World cycling’s president David Lappartient will investigate a raft of measures to break Team Sky’s dominance including budget caps and smaller team sizes, declaring: “Something needs to change.”
Geraint Thomas’s Tour de France triumph was Sky’s sixth in the past seven years dating back to Bradley Wiggins’s success in 2012, and meant Sky have won all of the past four grand tours.
While Thomas’s victory garnered national interest in Britain, most traditional cycling nations around Europe reported a decrease in TV viewing figures, with fans complaining that many stages were boring and predictable.
On Monday, a director of an unnamed rival team told French newspaper Libération: “The problem in cycling isn’t doping anymore, it’s money.” And Lappartient agrees, suggesting Sky’s ongoing success is detrimental to the sport.
“Something needs to change. We will create a working group to look at the attractiveness of professional races,” he told Swiss newspaper Le Temps. “The goal is to have the best riders in different teams and so limiting the overall budget would mean better riders and a more attractive race.”
Sky have an estimated budget of around £30m, believed to be substantially more than any other team and almost as much as the UCI itself.
I’m against an individual salary cap,” Lappartient said. “If a team wants to pay a rider €8m (£7m) that’s not a problem, but I think we could regulate the overall payroll budget of the teams to balance their strengths.
“Team Sky have Geraint Thomas, Chris Froome and Egan Bernal, three riders who could finish first second and third at the Tour de France. However, in the interest of cycling it is better if the best riders are in different teams.”
One measure Lappartient is considering is reducing team sizes from eight to six. This year they dropped from nine to eight, officially for safety reasons, and a further reduction would weaken the influence of a leader’s team-mates.
“Sky win and they’d be wrong not to but the public sees things differently. They want a show. Sky are like a football team that plays very well but without exciting its fans. When the viewer sees eight riders of the team dictating the pace and locking down the race, they quickly change channels to watch a soap opera. The ball is in our court, it’s up to the UCI to make sure that its races are attractive.
“This is the strength of the Giro d’Italia. With some of the best team-mates resting for the Tour de France, the leaders are less protected and so quickly have to go head to head.
“We should go further with a reduction to six, I think, for the measure to be really effective. With seven, a team like Sky can still control the racing. With six, that would mean the leader’s five team-mates would tire a lot more. At the same time, we could have more teams to have a decent sized peloton.”
Another consideration is the idea of banning earpieces, so riders have to make decisions out on the road rather than relying on detailed information from their team cars.
“We want to see riders pedalling without being, as Bernard Hinault says, machines following order of someone in the team car behind,” Lappartient said.
Team Sky controlled much of the Tour de France (Getty)
The UCI will now begin an investigation into the attractiveness of the sport.
“We’ll launch an attractiveness study because there are many aspects to consider. Should we forbid race radio that kills off riders taking the initiative and the power meters that monitor riders? Should we rethink the style of the stages? We must analyze everything.”By: Lawrence Ostlere @lawrenceostlere
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