April 6, 2010 by Irish Peloton
Split the Pro Tour down the middle.
Since 1948 there has always been a season long competition comprised of a number of top races. Points are awarded to riders depending on their finishing positions in the particular races, and the winner is the rider with the most points at the end of the year. First came the Challenge Desgrange-Colombo which ran until 1958. It was then replaced with the Super Prestige Pernod prize which ran for 29 years until 1987. Both of these season long competitions consisted of one day races, stage races and Grand Tours. Then along came the road World Cup which consisted only of one day races. The road World Cup was contested until 2004 after which the Pro Tour was introduced. This is when fans and riders seemed to stop caring about any season long competition.
The success of the Pro Tour was impeded by bickering between cycling’s governing body the UCI and the main race organisers RCS, ASO and Unipublic. The calendar was never consistent, Pro Tour teams were obliged to compete in every Pro Tour race, there were too many races and the points system which was used to declare the winner was ill-conceived. The competition descended into farce in 2007 when the Pro Tour leader Danilo Di Luca got embroiled in a doping scandal and was expelled from the competition with only one race left to be decided.
Decades ago, there were far more all rounders than there are today. There were riders who could win sprints and also challenge for Grand Tours. There were riders who could compete in Paris-Nice and Paris-Roubaix. These days a rider’s focus is far more specific. The presence of a season long competition which includes both one day races and stage races no longer makes sense. Attempting to classify Alberto Contador and Mark Cavendish using the same system is madness. Essentially, they are competing in different sports. It would be like attempting to classify Usain Bolt and Haile Gebrselassie in the same category. Alberto Contador won the UCI Pro Tour classification last year and did so despite not competing in any of the races which comprised the old road World Cup. There are only four riders in the current peloton who’ve won a Grand Tour and a monument classic, Valverde, Vinokourov, Cunego and Di Luca (and only one of them still has their reputation intact).
The UCI should never have gotten rid of the World Cup. In an edition of Cycle Sport magazine from December 2007 after Di Luca had been stripped of the leader’s jersey, directeur sportifs were asked their opinions of the Pro Tour. Both Dirk De Mol and Eric Boyer suggested that there be two classifications within the Pro Tour, one for single day races and one for stage races. This makes far more sense than the current format. If this had been the format of season long competition since the old World Cup was gotten rid of, the following would be the results (along with the actual Pro Tour winners):
The results in the table above for the one day classification were calculated using the same points system for the road World Cup and the same 10 one day races were used bar one exception: Zuri-Metzgete was replaced with the GP Ouest-France Plouay. For the stage race category, the ten stage races currently on the Pro Tour (not including Grand Tours) were used in the table of results. Only positions within the final General Classement were considered when assigning points. The points assigned were consistent with those used by the UCI in the most recent edition of the road World Cup.
Last year, Philippe Gilbert would have won the One Day Pro Tour competition by amassing almost double the points of his nearest challenger. In 2007, Oscar Freire would have won by a slender 4 points from Alessandro Ballan. Although neither rider decided to ride the final one day race in the competition, the Tour of Lombardy. Perhaps they both would have raced had there been the season long prize to be won. In the stage race category a similar situation would have appeared in 2006 and 2008. In 2006, Andreas Kloden and Roman Kreuziger would have been tied for the lead coming into the last race with Cadel Evans 20 points behind. However none of them decided to race the final stage race, the Eneco Tour. In 2008, it was the same scenario. This time it was Evans who was leading, 17 points ahead of Stefan Schumacher but neither competed in the Pro Tour finale. It’s interesting to note that only once, Valverde in 2008, would the winner of the Pro Tour have won either the one day or stage race classification.
For the above table, each race was given equal weighting. Obviously winning an edition of Paris-Nice is far more prestigious than winning the Tour of Poland. But this was the way in the old World Cup too. Winning the HEW Cyclassics was worth the same amount of points as winning Paris-Roubaix. Every rider, if given the choice between winning one of the races or winning the season long prize would certainly choose the race itself every time. However, the season long prize is not without its merits. A classy looking leader’s jersey would lead to greater exposure for the leader’s team’s sponsor (although there have been some horrid leader’s jerseys for the World Cup over the years). Seán Kelly once credited winning the Super Prestige competition with saving his 1985 season. He racked up a fair amount of wins but had failed to reach the heights of his 1984 season. Kelly went all out in the Tour of Lombardy in 1985 to snatch the season long prize from the Australian Phil Anderson.
The UCI shouldn’t be trying to compare apples and oranges which is what the current system attempts. Instead riders should be allowed the opportunity to be compete for a season long competition which makes sense. A World Cup style format to racing wouldn’t devalue the glory of achieving victory in a single race. Instead, an extra layer of intrigue would be appended to the races, as the race for minor placings would be more keenly contested. Currently the rider at the top of the UCI World Rankings is Luis Leon Sanchez, but he’s not a rider for the one day races at all. Surely Tom Boonen’s 2nd places in Milan San Remo and the Tour of Flanders is deserving of the lead in a separate classification. The UCI could still maintain an overall World Ranking concurrently if they so wish, as they did from 1984 until 2004. The only reason that races like Paris-Roubaix and Paris-Nice are considered so prestigious is because the top riders race in them. Furthermore, the reason the top riders race in them is because the races have been around for so long and have such a rich history. The UCI need to work out a season long prize which works, and then stick with it to allow the competition to lay down roots and give it a chance to become prestigious. The idea proposed here is one way to provide season long competitions, there are others that have been suggested and may also work. But something needs to be done to the current format because fans haven’t cared about a season long prize since 2004.