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The UCI World Cup: A Look Back at 15 Years and a Look Ahead
By Staff
Date: 10/27/2003
The UCI World Cup: A Look Back at 15 Years and a Look Ahead

The UCI World Cup, A Look Back at 15 Years and a Look Ahead

By Tony Szurly

The World Cup recently ended its 15th year with the completion of the Giro di Lombardia on October 19th. The UCI’s World Cup, a season-long points-based competition, was devised in 1989 as a way to help promote the globalization of professional cycling, tying together a string of well-established classic races with a newer generation of events. The idea was to help support the expansion of professional cycling into countries that did not have the tradition of the western European nations like Italy, France, the Netherlands and Belgium and help secure a larger, more worldwide audience for organizers, sponsors and advertisers. The races occupy slots on the calendar from March to October.

How it Works

There are currently ten events that comprise the World Cup competition. These are Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, the Amstel Gold Race, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, HEW Cyclassics, San Sebastien, Championship of Zurich, Paris-Tours and the Giro di Lombardia. The first 25 riders in each race gain respectively 100, 70, 50, 40, 36, 32, 28, 24, 20, 16, 15, 14, 13, 12, 11, 10, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 point towards the overall. Individual riders must start 6 events to be qualified for the overall final standings.

Teams can obtain 12, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2 and 1 point in each race towards the overall World Cup team title. The 22 Division I teams in professional world cycling are automatically qualified for all World Cup races, and must ride 8 out of the ten rounds. Individual race organizers can invite Division II and III teams up to a maximum of 25. This helps to promote smaller teams in their home countries and fills the field if any Division I team decline.

What’s the Verdict?

When it kicked off as a successor to the Super Prestige Pernod competition in 1989, the World Cup traveled to 8 different countries for it’s then 11 rounds. The mix of events that comprised the World Cup fluctuated over the next eight years, with six different races being added and then removed from the competition. While once there were World Cup events in North America (GP Americas), England (Wincanton, Leeds and Rochester Classics) and Japan (Japan Cup), these are no longer included. Since 1998, the competition has included the same 10 races we see now (Milan, Flanders, Roubaix, Amstel, Liege, HEW, San Sebastien, Zurich, Paris-Tours and Lombardy). Today the World Cup does not leave Europe and travels to only seven countries; in reality the competition still resides within the traditional cycling hotbeds.

There have been sharp criticisms of the present World Cup format. Foremost among these is that there is no title sponsor of the World Cup and thus no additional money is drawn in to create a financial incentive for teams or riders. Johan Museeuw, the most successful rider in the World Cup since it’s inception, has always been vocal in his disappointment that the winning rider receives no additional bonus from the UCI or from any title sponsor. Other than a jersey that can only be worn in World Cup races and the marketing opportunities available by promoting the World Cup title, there is no financial reward and no additional UCI points for winning the overall series. Any financial gains for the rider are usually borne by the team in the form of bonuses. While winning the team title does guarantee entry into the Grand Tours, for the most part a team that is strong enough to win the overall World Cup would most probably qualify anyway as a Top Club.

Another major area of criticism is that because individual race organizers own the TV broadcast negotiating rights for their own race, the UCI does not really have any leverage to insure broader coverage to support their “growing the market” strategy. This has been especially evident in the Milan-San Remo case. The owners of the broadcast rights charged such exorbitant fees that no stations in Spain showed the race live. All the UCI could do was issue empty threats to withdraw Milan-San Remo from the World Cup calendar. In the meantime, Spanish team managers took the heat as the lack of television coverage disappointed their sponsors and there was talk of a Spanish boycott

Some of the races currently on the World Cup calendar simply do not hold enough appeal for either sponsors or fans. This may change as the events build their own history. Some may argue that simply labeling a race as a World Cup event does not make it a world-class race but the cachet and marketing opportunities surely make races like the HEW, San Sebastien and perhaps even Paris-Tours more appealing to sponsors and advertisers. These events continue to prosper by their association with World Cup but do not share in compensating the riders or teams, although they pay a hefty fee to the UCI for their inclusion. Although the World Cup has made occasional forays into a broader market (Japan, North America, the United Kingdom) these have failed to stick. Many events became “one time only” affairs and the competition remains Western Europe based.

Looking Ahead

In Hamilton, Canada, UCI President Hein Verbruggen outlined his plan for the future at the recently concluded World Championships. "I think that the decisions we've taken today for professional cycling are logical steps from all the work we've done to restructure cycling. At the moment we have some 1,100 Pro-riders in around 60 teams in Division I and II with a total sponsor budget of 300-350 million Euro" Verbruggen explained. "There are less and less sponsors who can afford to invest in cycling, and they are reluctant to spend millions without knowing whether they will be allowed to enter the Tour de France”.

The proposed UCI Professional Competition strives "to make the sport more attractive to sponsors”. Alain Rumpf, the professional cycling manager at the UCI explained it like this- "the new UCI ProTour will consist of 20 teams that will be licensed to compete in a series of 30 races consisting of approximately 180 days of racing" with around 500 riders having the right, and perhaps more importantly, a contractual obligation to participate in every one of the selected races. To decide which events will make up the ProTour races, the PCC will have to evaluate the various races based on criteria such as the history of the event, the quality of the organization, the amount and breadth of television coverage, as well as the financial health of the event itself.

The UCI sees Scandinavia (marketed as a region) and the Benelux countries (again, marketed as a region) along with Germany, Great Britain and Poland as the most interesting markets for sponsors. Perhaps the new program will include races in these regions.

Will this new Professional Cycling Competition replace the present World Cup setup? It appears so, but one thing that remains constant is the prestige of winning the historically significant races like Milan, Flanders, Roubaix, Liege, and Lombardy. It’s not by accident that these are referred to as the “Monuments”. They are touchstone events that transcend any artificial competition driven by marketing or commercial interests. Riders literally become part of history when they join the list of winners and can claim their place alongside the legends.

As we look back at the last fifteen years, the World Cup hasn’t really accomplished its lofty goals. Perhaps this new proposal for the PCC will create a more balanced and stable competitive and economic environment for sponsors and professional cyclists alike. We’ll check back in 2018!

Some World Cup “Fun Facts”

  • 83 different men have won the 156 World Cup races since 1989
  • Number of different winners in a season: Most- 11, 1989 Least- 7, 2003
  • Most World Cup wins: Johan Museeuw, 11 wins
  • Most World Cup wins in one year: Paolo Bettini, 3 wins
  • Most World Cup wins in same race: Erik Zabel, 4 wins in Milan-San Remo
  • Oldest Overall winner: Andrei Tchmil, 36 years old, 1999
  • Youngest Overall winner: Gianluca Bortolami, 26 years old, 1994
  • World Cup Overall win but no World Cup race wins: Maurizio Fondriest, 1991
  • Most Country wins: Italy-55 wins, Belgium 27, France 15

Italian domination- Italians have won 36% of all World Cup races since 1989 and six out of the ten rounds in the same year twice (1996 and 2002)

Most Wins by Country- Is there any Home Field Advantage?

  • Italians have won 47% of the time at Milan San Remo
  • Belgians have won 47% of the time at Flanders
  • Belgians have won 40% of the time at Paris-Roubaix
  • Italians have won 33% of the time at Liege
  • Dutchmen have won 27% of the time at Amstel
  • Italians have won 50% of the time at HEW (only 6 races held)
  • Italians have won 40% of the time at San Sebastien
  • Italians have won 53% of the time at Zurich
  • Belgians have won 27% of the time at Paris-Tours
  • Italians have won 40% of the time at Lombardy

Photo credits: UCI, AFP, Quickstep-Davitamon.
Please visit Tony's great Andrea Tafi site, Io Tifo Tafi.

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