Ochowicz revives call to reduce size of peloton

Midway through nervous, crash-filled week at Tour, Jim Ochowicz says that he feels the peloton is too big, with too many second-tier teams

Photo: TDW

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AMIENS, France (VN) — BMC Racing’s Jim Ochowicz is reviving his call to reduce the size of the peloton.

The veteran team manager said Europe’s modern roadway network is simply too intricate to handle a peloton of 22, nine-man teams. His answer to help reduce the number of crashes in the peloton? Reduce the number of teams.

“They’ve got to reduce the size of this peloton, and the only way they can do that is to limit the number of teams who take the start at WorldTour races,” Ochowicz told VeloNews.

“It leads to more crashes, and the peloton is too big for roads we race on today,” he continued. “When they do new work on roads, they do it to slow traffic down. They build roads to slow down cars. It’s hard for the riders to deal with it. It wasn’t that way 10 years ago.”

Ochowicz raised the issue of reducing the number of teams in the major grand tours in an open letter he wrote during the Giro d’Italia. In that letter, he also singled-out Professional Continental teams that live and die by the “wildcard” invitations as another factor in an uptick in crashes.

Speaking to VeloNews at the finish of Wednesday’s stage 5, Ochowicz repeated his call that there need to be clearer rules about what teams should be allowed to start races like the Tour.

“WorldTour teams have rules and regulations for them to be qualified to be in this race. There is no regulation that applies to Pro Continental teams. It is simply a wildcard selection. There are too many in the race, and they’re not qualified to be here,” Ochowicz said. “They don’t have the infrastructure to prepare. They don’t have the athletes that are prepared well enough for this race. We simply cannot have that many riders in the peloton.”

Those comments, of course, are not welcomed by the second-tier teams. Speaking to VeloNews during the Giro, Androni-Sidermec manager Gianni Savio disagreed with the notion to Pro Continental teams are not up to snuff to race the grand tours.

“The idea that the Professional Continental teams have inferior equipment to the World Tour teams is completely false,” Savio said. “The idea that Professional Continental riders are not at the same skill level is completely false.”

Under current rules, WorldTour teams are automatically allowed to race all the season’s major races. This season, there are 17, opening the door for five, second-tier teams in this year’s Tour.

This year, Europcar, MTN-Qhubeka, Cofidis, Bora-Argon 18, and Bretagne-Séché Environnement were invited to fill out the Tour peloton with 22 teams.

Ochowicz said he’s not entirely opposed to invited teams, just the number; “I think wildcards can be on this race, just a smaller number,” adding that a “good number” would be 20, nine-man teams in the grand tours, and 22, eight-man teams in the classics.

His comments come as the UCI is trying to reorganize and streamline the racing calendar, with possible reductions in the size of rosters for the 17 WorldTour teams.

One idea to reduce the tension of the peloton is to reduce the number of riders per team from nine to eight, an idea to which Ochowicz is also opposed.

“You cannot ride a grand tour [with] less than nine riders,” said Ochowicz, who pointed out that teams used to start with 10. “You have some teams that are already down to six riders. They’re on their knees right now. They may not even have five riders for the team time trial on Sunday. … Reduce the number of [race] days, and you can reduce the number of riders.”

Ochowicz said he’s been speaking up about the size of the peloton all season long. Crashes impact all teams, but BMC has seen its share of costly crashes this season, including promising Swiss rider Stefan Küng, who crashed out of stage 12 at the Giro.

“I’ve been saying it all spring, since all this stuff started again. I’ve said it whenever I can. There needs to be a qualifying system to be in this race, just like a qualifying system for the Masters or the Super Bowl, or like any high-profile sporting event,” he concluded.

“I am not going to argue who should be or who should not be in the race. As a WorldTour team, we have to go through a licensing process, with regulations that explain why we are qualified to be here. I don’t think there is enough for the other teams.”

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