Changes to the qualifying rules for the men's world road championship leaves the stronger nations wiPICTURE BY TIM DE WAELE The International Cycling Union (UCI) has announced plans designed to increase the number of nations taking part in the elite men's world road championship. Having already indicated that the maximum number of riders teams can field in the elite race next year will be nine (although the nation boasting the defending champion would get an extra spot), the UCI has now provided qualification details based on performance in next season's Pro Tour and Continental circuit events. From 2005, the following nations qualify automatically: - 10 leading nations in the UCI Pro Tour national ranking (9 riders each) - 2 leading nations in the UCI Africa Tour national ranking (6 riders for the first, 3 for the second) - 5 leading nations in the UCI America Tour national ranking (6 riders for the first two, 3 for the next 3) - 3 leading nations in the UCI Asia Tour national ranking (6 riders for the first, 3 for the next 2) - 16 leading nations in the UCI Europe Tour national ranking (6 riders for the first six, 3 for the next 10) - Leading nation in the UCI Oceania Tour national ranking (3 riders for the first). Qualification will be decided based on rankings released on August 15, 2005. There will also be provision to allow nations to take part in the Worlds even if they do not meet these criteria, provided they have riders in leading positions in the various circuits or riders who have been placed in major events. According to the UCI's statement on the changes, "The planned changes allow this event to reflect fully the philosophy that guided the establishment of the UCI Pro Tour and the UCI Continental Circuits: the development of cycling on all continents and continued success of the season's flagship events. "All partners agree that it has many virtues: in particular, more fairness, enhanced sporting interest, renewed enthusiasm for cycling on continents hitherto poorly represented in the World Championships. The UCI, through the changes made, seeks to uphold the realities of the sporting hierarchy while at the same time offering emerging cycling nations the chance to win a place among the elite. To achieve this, it was necessary to increase the number of participating nations."