Friday Group Ride #347

Friday Group Ride #347

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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.


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  1. gabe

    The sport can evolve and grow outside of the existing power structure in the following way:

    1-Create Fondo/Enduro/Mass Participation events with no sanctioning run by local grassroots organizations.
    2-Promote said events by focusing on the “bucket-listability” and promising massive amounts of “stoke” and other evocative terms.
    3-Invite former pros, current pros and other elite athletes to participate and smash the timesheets.
    5-Grow the event to a size where it can sustain a pro-level organization like the Red Hook Crit series

  2. Arnie

    Seems to me that unless promoters (ASO) are willing to share their broadcast revenues with the teams, thereby ensuring some financial stability, the reliance on sponsorship will continue, to the detriment of the teams.

  3. Lyford

    The traditionalists would hate it, but I’d like to see a few races try giving significant time bonuses instead of just points for midrace summits and sprints. Right now watching a typical stage is a bit like going to a football game and having the stars sit on the bench until the final 10 minutes.

    On the team size/crowding/dominance issue: For the grand tours, allow teams to have the current number of riders, but only allow 5-6 to be “active” for any given stage. The others would be in a designated grupetto that would start well behind the main peleton. Every rider would still have to ride the full distance within a time cut, but the peleton would be smaller and hopefully safer. Tactics would be far less predicatable.

  4. Paul Peterson

    A. We need longer sponsors, maybe based geographicaly like soccer and football teams.
    B. Ditch the radios teams use to ‘reel’ in the break.
    C. Add more elements to the actual races like they have done with sprints and KOMs.

  5. Jeff

    The safety and spectacle needs to be the priority for broadcast. In order to improve sponsorship dollars of the broadcast, there needs to be more hours of good racing and fewer junk miles.

    Junk miles can be reduced through a greater number of strava-style segments with gaps between segments 3min long for commercials.

    The categories and accomplishments for each segment type Would increase sponsor exposure and individual/team recognition.

    —constant exposure on longer events will do more to keep longer term sponsorship.

  6. Aar

    First and foremost, pro cycling needs to stop negative news events. Mid-race fights are just as bad as doping. Both cyclists involved should not be allowed to race for at least six months. Either make doping legal and stop talking about it or expand the power of the biological passport and permanently remove all caught dopers from the sport. Yes, diminish the influence of the hopelessly corrupt UCI – taking doping and bike dimension regulations out of their hands would be a good start.

    As much as I once “loved” the stars of cycling, when the same riders win again, again and again these days, all I can think is “wow! How much better is their dope than those other guys”. As much as the sport needs charismatic personalities to get back in the spotlight, it doesn’t need a dominant single personality.

    Likewise, riders with unnaturally long careers put a negative light on the sport.

    The other thing that puts a negative light on the sport is concentration camp victims winning every stage race because they out climb everybody by a massive margin. It looks just as bad for the sport as big time trialists dominating alpine climbs.

    My solution to each of these issues is a success penalty. Simply add weight to successful riders’ bikes. For each season a racer rides beyond age 30, add 1/2 kilo – yes, a 40 year old’s weight would be 11 pounds heavier than those under 30. I don’t know the formula but with each “UCI point” a rider earns each season, they get the privilege of carrying a few extra miligrams. Similarly, within a stage race, they get the same privilege. In both cases, the first x points add fewer milligrams than points above x and there should be multiple tiers of point weight values.

    By making the most ludicrously successful, older riders carry more weight, the door of success will open to younger, less decorated racers. It will constantly refresh the faces at the top of the sport and make certain that there are multiple stars. Thus, when one goes down it will not be such a massive loss to the sport.

  7. TomInAlbany

    Do the Giro or Vuelta share advertising money? Do the major classics? Or any of the non-ASO races?

    If not, then why pick on ASO?

    If I’m the Giro or Vuelta and I want to take market share, I go after the best riders. If they start sharing revenue with the teams on the condition they send their best riders, then it’ll happen and fast.

  8. Geoffrey Knobl

    Don’t scoff but talk to Jonathan Vaughter and brainstorm with him. (HA!)

    Getting out from under the whole corrupt Olympics/UCI thing looks like a good end goal to me. Perhaps ASO would be useful in this, not that they can’t be corrupt either. However, I don’t want to see any one group gain control of a majority of events. I’d rather events be run by many groups so no one gets the true upper hand over the entire season. Hey, as long as I’m brainstorming… 🙂 Having more-or-less permanent teams is good – franchises if you will. I especially like the community model of that but don’t think that can be applied here. Green Bay in pro-cycling? That’s where Vaughter’s thoughts may come in.

    I think revenue sharing is a must.

    I think anything without a true and powerful riders union is ripe for disaster from a rider safety point of view. They’ll get abused and underpaid otherwise. This along with the above mentioned revenue sharing could greatly help the lower level riders on many levels and smaller cycling events too.

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