• Omloop Het Nieuwsblad: same names, same teams - but now a lot more expensive to run. (Tim de Waele/Getty)Source: Tim de Waele/Getty
How do you convince a WorldTour team to ride your race where the very thing that determines your existence in the top league is not available, asks Anthony Tan?
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Cycling Central
24 Feb 2017 - 4:14 PM  UPDATED 24 Feb 2017 - 4:25 PM

"A race like the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad currently has no need for WorldTour status, but eventually we will always have to have it."

Doesn't sound like the words of a race organiser pleased as punch to have its place in this year's UCI WorldTour.

So said Wim Van Herreweghe, director of the organiser Flanders Classics, a fortnight ago to Het Nieuwsblad, the newspaper that bears the name of the race that, for most riders and race aficionados, draws open the curtains to the much-loved Spring Classics season.

"The position of Pro Continental teams becomes equally precarious; unless they're given a wildcard to a good number of WorldTour races and their riders get a chance to compete against the big names, it's hard to get noticed."

It is for this very reason that the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, previously Omloop Het Volk, has survived 71 editions, the 72nd to take place this weekend alongside Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne. The Omloop has never had an issue attracting top teams or riders - they want to be there. Since its inception in 1945, it has been interrupted thrice, the last two cancellations due to snow.

But Van Herreweghe feared that if the Flanders Classics did not pay the UCI 180,000 Euros (A$250,000) for the Omloop to join the WorldTour, before too long, those top teams and riders may not show up. "You cannot deny that teams and riders will increasingly focus on WorldTour points. The contracts of riders are now even determined on them," he said.

"The Abu Dhabi Tour (run February 23-26, also new to the WorldTour) now coincides with the Omloop. If they have points on offer and not us, then teams will send their stars there. With the expansion of the WorldTour, we anticipated that problem."

Abu Dhabi and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad are just two of 10 new WorldTour events in 2017, making for a super-sized 37-race series across 175 days' racing. The 10 newbies are not obliged to host all 18 WorldTour teams (for now, the minimum requirement is 10 teams), nor, strangely enough, do the ranking points count (both individual and team), though chances are they soon will be.

Aside from the calendar clashes like Abu Dhabi and the Omloop, other new WorldTour races like the Presidential Cycling Tour of Turkey and Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic, who can hardly be called cash cows, may need to pay teams to meet the minimum requirement, or else face eviction after just one year. "The costs are quite incredible to be a WorldTour race and the benefits are marginal," Mick Bennett, Prudential RideLondon race director, told Cycling Weekly in January. "A lot of the team managers are saying that there is no way they can ride all of the WorldTour calendar and I totally get that."

Then there's my greatest beef: the insidious decline of non-WorldTour events previously attended by a good number of WorldTour teams.

If organisers of the Grand Tours reduce team sizes as they are wont to do, the Classics and weeklong stage-races in the WorldTour are likely to follow suit, which in future means smaller team rosters. Smaller rosters, combined with the lure of WorldTour points, means reduced ability and motivation to travel to non-WorldTour events - resulting in less competition, and therefore reduced interest, sponsorship and prize money in the latter.

The recent Jayco Herald Sun Tour was able to host Orica-Scott and Team Sky because the former is of course an Australian outfit and the latter is owned by the same company that owns the race. By contrast the Tour de Langkawi, run concurrently with the Abu Dhabi Tour and Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, has no such affiliation with any WorldTour team, and consequently was only able to convince Dimension Data, the team that has won its past two editions, to visit Malaysia.

The position of Pro Continental teams becomes equally precarious; unless they're given a wildcard to a good number of WorldTour races and their riders get a chance to compete against the big names, it's hard to get noticed. Furthermore, Continental teams will not be allowed to ride in any of the 37 WorldTour events.

If you're a rider, once in the WorldTour, I hear it's a great place to be. "The biggest difference I've noticed here this year with the race now in the WorldTour is the speed, the standard of riders," Mark Cavendish, winner of Thursday's opening stage at the Abu Dhabi Tour, said. "It's maybe the best total field you'll find outside Grand Tours, and it's maybe even better than some Grand Tours. You've got the best climbers and the best sprinters. It's also a bit safer because you've got the big teams who know what they're doing. It's a lot more organised and less chaotic than some small races."

I get that the WorldTour needs expansion outside Europe but in a system so heavily weighted towards points and little else, you're likely to see more losers than winners.