Grand tours staying grand, no reduction to two weeks

The UCI is developing a new race calendar layout, but it's unlikely the length of grand tours will be reduced by one week.


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MILAN, Italy (VN) — The UCI is developing a new race calendar layout. Is there a possibility we might see two-week grand tours, rather than three-week races? Not likely.

The heads of pro cycling’s grand tours — the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España — have said they will not reduce the length of their stage races from three weeks anytime soon.

Insiders have kicked around the idea over the last few years, often pointing to the youngest of the three grand tours, the Vuelta.

In a sport that wrestles with doping issues, some have pointed to the length of three weeks of stage racing as being too severe, pointing to the human body’s tendency to break down after 10-14 days of intense exercise.

Additionally, shortening grand tours would open up room in the sport’s calendar for other races.

Michele Aquarone, former managing director of Giro d’Italia organizer RCS Sport, recently told Road Cycling UK that two-week tours could work, if the races had guarantees that the top riders would start in each event.

Tour director Christian Prudhomme said other issues take priority over shortening the big stage races. By 2017, changes in the new race calendar could do away with overlapping races.

“There are many meetings. We have to wait,” Prudhomme told VeloNews. “What is important for me… It is impossible to have two races of the same category at the same time, for example, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico. It’s important to have the best riders in the best races, like it was 40 years ago. When I was a kid, Eddy Merckx and Bernard Hinault, they were there, in both Paris-Nice and then Tirreno. It’s important for the fans. I don’t know if it’s in the [UCI] negotiations. People follow the champions in the races.”

According to a leaked UCI document published in December, Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, as well as other top races, would no longer overlap starting in 2017.

“Nothing’s ruled out and nothing’s ruled in at this point in time,” Cookson told journalists at the Tour Down Under. “There is a chance that every event’s role will change a little bit, but we are taking a detailed look at everything.”

However, the UCI document shows the Giro, the Tour and the Vuelta staying in their same time slots and running their usual length.

“No,” answered RCS Sport’s General Manager Paolo Bellino, when asked if the organizer had considered reducing the length of the Giro d’Italia.

“The Giro has to maintain its tradition. The tradition deserves to continue as much as possible,” Bellino told VeloNews. “Nothing is written in stone, and things can change over the years, but in my opinion, there’s no reason to modify the length of the race. It’s a great race, with a great tradition. It should remain how it is.”

Vuelta race director Javier Guillén echoed what Acquarone said, that any change would have to apply to all grand tours and be beneficial. Regardless, he said that he wants to keep the Vuelta at three weeks, adding that organizer Unipublic is not open to change.

“There is no plan to reduce the Vuelta, not by one day, not in 2016, 2017 or 2018,” Guillen told Spain’s Ciclismo a Fondo this month. “We have never spoken about it in the short term, and we’ve never mentioned reducing the Vuelta by one entire week. We are open to having a debate [about the race calendar], but only if that’s done across the entire sport, and only if it benefits the Vuelta.

“I want to make clear that there is absolutely no plan to reduce the Vuelta in the near future, and if it ever happened, it would be a reduction of a few days, but only if and when that would benefit the Vuelta. As of today, Unipublic is opposed to any reduction of the Vuelta.”

The cycling calendar appears likely to change, but as the race directors have clearly stated, their races will maintain their 100-year-old traditions. The grand tours, at least through 2020, appear to remain just that — grand.

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