Israel Premier Tech’s Sylvan Adams pressuring UCI to back-pedal on WorldTour rules: ‘Relegation is death’

Israel Premier Tech owner threatens legal action if UCI imposes relegation rules.

Photo: Dario Belingheri/Getty Images

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MONTREAL (VN) — Israel Premier Tech owner Sylvan Adams says there is a “very simple and elegant” way for the UCI to end the WorldTour relegation war that’s tearing the peloton apart at the seams.

Adams put it like this: the UCI should evoke “force majeure” in light of a raging three-year world pandemic, and simply expand the WorldTour league from 18 to 20.

That way, Adams insists, everyone wins.

No existing WorldTour teams would face possible closure, Arkéa-Samsic and Alpecin-Deceuninck both move up, and powerful Tour de France owners ASO will retain at least two of its “wildcard” invitations to dole out every July.

Easy, right? Adams thinks so.

“Who is hurt by this idea of going to 20 teams? Nobody,” Adams said. “Relegation is death. It doesn’t matter which of the two teams end up being relegated. It’s an existential problem.

“Why are we destroying rather than building? It’s as simple as that,” Adams told VeloNews and Cyclingnews in an interview. “I hope that common sense prevails.”

Adams on relegation threat: ‘I don’t see what’s to be gained’

A half-dozen teams at the bottom half of the WorldTour rankings are desperately chasing points in the waning weeks of the 2022 racing season.

Strange things are happening. Teams are not allowing riders to race the world championships, and directors are sending sick riders to races in order to chase points in a desperate bid to try to secure the future of long-running franchises.

Adams’ Israel Premier Tech squad — which joined the WorldTour in 2020 — looks to be on the losing end of a tug-of-war at the bottom of the rankings against such teams as Lotto Soudal, Movistar, EF Education-EasyPost, Cofidis, and BikeExchange-Jayco.

Two of the bottom-ranked teams won’t qualify for the next round of three-year WorldTour licenses based on accumulated points calculated using the results of top riders from 2020-22.

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Despite growing resistance, the UCI insists on moving forward with the relegation plans and points out that all the major stakeholders signed off on an agreement three years ago to introduce the soccer-style relegation/promotion system based on results.

Adams counters that it’s not too late to backtrack on what he says is a bad idea.

“To threaten our team and the other teams with this relegation, it’s just so harmful, and I don’t see the purpose of it,” Adams said. “I don’t see what’s to be gained. We have 20, maybe 21 teams who have the budget to be WorldTour. Other sports encourage expansion. This is destructive.”

Adams points out that if his team or other squads lose WorldTour licenses, sponsors, top riders, and other equipment backers will likely flee because many contracts include clauses linked to WorldTour status.

Without the WorldTour license, a team will be left as a husk, and some could even close.

“I am still hopeful that we will still end up on the right side of relegation, although it’s looking worse and worse,” Adams said in Montréal.  “Even if we did, I don’t want to see those other teams disappear.

“I don’t want to see the end of Movistar, EF, or Bike Exchange. Why?”

Adams: ‘If I lose, I am going to take them to court’

Sylvan Adams - Israel Start-Up Nation 2021
Sylvan Adams, owner of the Israel-Premier Tech team, points out the name of Gino Bartali during a visit to Israel’s Holocaust Museum last year. (Photo: Andrew Hood/VeloNews)

Adams says there’s an easy answer.

Adams is campaigning for the UCI to table the divisive relegation plans, yet offer WorldTour licenses to Alpecin-Deceuninck and Arkéa-Samsic, two teams that will likely bump into the top league by harvesting points during the past three seasons.

Adams says there’s an easy way out by citing “force majeure,” a legal concept that allows both parties to leave an agreement due to an extraordinary event, such as war, drought, or a hurricane.

“A world pandemic is the definition of ‘force majeure,'” Adams said. “And there’s been a pandemic during the full three years of the relegation process. If it was just the first season, OK, maybe, but we’ve been hit more this year by it than in 2020.”

By expanding the WorldTour rather than what he describes as shrinking it, Adams said the UCI could solve many problems all at once.

The existing 18 WorldTour teams would retain their licenses, and Alpecin-Deceuninck and Arkéa-Samsic would be folded into the top tier.

Adams — a billionaire real estate developer and two-time master’s world champion — said he is frustrated with the cycling governing body’s insistence to push forward with its controversial relegation plans despite the backdrop of a world pandemic.

And he vowed that if the UCI does not find a compromise he would consider legal action.

“And if I lose, I am going to take them to court,” Adams said. “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’ Israel Premier Tech team has been especially hit by COVID this season. It started the 2022 season safely in the middle of the pack, but a string of infections and illnesses knocked the wheels out from underneath the team this spring.

The team was unable to field a squad for the Tour of Flanders in April and only one rider finished Paris-Nice in March as COVID-19 ravaged the team. Illnesses and infections continue to hit his team, with riders like Chris Froome and Michael Woods also being recently infected.

“I am claiming ‘force majeure,'” he said. “I know why we are struggling for points this year, it’s because of the pandemic. We’ve lived through strange times.”

Adams said he’s not afraid to press his case, even if it might anger powerful Tour de France owners and race organizer ASO. Adams even joked he would start his own Tour de France if he’s somehow black-balled for taking a strong stand to defend the teams.

Adams confirmed he’s reached out to the UCI in back channels to try to create a dialogue with top officials, and said he’s hopeful the sport’s major stakeholders can find a solution.

“I loathe litigation. Nobody wins in litigation, only lawyers win. If they put me in this situation of causing terrible damage, I will explore all of my options,” Adams said.

“I’m an optimist,” he said. “There’s no trouble that’s worse than relegation. Relegation is destruction.”

Adams is urging UCI president David Lappartient to reconsider relegation plans as well as the equally controversial points system that is the underpinning of the team rankings.

“There is a simple solution, and it doesn’t hurt anybody. It’s an elegant way out of this mess,” Adams said. “This is a very elegant solution; expand to 20 teams, and nobody loses.”

Adams’ suggestion would require a dramatic U-turn from the UCI.

On Friday, the cycling governing body issued a terse press release insisting that the relegation rules would be imposed.

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