Friday Group Ride #5

All week, as pro riders have been tweeting from the Land Down Under, and fans have been moistening their chamois (What actually is the plural of chamois?) in anticipation of the coming season, I’ve heard a small but distinct contingent of cycling purists who are lamenting the rise of such races as the Tour Down Under, the Tour of Qatar, etc., the so-called “new races,” that seem to be supplanting old races like the Etoile de Bességes and Paris-Troyes and the traditional season-openers in Western Europe, like the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad in Belgium.

So this week’s Ride examines the value of tradition in cycling, versus the value of innovation.

Do you like the newer races? Or prefer the old? Why? And regardless of your preference, do you think the new races are better for cycling, spread out as they are, or do you think the future of cycling is going back to its roots?

There are echoes of this debate throughout the sport, as in the UCI radio ban and even in the use of certain performance enhancers, but for now, with the TDU nigh, let’s focus on the races.

Image: John Pierce, Photosport International

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  1. Touriste-Routier

    Tough question!

    While the new races are helping to spread the popularity of the sport to a larger geographical audience, I believe they hurt the sport in several ways. But it is not the races in and of themselves that are doing the harm, but rather the structure of the sport.

    Because the season has gotten longer, the teams require more riders and staff to be competitive from January – October (in addition to UCI mandates), the cost of travel increases, all requiring larger budgets for teams. This makes it all the more difficult for teams to form and survive, as the cost of sponsorship has increased dramatically.

    The cost of organizing events has also become higher because more teams demand or require travel stipends and appearance fees. The pro sport may price itself out of existence if this trend continues.

    Furthermore the rules that govern which teams can participate at which sanction level require modification, particularly outside of Europe, so that the Continental level teams of the host nation have greater opportunity to compete with the ProTour level teams. This not only helps raise the level of developing riders/teams, but provides local interest as well.

    Long answer made short; I like the races, but not the structure. It is great to see the globalization of cycling, and to see new sponsors and events involved in the sport.

  2. randomactsofcycling

    I like all the races! Being an Australian, it’s fantastic to get the ProTour teams down here, even if the biggest stars may not always attend.
    We are at a junction in our sport where there have to be some decisions made about it’s long term viability. The sport simply will not grow if the ‘traditional’ calendar continues to be observed. The only way to bring new Sponsorship money into the sport is to provide new events that expose it to new markets. The UCI is doing it’s best to move forward but the race promoters must also look after their events and own self interest. It’s the kind of friction that must occur whenever progress is the goal.
    As much as I am not a fan of the early season ‘form finders’ like the TDU and Qatar, simply because the promoters are too afraid to make the races too hard so early in the season (TDU) or because the geography simply doesn’t allow it (Qatar) they are essential for cycling to grow and develop at the Pro level.

  3. Endurance Guru

    Perhaps a better question is: why do some races grow in popularity, and why do others fade away? Seriously, how excited can you get about sitting by the roadside waiting for the peloton to breeze by…in sleet and snow and frigid temperatures? Sure, there are fans that will – but they all know that it’s a long season, and a scant few riders are really going for it in February.

    Races like the Etoile de Besseges beat a rider down. Who would want to race in France in February when you can go to warm, sunny Australia or South Africa or the Caribbean. Is it easier to do quality miles in 75 degrees Fahrenheit or 35? More importantly, what are the risks of racing in the chill? What rider wants to risk the progression of his training and racing to race a minor classic in the snow, possibly get sick, or worse – crash on icy cobbles?

    Additionally, as pro riders we’re motivated by money – we’re guns for hire. Qatar and TDU have great prize lists, and you’ll see some wicked sprinting there. Remember Boonen battling the Cervelo boys last year? Great stuff. Etoile de Besseges might as well be a Grand Fondo – that’s how the riders treat it. Just a long hard ride that hasn’t been interesting since the days of Kelly and Criquelion.

  4. Alex Torres

    Ahh the pains of growing up… The sport was euro-only untill recently, now it´s gone globalized. That brings good and bad, in my opinion the balance is positive since it brings high-level racing closer to people outside Europe who also love cycling, appreciate it, which in turn makes the sport grow even more. Tradition is always evolving, it´s still being forged. Never stagnant.

  5. Marco Placero

    since a chamois is a goat, at first I thought it’d be a “herd” of chamois (chamoises? chamois’? shammies?), then I realized the proper term is a “peloton” of chamois’

  6. Kevin

    I think cycling is a traditional sport and the UCI effortsd to ignore it and modernize the sport has hurt it. Many races have disappeared. Few if any changes that the UCI has made have benefitted the sport….

  7. Daniel S

    Okay I may be biased because I actually live in Adelaide, where the TDU is shaping up as we week.
    I think its definitely a good thing. The sport is not just Euro-focused anymore. There are fans all over the world.
    The riders *love* the TDU. The race is huge here, there are crowds bigger than I’ve seen at a lot of the European races. If the riders love it and the fans love it, I can’t see it being a bad thing.

  8. Norm of Brooklyn

    Compound interest: the “new” races are great for bringing more interest to the sport and to a wider audience. Inevitably, more young athletes will become interested in cycling through the new races, and cycling will grow. As new fans get acquainted with cycling via the new races, some of those fans will turn to the historic events –within the community of fans, what can we do to promote the historic races? It’s partly up to us to guide new fans toward the good stuff… and that’s an opportunity.

    There Be Dragons Beyond Here: As new lands experience significant growth in cycling, the pro ranks will continue to grow. Great competitors will be found –more competition, more attacks, more soloing victories (and even more beer at CX races). Perhaps you won’t see your favorite racers at the “usual” races every year, but racing should get better and better… if the UCI lets it do so.

  9. Craig

    Chamois is both plural and singular.

    The TDU is a wonderful race. The tour of Qatar seems boring. The TDU has a big following and has had a big impact on cycling in Australia. I am not aware of any cycling culture in Qatar, it seems to be a simple excercise in marketing and tourism, like everything in the emirites. Judge the individual race, not the idea of ‘new races’.

    In the scheme of things, Protour riders earn very little. Anything to make cycling better, make the sport more financially rewarding for these amazing athletes is a good thing.

    Cycling is now a more global sport, local races as early season openers will just not cut it. If you want to go back to ‘tradition’ then make the protour an amateur league.

  10. souleur

    Interesting Friday ride, no doubt.

    I am a traditionalist, in all facets. I honor tradition, I sanctify traditions and in so doing, I hope to become tradition. The beauty of the Etoile de Bességes, the Paris-Troyes and the Omloop Het Nieuwsblad is that of heritage, the inauguration of yet another spring in the making. It commemorates, and reminds us of all that we are about even when it is too early to ride by most accounts. Heck yeah, who wants to race in France in February, heck yeah, who wants to ride Belgium in February, ESPECIALLY this year. But our forefathers did. It then enables us to identify with them, empathize but for a moment, the pain, the suffering they had as they did something for nearly nothing.

    So, how do the new races fit in? In my opinion, the TdU is one that could fit in ok, due to its timing, its so early. However, the tour of Qatar, the other minor leaguers if you will, are simply training rides. I am not sure of anything outside of this is accomplished, such as the globalization of cycling. That is a bit of a reach, in my humblest of opinions.

    New races come, all have by necessity. Some will become tradition, however, many have not. I simply love the ones that have lasted throught the test of time.

  11. Lachlan

    Old races.

    why? simple: the best riders try harder and peak for them. And the riders make the race ;+)

    (BUT new bike technology, please.)

  12. Dan O

    The future of cycling will always be its “roots” – as in grassroots – no matter how much we idolize the pros. There are thousands of us and just a few of them.

    Sure, I dig watching the Tour and other top level races – awesome stuff indeed. But entering a local ‘cross, mountain bike, or crit’ race – or watching other “normal” folk do so, is cooler to me and what really keep this whole thing spinning.

    To focus on the pro level though, to semi-old guys (like me), the older races will always seem a touch cooler then new. Same way that “kids” from this age will look back on the Lance era and think the same.

    In any case, racing will always exist, no matter what current rules, regulations, stars and controversies exist. And that’s a good thing…..

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