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The battle against WorldTour relegation has become one of the consuming storylines of the 2022 season, building to a messy climax that hamstrings World Championships selections and upends team tactics.
At the core of it all is a simple mathematical conundrum – there are 18 WorldTour licenses up for grabs, and 20 teams that want them, with Arkea-Samsic and Alpecin-Deceuninck having designs on moving up. That puts the likes of Cofidis, EF Education-EasyPost, BikeExchange-Jayco, Movistar, Lotto Soudal and Israel-Premier Tech in the danger zone – and it’s the Israeli team that is in perhaps the most precarious position of them all.
Now, with just over a month until the season ends at the Tour de Langkawi, the owner of Israel-Premier Tech – Sylvan Adams – has seemingly reached the end of his patience with “a bastard system that doesn’t work.”
Speaking to Cyclingnews and VeloNews at the Grand Prix Cycliste de Montreal, Adams railed against the relegation system which currently has his team sitting outside a WorldTour license. After spending millions of dollars on the sport, establishing a development team and a project in Rwanda, building a velodrome in Israel, and helping finance the evacuations of Afghan cyclists, Adams’s team faces an uncertain future. “There’s nobody on Planet Earth who’s putting more money into cycling than I do,” Adams said. “We’re building the sport here, and what are they doing? Destroying it. And I hate that. I hate it.”
Backed into a corner, Adams is now lobbying for a change to the parameters that the peloton has been racing within for the past three seasons. The solution is, he feels, simple: 20 WorldTour teams for the coming three-year license cycle, 2023 to 2025. That would neatly sidestep the issue of too many teams applying for too few licenses, and Adams’ team would survive the cut.
Adams’s proposal nestles alongside a reported appeal to the UCI which would similarly expand the number of licensees. The UCI has since issued a statement denying that “[any] decision to modify the rules in force has been taken.”
WorldTour sponsors pay for the privilege of their brands being on display in the biggest race on the calendar, the ASO-owned Tour de France, and without an automatic invitation to the race that marketing appeal quickly starts to dwindle. Without that guaranteed berth – and therefore without sponsorship – teams face an existential threat.
Israel-Premier Tech is in a precarious position that, Adams argues, is because of a series of ‘force majeures’ – the COVID-19 pandemic, the death of Queen Elizabeth II – that have halted their momentum. “We started the year well out of relegation, but we were on the good side of the ledger, then we had this disastrous spring,” Adams said. The team’s successful Tour de France campaign – which saw the team win two stages – was, Adams argues, also blighted by the ‘force majeure’ of five riders dropping out due to COVID-19.
According to Cyclingnews, the teams that face relegation say that the UCI made promises to further analyse the effects of the pandemic on the rating system, but never did.
Faced with the likely relegation of his cycling team, Adams is eyeing two options.
The first: walking away from the sport for good, a scenario from which “I’ll never come back … that’s for sure.”
The second: fighting for the team’s survival in court. “It’s the UCI’s duty to build the sport up, and this is destructive,” he said. “I call on the UCI to be consistent. And if something like relegation comes up, don’t simply say ‘we have to stick to the rules’, because that’s a lie, it’s phoney. And I won’t stand for it. If I lose and the team is relegated, I’m going to take them to court, to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
“If I lose my sponsors and it costs me millions, somebody has to make me whole. If I show that they do not apply the rules consistently, I think I have a very good case.”
Adams’s grievance with the UCI extends to what he sees as its subservience to the Amaury Sport Organisation, the organisers of the Tour de France. “I find the UCI extremely timid,” he said. “Why are they afraid of the Tour de France?”
Like the UCI, the ASO has the upper hand over the fate of the teams, but they are, Adams says, “an emperor with no clothes.”
“They have lots of races, but have no real power,” he said. “I’m not afraid of them. They need us, we are the show… What are they going to do to us if we don’t agree with them? Tell us we can’t participate in their race. Really? Just do it once and I’ll go and start a competing Tour de France …
“We’ve all seen what’s happening with LIV Golf, right? I’ll make a competing Tour de France. I’ll get all the WorldTour teams in my Tour de France. I’ll make the €100 million a year profit.”
A month remains, and unless the UCI makes a dramatic reversal, Sylvan Adams seems intent on a scorched-earth approach. “There is nothing they can do to me that is worse than relegation,” he said.