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7th Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under - 2.HC
Australia, January 18-23, 2005
News Feature for January 22, 2005
From 2.3 to 2.HC: the JCTDU moves up
ProTour and Continental rankings in the UCI's cycling reform
By Jeff Jones, with additional reporting from Gabriella Ekström
Keen-eyed readers of Cyclingnews (and there are many of you) might have noticed a few changes in the ranking numbers next to race names as we head into the New World Order of the UCI's Cycling Reform. For example, the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under was a 2.3 class stage race last year, whereas now it's a 2.HC (HC = hors classe). Under the old rules, this would be a huge jump in the class of the race, and even under the new rules it's a pretty sizeable step. So what's with the new rules?
Explaining the UCI's Cycling Reform, which encompasses the controversial ProTour, is non-trivial, especially as significant parts of the rules are not yet readily available. Nevertheless, some explanation is required as we head into 2005.
The new ranking system
Although many fans see the UCI race and rider ranking system as a bunch of confusing acronyms, there has always been a method behind the madness. For example, it has provided a way to circumvent sticky selection issues in the cases of grand tours and classics. And - for better or worse - it has given riders and teams some sort of a benchmark to measure themselves against. It wasn't perfect in the past and isn't now, but it is necessary, as rankings are an inextricable part of sports in general.
Cycling has become segregated into the ProTour and five Continental Circuits (one each for Europe, Asia, Africa, Oceania and America). The ProTour contains all the top races, such as the Grand Tours (whether they like it or not), the former World Cup races and major classics, and selected other races such as the Tour of Poland, which has been included for the purpose of developing cycling into a bigger sport there. The various Continental Circuits contain all the other races, ranked as either HC (Hors Classe), 1 or 2. National and Continental Championships are also included on the Continental Circuit.
In one sense, this is a simplification of the former race ranking system, which classed races as GT, HC, 1, 2, 3, [4 was scrapped], 5, 6 and 7, depending on their status. But looking at the individual rider and team rankings, it will become significantly more complex. Instead of one regularly updated elite men's UCI ranking, there will be six separate rankings, one for each circuit including the ProTour, updated monthly. The leader of each ranking gets to wear a special jersey for a month, until the rankings are recalculated. In the case of the Continental Circuits, the rider may only wear that jersey when he races as part of that circuit. But it is possible to lead more than one Continental Circuit at one time.
It's also the case that the leader of the Oceania Continental Circuit, which features only six races, will lead the rankings from February (after the Tour of Wellington) through until the World Championships in September. But they won't be able to wear the jersey at all during those months, due to the lack of races!
Top riders don't earn points Down Under
As far as we can ascertain, the only riders who can lead Continental Circuits are those on Continental (professional or non-professional) teams. ProTour riders must earn their points in ProTour races. This might pain Robbie McEwen, who has won the Australian National Championships and the first two stages of the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under (a 2.HC on the Oceanian Continental Circuit). None of these victories will give him any points at all, as he is a ProTour rider winning Continental Circuit races.
"No I don't think so," McEwen agreed when we spoke to him after stage 5 of the JCTDU. "I think you have to be riding for a continental team to earn points in this race. It's not really about points for me though. It doesn't matter if a race has points or not, it will still be good to win a stage or a race, and teams will still be showing up. Look at Liberty Seguros, they don't get any UCI points either, but they still show up in very good form, and they consider this race to be important.
"The ProTour races don't start until March, and you got to race before that. I don't think anyone cares if it's a 2.3, or a non ProTour race, or a ProTour race, they can call it whatever they want, to me it's still a stage win at Tour Down Under. I don't think people will keep a tally of the races I have won: 'He has won ten races, although only five gave UCI-points' That scenario seems unlikely."
What it does mean is the old system teams of valuing riders' contracts according to the number of UCI points they have will have to be scrapped. It's now no longer that important to score points in order to gain selection into the Grand Tours: ProTour teams are automatically selected, and becoming a ProTour team seems to be about having a large budget and a financially and ethically "clean" team.
European versus other Continental Circuits
There are subtle differences between the European Continental Circuit and the other four circuits with regard to the quality of teams that are allowed to take part in. In European Hors Classe and Class 1 races, only ProTour, Continental (pro and non-pro) teams are able to participate. In the other four Continental Circuits, National teams can also ride the HC and Class 1 events. Thus, the two composite teams (United Water and UniSA) are allowed to race in the JCTDU, as they always have done. We think.
What shouldn't change within all this nomenclature and points segregation is the quality of the races. Even though not part of the ProTour, Het Volk will still be a great race to watch for a fan of the classics. Similarly, the Jacob's Creek Tour Down Under will continue to attract a good selection of international riders who want to get away from the northern winter, despite the fact that they face a strong Australian contingent, some of whom are at their peak at this time of year.
McEwen summed it up well: "Even if Tour de France wasn't a ProTour race, I'd still like to win a stage there very much," said McEwen, who is certainly very happy with his green and gold striped Aussie Champion's jersey, which he reckons is "one of the best looking in the bunch."
It's anticipated that more information will be forthcoming from the UCI about the ProTour in the coming months.