Does Promotion and Demotion have its place in pro cycling?

So, with the UCI doing more backflips than an Olympic gymnast on the number of the teams in the World Tour in coming years – first 18, down to 17, back up to 18 etc – the debate of whether cycling should have a promotion or demotion system came up. Now sitting at 18 going into next season (dependent on TJ Sport getting their act together, but that is another post in itself coming soon), the UCI have again backed down from their promise of a 16 team World Tour by 2018.

For those who don’t really know the logistics and read my blog for ‘shits and gigs’, cycling teams are bundled up into 4 different tiers. World Tour (WT) is the top – this is where the elite riders you hear about on telly race. They go and do the Grand Tours (GTs – Giro, TDF and Vuelta) and you see their brands everywhere in pro cycling. These are your Team Sky’s, BMC’s and Movistar’s.

The step down from that is the Pro Continental Tour (PCT) where you still get some pretty big riders doing some pretty big races and if they are riding the big races, you’ll see them doing the moves on telly to promote their brand or their future prospects to World Tour teams. They aren’t invited to every WT event, but organisers can bring along a couple of PCT teams to spice up the action. A few of the bigger name teams in this area are Cofidis, Direct Energie (formerly Europcar) and Bardiani.

pct v wt.jpg

BMC (far left) is a WorldTour team while One Pro Cycling (second left) is a Pro Continental Team. This is them competing together at the Tour of Yorkshire. Source: Orica GreenEdge

Further down from there is the Continental Tour (CT), and these are usually the guys who ride the big home grown races. Under UCI rules they can’t be invited to WT events but they will ride in .1 and .2 events around their local areas, or their own national competitions (they are invited to National Championships). Using my own stomping ground of Australia as an example, CT teams usually race the smaller Asian races and the National Road Series (NRS), and they have a super team (UniSA / Jayco) who band together and do the Australian ‘Summer of Cycling’ (TDU etc.). Examples of CT teams are Pat’s Veg, State of Matter MAAP (now defunct) and Avanti IsoWhey (now IsoWhey Sport SwissWellness).

Below this is the amateur ranks. These aren’t actually handled by the UCI but by the local cycling body like Cycling Australia. They would do the local competitions, Cat 1’s and 2’s and will be pretty well known on the local scene but anyone outside of the general area wouldn’t know them. Some amateur cyclists might try their hand at their respective country’s National Championships.

This classification of teams is important as it is the key to the Promotion-Demotion debate. Some people say that to keep cycling more competitive, teams will need to face the pressure of this league-system. Others say that the demotion of a team would lead to the death of sponsorship in cycling g due to instability and as a result the sport will die on a professional level. This post is written to break down the debate into its two sides, give a hypothetical on what would happen last year if a promotion demotion system was employed and then I’ll give my own opinion.

Firstly, the affirmative argument. Those in favour of a promotion and demotion system in cycling think that this system would provide more competition into pro cycling. With the risk of being demoted, teams would be more inclined to be aggressive in how they ride and very competitive and try to break free from – what some consider – the monotony of current pro cycling and its predictability. It would give the chance for high level PCT teams to compete on the higher level if they get promoted and gives reward to those teams who get promoted in the form of more sponsorship, more race days and the expansion of their name. Also, with a promotion and demotion system, it would give UCI the ability to shrink the WT more efficiently – if teams have the ability to go up and down, the WT doesn’t need to have the same amount of teams to operate on the scale it is now and as a result the peloton size can go down to something the UCI has been pushing for (and some race organisers too).

The argument against a promotion and demotion system all revolves around the future stability and sponsorship of cycling. If a team gets demoted, they would lose a lot of sponsorship, a lot of the better riders would be looking for a WT team to go to and it is almost the death of the team – left to rot in PCT with fewer WT potential riders, fewer race days and fewer sponsors to be financially sound. If this happens to half a dozen WT teams over the space of a few years, there would be a oligarchy of teams on top consistently dominating the WT standings year-after-year to the point where WT cycling becomes stale once again due to the weaker teams not being able to compete with the manpower of the heavy weights. Also, sponsorship would be a huge issue – demotion would be the death of a teams sponsorship and if the races they attend aren’t televised as much as they would be if they were on the WT (like .1 and .2 races) the sponsors would be less likely to committ to deals that’ll benefit the teams. The volatility of the promotion and demotion system would mean sponsors would be less inclined to invest as much as they might not get back their investment if a team gets demoted so overall sponsorship in cycling would decrease.

Another point is that because teams in pro cycling go bust or change owners so much and come in and out of competition, a promotion and demotion system would be unable to keep up with the flexibility of WT teams being able to do this at the moment. The affirmatives argue that you can just replace the teams with the next highest ranked PCT team or a new WT team that joins, but it is still a question to solidifying the system which flexibility works really well in currently.

tinkov fk you.jpg

We will miss you, Oleg. Tinkoff is an example of a very well off WT team going defunct, demonstrating the volatility of pro cycling. Source: CyclingTips.


That is enough of the opinions for now, here are some hypotheticals for the World Tour and what it would look like this year based on last year’s results if a promotion and demotion system. Let’s use the ultimate goal of the UCI – 16 teams in the WT – as a guide, so two teams each year would be promoted and demoted into the WT.

The UCI point standings for WT teams for 2016 are as follows:

  1. Movistar (1471)
  2. Tinkoff (1361)
  3. Team Sky (1187)
  4. Team BMC (1128)
  5. Orica (909)
  6. Katusha (789)
  7. Quick-Step (775)
  8. Cannondale (616)
  9. Trek-Segafredo (565)
  10. Astana (539)
  11. FDJ (516)
  12. Lotto NL-Jumbo (506)
  13. AG2R (482)
  14. Lotto Soudal (463)
  15. Lampre / TJ Sport (442)
  16. Giant / Sunweb (435)
  17. IAM (418)
  18. Dimension Data (290)

So using this system, Dimension Data and IAM Cycling would be relegated. However, since IAM is now defunct and has been replaced, it would mean that the newly formed Bahrain-Merida would be demoted – or Giant (now Sunweb) would be the next team in line would be demoted. This is where there would be controversy about who would get demoted – or if they would be demoted – in this scenario. If Sunweb was demoted and a new WT team was formed to fill the void, Sunweb would feel a little bit ripped off for not staying up when they weren’t in the elimination zone. If IAM’s demotion applied to Bahrain-Merida, they would feel ripped off for being demoted for doing nothing. The third solution in this case would be to not grant Bahrain-Merida a WT licence and promote two teams from PCT, meaning that Bahrain-Merida wouldn’t be able to race on a WT level for next year. If IAM wasn’t demoted and say another team was, it would be acceptable for Bahrain to take that spot (in my opinion).

Tinkoff has also become defunct in the new year and have been replaced by Bora-Hansgrohe (in my calculations). This again opens another Pandora’s Box of controversy, where who takes the spot of the non-demoted team becoming defunct if two new teams are introduced? Using the individual points for the top 5 riders on these teams (like UCI rankings) in 2016 would be the best option to determine who gets first priority of spots in the WT if a team goes defunct; Bora-Hansgrohe (877 – Sagan, Majka, McCarthy, Saramotins, Konig) has the advantage over Bahrain-Merida (664 – Nibali, Haussler, Izaguirre, Visconti, Siutsou), so Bora would take Tinkoff’s spot and Bahrain would take the spot of IAM.

cavendish-tour-california

Cavendish’s Dimension Data would suffer a demotion to PCT if the promotion-demotion system was deployed. Source: Sky Sports

Now time to figure out which teams would be promoted. These are the Rankings for PCT teams in 2016 (because I am unable to find UCI Rankings, I will use PCS Rankings, which if used on the WT would say Sunweb and Dimension Data would be demoted – if anyone can find UCI Rankings for these I will update the article):

  1. Direct Energie (1807 – different point system so these will be inflated)
  2. Wanty-Groupe Gobert (1692)
  3. Bardiani (1673)
  4. Cofidis (1590)
  5. Caja Rural (1503)
  6. Bora-Argon / Bora-Hansgrohe (1277 – but now promoted)
  7. Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec (1179)
  8. Fortuneo-Vital Concept (1137)
  9. Roompot-Oranje Peloton (1107)
  10. Wilier-Southeast (1088)
  11. CCC (1015)
  12. Gazprom-Rusvelo (948)
  13. Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise (901)
  14. One Pro (817)
  15. Nippo-Vini Fantini (785)
  16. Stotling (649)
  17. Delko KTM (594)
  18. Drapac (592 – now part of Cannondale)
  19. UnitedHealthCare (585)
  20. Team Roth (556)
  21. Verva ActiveJet (530)
  22. Funvic (258 – team now suspended due to systematic doping)
  23. Novo Nordisk (217)

This places the top two teams at PCT level as Direct Energie and Wanty-Groupe Gobert. These two teams have had some success on the World Tour this year – with Direct Energie going to Le Tour and La Vuelta and Wanty Rider Gasparotto winning the Amstel Gold Race – so it isn’t surprising to see them on top and therefore in this system get promoted.

NETHERLANDS CYCLING AMSTEL GOLD RACE

Wanty would be one of the beneficiaries of this promotion system. Source: AAP.


So where does this leave us? It leaves us with quite a different World Tour than we would expect for next year. Sky, Movistar, Bora, BMC, Orica, Katusha, Quick-Step, Cannondale, Trek, Astana, FDJ, Lotto Jumbo, Lotto Soudal, AG2R, TJ Sport (if they stay afloat, otherwise this spot would go to Bahrain-Merida or any new team that replaces them), Sunweb, Direct Energie and Wanty. No Dimension Data, no Bahrain-Merida and quite possibly no TJ Sport if their application doesn’t go through.

It would be interesting to see a promotion and demotion system from PCT to CT too, saying that the bottom 4 teams at PCT level get demoted and the highest 4 ranked teams at CT level get promoted, it would mean Roth, Verva and Novo get demoted, allowing Wallonie-Bruxelles, Verandas Willems, Skydive Dubai and Kolss BDC to get promoted; and Crelan and Pishgaman to replace the leaving Bora and Drapac. This is another kettle of fish as well due to how the CT is split up between regions, but still possibly could be done (hell this is another post in itself because of how much intricacy it would have).

skydive dubai.jpg

The Continental Tour is just…confusing. Skydive Dubai is just one of 163 CT teams. Source: Mona Al Marzooqi.

Now time to give my own opinion on this issue. I believe that there isn’t a place in cycling for a promotion-demotion system. It would turn away sponsors due to the increased risk of investing in a team and quite possibly not getting the return if a team gets demoted. It also increases the volatility of an already volatile sport to unsustainable levels – and pro cycling would die as a result. While I believe PCT and CT teams should have more opportunities to race on a more elite level, they don’t belong in the World Tour unless they can secure a licence to get promoted – there shouldn’t be any automatic promotion.

Thanks for reading this post guys! It’s quite the brainstorm about the situation of pro cycling right now and how sponsorship and promotion-demotion would influence the sport in the future. Hopefully I explained it enough so if you don’t follow cycling you can get an idea of how this works, but it is quite a contentious issue in the community at the moment. For now, I’m out.

~ The Cycling Raven