As Padraig and I have mentioned many times over the last few seasons, RKP has drifted away from pro cycling a bit. Coverage and commentary of the top of the sport hasn’t been entirely absent, but it has certainly taken a backseat. The distance has been good for me, given me more perspective not just on cycling, but on all pro sports, and maybe most importantly focused me more on how I participate. Ride more. Watch less.
But sports business is always fascinating to me, the harnessing of competitive entertainment, the way it’s delivered, how the revenue is shared and invested.
Pro cycling hasn’t done itself any favors. Between infighting at the top between the teams, the UCI, and ASO, and the ongoing, all-consuming stigma of doping, it’s a miracle people are still being paid to ride bikes. That’s a shame, because it really is entertaining, if not always for four hours at a stretch.
This week’s Group Ride is about fixing all that, getting our sport back on the up-and-up, and putting my ass back on the couch to watch people who really know how to ride do it better than I do.
Herewith, two crazy, impractical ideas to revolutionize pro cycling:
- Move the UCI out of the picture. Yes, I know. That’s insane! But my thinking is this: ASO (and a few smaller promoters) spends the money to put on the races. Having the UCI involved, on a deep level, in how they are run takes away ASO’s independence, and up to this point, hasn’t returned a lot of value. Forget about corruption, this is about too many cooks in the kitchen. In my vision, ASO promotes the events and admits teams based on their own criteria. The UCI can accredit officials, but those officials should be hired by the promoter. ASO should pay for doping controls, if they want clean races.
- The teams need more permanent identities. This-Year’s-Sponsor may be a reasonable way to talk about a group of riders, but with sponsors jumping in and out of the sport, the teams lack any enduring characteristics for fans to hold onto. Back in the day (please send me one piece of hate mail every time I use this phrase), sponsors signed up for the long(er) haul. Think Peugot or Euskaltel. That’s not the case anymore, so the teams are substantively different from season to season, and that makes being a fan hard. To that end, the pro teams should exist as permanent entries in ASO’s season, with owners able to buy and sell their franchises as they see fit, but always maintaining some core identity by color or insignia.
This week’s Group Ride asks, am I nuts? What would you do? Or is it not broken, and therefore not in need of fixing? If nothing changes, do you think the sport will eventually return to its zenith of popularity.