while others point to more exciting racing as a key benefit.
So much for the potential benefits. But after the dust has settled on this new-look peloton, what will the fallout look like?
Will a lot of riders lose their jobs? Yes, in a word. Because while teams will only be reduced by one rider in any given race, each team has different squads for different races, plus a variety of back-up riders, so it’s not a case of simply reducing a Worldtour roster by one. Some teams will lose three or four, but then some will stay the same and some — Bahrain-merida and Trek-segafredo — are actually going to be gaining a rider. With three teams still to confirm their rosters for next year, the known net loss to the Worldtour peloton is 21 riders, a number that’s likely to increase.
So who’s for the high jump? Quick Step boss Patrick Lefevere makes no bones about it: “If I take five riders less it won’t be the big stars, it’ll be the old guys, the cheap guys,” he said. “Cheap isn’t a good word… but it won’t actually change my budget massively.” It’s a situation, he agrees, that means teams are less likely to take a chance on young talent — a sentiment echoed by Cannondale-drapac boss Jonathan Vaughters when he spoke to Cycling Weekly last week.
What about team staff? Will teams have to lose them too? Not all teams will lose staff members. Movistar, for example, is launching a women’s team for 2018 and has actually opted to add a staff member — a new mechanic. But not all teams are in this position, and there are expected to be significant numbers of staff made redundant. Lefevere predicts that for every five riders lost, at least four staff will need to go. The number of staff out of a job will be roughly equivalent to the number of riders — it’s a significant tally.
Surely though, it’s worth it for safer racing? That’s hard to disagree with, but are there less painful ways to achieve greater safety? City-centre race finishes, with their road furniture and traffic, are a prime candidate for improvement in the eyes of many, including Lefevere and Gianni Bugno, president of the pro cyclists’ association (CPA), who said: “This operation is only intended to reduce the costs for the organisers and the teams. It’s a cost-cutting operation at the expense of the riders.”
Quick Step boss says it’s not just riders who will lose their jobs