Prudhomme: ‘Reducing riders will open up the race’

Tour de France director says that by reducing team sizes, the race will see more open racing, less controlled by powerful teams.

Photo: TDW

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Tour de France director Christian Prudhomme defended the idea of reducing the number of riders per team from nine to eight at the major grand tours. Why? He believes smaller teams would mean a more exciting race.

Last month, race organizers voted to largely reject many of the UCI’s proposals to reform pro men’s races. Voting 70 to 6 (with one abstention), race organizers also backed the notion of reducing team rosters for races like the Tour de France. Citing both safety issues and race dynamics, the stance puts the organizers in direct conflict with the major teams and even the UCI.

This week, cycling’s major stakeholders are meeting in Barcelona to try to hammer out differences in two days of meetings at the UCI WorldTour seminar. It’s the latest sit-down between cycling’s major teams, organizers, and the UCI to try to find common ground ahead of planned reforms to be introduced in 2017.

Answering questions presented by VeloNews, the Tour director replied via email and outlined why he believes cycling needs to support its base. Here is what Prudhomme had to say:

VeloNews: Why are the race organizers interested in seeing a reduction of teams from nine per squad for major stage races to eight?
Christian Prudhomme: Concerning the question of reducing the number of riders per team, above all, we want to preserve the security. It’s a fundamental question that should be considered a priority before everything else. Before thinking about the number of teams in a race, we want to consider the question of security before anything else.

VN: Beyond safety, would this mean there could be even more teams in the grand tours, or are there other considerations?
CP: We also hope, as a consequence, that this will allow races to open up, and be less blocked, with a peloton that is less controlled and closed down by the big teams. It’s obvious that some teams have the means to control the race and dictate the action by the quality of its riders. To eliminate one rider would liberate some teams and open up the race. It could also help out smaller races, which are often left out because the bigger races absorb all the best riders. To start with one less rider in the major races would allow the top teams to have more complete line-ups in the smaller races, which right now is difficult to do when teams have to bring 18 top riders to two races that might coincide. Logically, if there is one less rider at the top races, that would mean one more rider for the smaller races, and as a result, a better quality of teams across all levels of races.

VN: What do you think is behind the apparent increase in crashes in the major races?
CP: When talking about crashes, it’s important to consider several factors. You can speak of material [frames and wheels], which is more rigid than before. Of certain sections or race courses, sometimes they are not ideal, but we’ve also heard of such products as Tramadol. As organizers, we strongly support the ban of such types of products. We’ve realized that the doctors of MPCC do not prescribe Tramadol. And we’ve heard that Brian Cookson has also spoken out about banning this product, independently of the World Anti-Doping Agency. That would be wonderful, and we fully support such efforts.

VN: There is a lot of debate about the structure of professional cycling; what position do the race organizers take?
CP: About the structure of professional cycling, we remind everyone about the idea of a pyramid structure. Cycling is not like Formula 1. The top of the pyramid is more solid when the base is bigger and healthier. When a champion like Vincenzo Nibali, who’s won all three grand tours, can win a race like the Coppa Bernocchi, that’s fantastic. This connection between the top races and the regional races is fundamental and should continue to exist. This link that’s part of the world of professional cycling, between the WorldTour races and the local races that are closer to the public, is only possible thanks to the organizations that work on a volunteer basis. Without them, and without the link between the races and the fans, cycling won’t make sense. We have to support them, because it’s more and more difficult to organize a race today than ever before.

VN: After the attacks in Paris, what can races such as the Tour de France do to assure safety for riders and fans?
CP: We’ve been asked about the security of races in light of the recent attacks in Paris. Of course, we are going to improve in some aspects, but we are not the ones who write the laws. As race organizers, we clearly follow all of the recommendations from the government, and especially the Ministry of the Interior. The ‘gendarme’ and the police are our best allies. Of course, we cannot give away too many details about what we’re going to do, for obvious reasons of confidentiality and for the protection of the country. The most important thing is that we continue to live as we always have. That’s the best answer we can have to these types of threats.

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