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RICHMOND, Virginia (Reuters) - The International Cycling Union (UCI) approved a series of sweeping reforms for men's road cycling, including an overhaul of the World Tour schedule, the sport's governing body said on Tuesday.
Among the key reforms, reached after more than two years of dialogue with major teams and organizers, the UCI said three-year licenses will be granted to a maximum of 18 World Teams for the 2017-2019 seasons.
The UCI said it hopes the longer licenses, which will be granted based on ethical, financial, sporting, administrative and organizational criteria, will encourage investment leading to increased stability in team structures.
"By implementing these key reforms, the UCI is sending a strong signal to cycling fans, broadcasters and commercial partners about the continued improvements in the governance and organizational structures of our sport," UCI President Brian Cookson said in a statement.
"This is an important moment for professional cycling and another major step forward as we continue to restore trust and credibility."
The announcement could help end a feud between the governing body and Tour de France organizer Amaury Sport Organisation who had threatened to pull their races from the UCI calendar over a lack of progress in the reform program.
The UCI also said on Tuesday that current participation rules will be maintained for existing World Tour events but new rules will be set for new events seeking to join the UCI World Tour to encourage growth and globalization.
A limited number of new races will also be added to the UCI World Tour from 2017, with an application process opening later in 2015.
To help strengthen anti-doping efforts the UCI said it has developed team internal operational requirements which will be mandatory for all World Teams from 2017.
The program, already trailed in 2014 with further testing taking place this season, features 10 main rules designed to ensure that all riders are properly supported and supervised.
The UCI also said a new ranking system will be introduced, with the ranking becoming universal across all events from the top to the third tier.
"These are important changes that will help to further enhance men’s professional road cycling and aide its global growth and development," said Cookson.
"I believe that the measures announced today will help to bring greater stability and growth to men's professional road cycling while also opening the door to greater technological innovation and fan engagement."
Editing by Frank Pingue