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Ochowicz calls for end to ‘crash fest’ by removing wildcard teams

The modern peloton’s crash problem can be at least partially alleviated by removing lower-tier teams from major WorldTour races, and decreasing total field size, according to a statement from BMC Racing general manager Jim Ochowicz. He believes the sport needs to “examine the quality of those teams invited to participate in WorldTour events.” Selection for races should be “based on quality and performance — not politics.”

Ochowicz later confirmed to VeloNews that he does believe there is a relationship between non-WorldTour teams and crashes.

“Yes,” he said. “As I said in my statement, we have to adhere to a higher standard than Pro Continental teams. And those standards, that are not met by Pro Continental teams, in some cases leads to situations in the race that wouldn’t be there otherwise.”

Ochowicz lists a number of differences between a WorldTour team and lower-level squads, which gain invite to WorldTour races through discretionary wildcards.

Pro Continental teams do not have to meet the WorldTour’s strict financial requirements. Ochowicz also notes that WorldTour teams have top industry partners to provide the best equipment, and have the staff and budget to perform extensive reconnaissance of courses — implying that lower-level teams may not have the same behind-the-scenes support.

The implication is that poor equipment, poor reconnaissance, the inclusion of riders who do not always race at the WorldTour level, and the sheer size of modern pelotons, all contribute to frequent crashes.

The number of teams needs to be reduced, rather than the number of riders per team, as has been proposed in recent years, Ochowicz said. Teams not already in the WorldTour are clearly the lowest hanging fruit.

“One step toward eliminating the chances of crashes and carnage is to reduce the size of the peloton,” he said. “In this case, the UCI needs to reduce the number of teams in the races — and not the number of riders on the team at the starting line, which is something being proposed for future seasons.”

“We cannot race three grand tours with less than nine riders on the start,” Ochowicz told VeloNews, responding to questions about his statement. “Or the one-day races with less than eight … If we start with less than nine riders, then in some situations you could end up with two or three riders at the finish line of grand tours … You won’t have enough people to do the jobs, the tasks at hand.”

“This can go a long ways toward reducing the danger and damage to riders during a long and rigorous racing season. Rider safety should be priority No. 1 going forward.”