Istill haven’t pinned on a race number since the French championsh­ips at the end of June, but that hasn’t stopped me from following the cycling news closely. And what I’m seeing about the future of the Conti and ProTeams worries me a bit. Apart from Alpecin-Fenix, which is the exception that proves the rule, the teams of the second and third divisions are struggling to hold their own. The time when a team like my old one, Europcar, could compete seems a long time ago. The gap between the WorldTour teams and the rest of the peloton has widened over the past two years.

Of course, at B&B Hotels p/b KTM we have ridden the last two Tours, but after almost four years of existence, it is still difficult to develop a balanced calendar that also works for the riders’ ambitions. WorldTour teams are obliged to race the entire calendar, but the teams at the lower level are dependent on wild cards. It is no secret that sometimes there is a financial hit in sponsorshi­ps and hospitalit­y to get invitation­s to certain events. But these budgets are not limitless.

Race cancellati­ons in the covid crisis did not help. The big teams looked for every win they could get after the 2020 lockdown. Their squad sizes meant they could race everywhere. That trend has continued and the strength of the big teams allows them to develop balanced programmes for their leaders, along with recovery and training phases necessary for their goals.

Athletes from ProTeams race whenever possible, where they can score points and woo race organisers for invites. It’s not beneficial in a sporting sense because the races and travel all have an effect on your form. Organisers need guest teams to enter their leaders into their events, but this isn’t good for planning a season. At B&B, riders like Quentin Pacher, Jonathan Hivert and Bryan Coquard have to race a lot early in the year, and their programme is sub-optimal. It can lead to problems later in the year: this happened to me at the Tour last year, which was the first chance we’d had to race three weeks since the team was started. Teams like mine are losing the habit of racing like this and we’re paying a heavy price.

While we end the season with about the same number of race days as WorldTour riders, our schedules are less well planned, with no events that we can use as preparatio­n for more important races. You have to hold a high level all the time and pick up as many UCI points as possible to ensure a good programme the next year. It’s a vicious circle. The only solution is for a big sponsor to buy in so we don’t have to chase invitation­s. Money is cycling’s eternal problem. It’s the lifeblood of the sport.

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