Professional races are graded by the UCI into four categories, signifying the amount of points and prize money on offer for competing in the race. There is an excellent explanation of these categories over on Wikipedia, lifted straight out of the UCI’s manual, so suffice it to only summarise here.
There are three grades of cycling team acknowledged by the UCI, excluding National Teams:
- ProTeam – The highest level of professional team, competing at the very highest level of events – cycling’s Premier League. Examples include Team Sky, Garmin-Sharp, BMC Racing, Canondale and Movistar.
- Professional Continental – A professional team employing at least 14 riders and support staff on a full-time basis. The team tours in specific regions around the world (e.g. Europe, Asia) and can only enter World Tour events along with the ProTeams after being invited by a wild card entry. There are not many teams in this category, with Asia having only one Chinese team (Champion System) and Oceania having none at all. Europe is dominated by French and Belgian teams, and there is no British (team) representation at this level at all.
- Continental – The lowest grade of team, which may contain a mixture of professional and amateur riders – details are left up to national federations. They never compete in World Tour events. British examples include Raleigh, UK Youth and Node-4 Giordana. Owing to the somewhat more lax operating conditions on these teams, there are many more of them. Like the Professional Continental teams above them, they race events in their specific continental region.
The UCI does not deal with regional or club cycling teams, and they do not feature in UCI rankings. As such, even the Continental teams above should be regarded as being of a very high standard.
To go with these grades of team, the UCI grades races as:
- WT – World Tour – The highest category of race. ProTeams are obliged to enter. These races include the Tour de France, Paris – Roubaix, the Giro d’Italia – all of cycling’s premier events.
- HC – Hors Categorie – Open to ProTeams, who are only allowed to make up 70% of participants at a maximum, Professional Continental teams, Continental teams and National Teams of the organising country (e.g. UK Youth)
- 1 – Open to ProTeams (50% participation maximum), Professional Continental, Continental and National Teams
- 2 – Professional Continental, Continental, National, regional and club teams may enter
A race may further be designated a category 1 or category 2 race – this simply denotes whether it is a one-day event (Category 1) or a stage event (Category 2). The Tour of Britain is a 2.1 event, meaning a class 1 stage race, with 50% ProTeam participation as a limit.
The main difference between the categories is the amount of prize money and world ranking points on offer – the winner of an HC race will win 100 ranking points, but the winner of a 2.2 race will only take home 40 points. The winner of the Tour de France takes home a whopping 200 points. The scales of points are also different between categories, with the bigger races dishing out points to lower-ranked riders than those in the smaller events.
The grading of a race is entirely arbitrary and down to the judgment of the UCI, and there is little material available to explain the process on their website. It would seem to be down to the level of race organisation, support from sponsors, crowd support (including television potential) and the quality of the course itself. Readers of this blog will have noted that I am fairly anti-UCI, but to my mind, this is one of the only areas of the sport where they have any real influence.
The Tour of Britain is a Class 2.1 event and has been ever since its inception. This limits the field of top-tier riders and the amount of prize money on offer. This grading is no longer appropriate, given the levels of support for cycling in this country, and puts us below tours of Turkey, Denmark and Austria, all given the “HC” class. It also means we sit below Oman, and the mighty Tour of Qinghai Lake in China on the Asia circuit. We are equivalent to the Tropicale Amissa Bongo in Gabon on the Africa circuit. Surely Britain’s current position within world cycling demands a higher grading than this? Unfortunately, after another successful tour this year, the UCI have once again turned down the Tour of Britain’s request for a reclassification, and not even offered an explanation as to why. I’m not suggesting that the Tour of Britain should become a fourth “grand tour” (we don’t have the space for it or the diversity of landscape), but we should have a premier road cycling stage race that forms one of the highlights of the cycling calendar.
Britain is currently pumping a lot of money into cycling as a sport, generating revenue for companies all over the world. We are producing some of the finest riders, in all categories of cycling, ever seen. Public interest in cycling has never been higher in Britain than it is now. Cyclists have won the BBC Sports Personality of the Year award, voted on by the public, on the last two occasions, and three times in the last five years. The 2012 Tour of Britain drew an average of 382,000 viewers for the live coverage and 526,000 for the highlights every day, despite being stuck on a backwater channel like ITV4 which barely half the population can even get, and which draws an average of 1% audience share. We deserve a Tour of Britain that reflects our national status and interest in the sport, and that means one that offers significant prize money and big-name riders coming to town.