Ochowicz: ‘We barely get through a grand tour with nine’

Friday’s unilateral decision by race organizers to trim grand tour team sizes has BMC's Jim Ochowicz scratching his head.

Photo: TDW

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Friday’s unilateral decision by race organizers to trim grand tour team sizes from nine to eight riders might have its merits, but teams don’t like the surprise.

BMC Racing’s Jim Ochowicz, who has been campaigning for fewer riders in the peloton over the past few seasons, said Friday’s unexpected pronouncement — already under question by the UCI — would throw months of planning out the window.

“I am in disbelief that this type of action would be taken this late in the year,” Ochowicz said by telephone Saturday. “We’ve been planning our rosters and training for months already, to come up with a strategy for our riders, for their training and preparation and racing. We’re ready to race in six weeks, and now this?”

Teams are broiling in the wake of the decision taken by ASO, RCS Sport, and Flanders Classics to trim the size of team rosters, from eight to seven in one-day races and smaller WorldTour stage races, and from nine to eight for the three grand tours.

Hold your horses, the UCI countered Saturday, saying that no rules changes have been officially approved for next season: “[While] a potential reduction in team sizes may reflect a view held by some stakeholders, including some race organizers, any changes to the regulations governing men’s professional road cycling must be agreed by the Professional Cycling Council (PCC), on which the race organizers are fully represented. This subject was discussed at the last PCC meeting in November 2016, and it was agreed to consider in detail the implications of such reduction over the coming months, with no change for 2017.”

Ochowicz said his initial reaction wasn’t that he was opposed to the idea — he’s previously proposed eliminating wildcard teams to WorldTour races — but bristled at how the decision seemed to be taken hastily and without consultation from other stakeholders.

“I am not against this idea, it’s just too late for us to manage it,” Ochowicz said. “If the rules are changed by some due process, that is legal and binding, with something everyone agrees with, we’ll live by the rules … I also think it needs to be an open debate with all the real stakeholders expressing their opinions, at some point you come up with a [decision].”

The idea of reducing the size of the peloton has been knocking around for the past few years. Organizers say it will create safer conditions for the peloton as well as open up the racing dynamics with the assumption that smaller teams would mean less control, and lead to more exciting outcomes.

“That’s an assumption, not a proven fact,” Ochowicz said of smaller teams equaling more dynamic racing.

Ochowicz said a more pressing safety issue is the number of race vehicles and motorcycles in the race caravan as well as course conditions and road “furniture” across Europe in the form of traffic circles, speed bumps and other infrastructure designed to reduce the speed of cars and trucks.

“We need to begin with vehicle flow, that’s the biggest safety issue,” he said. “And some of the road furniture we race on as well. Some of roads we ride on can change from one year to the next. Local organizers and the UCI have to make sure it’s a safe and fair race.”

Ochowicz is not opposed to having fewer riders in the peloton — in fact, he’s been pushing for a reduction in the number of teams in the major grand tours — but said having only eight riders at the start of a grand tour could create other unexpected complications.

“We can just barely get through a grand tour with nine. There is a difference between one-week stage races and one-day’s, but for a grand tour, you need everybody,” he said. “If you lose one rider in the first week, you’re already down to seven, which happens every year. You lose one or two riders nearly every grand tour. I just don’t know how you could get through a grand tour with just eight starters.”

Ochowicz also believes it would be more complicated for teams that are trying to do more than just focus solely on GC or on the sprints. BMC Racing typically brings a GC option as well as a legitimate stage-hunter, most recently in the form of Greg Van Avermaet.

“It becomes much harder to bring an all-round strategy together,” he said. “With eight, it would be almost impossible to mix sprints with GC in a grand tour.”

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