RKP isn’t really a news site, so the announcement that Amgen has renewed its contract with AEG Sports to continue its sponsorship of the Amgen Tour of California might seem odd material for a post. The reason it’s here is because this isn’t your garden-variety cycling news. This is big.
I confess, for weeks, more than a month, in fact, I’ve been writing the obituary for the Amgen Tour of California. I thought an announcement notifying cycling fans of the race’s demise was a formality, so the news that the company has renewed isn’t just a pleasant little news brief. This is big.
So why was I so down on the future of the Tour of California? Let me count the reasons.
- In the United States, races have a terrible history of folding after a sponsor’s contract is up. The Coors Classic folded up shop following the 1988 race after the race’s contract with Coors ended. Race director Michael Aisner approached Nuprin and Dodge, both of whom agreed to sponsor the race only to decline involvement at the 11th hour. The Tour de Georgia was notable for the fact that it’s the only major U.S. stage race that managed to sign three different title sponsors—Dodge, Ford and AT&T.
- Losing a race director has had dire consequences for races. When Mike Plant left the Tour DuPont at the end of the 1996 edition, the prospective next sponsor (DuPont’s contract was up) didn’t have much confidence in the new race director and ultimately the race couldn’t secure a new sponsor.
- The 2011 edition of the Amgen Tour of California got off to a rocky start with a stage cancellation and the start of a stage moved. Sponsors don’t like to see their events not happen as planned.
- The 2010 and 2011 editions of the race were upstaged by doping revelations that cast cycling in an unusually negative light. Landis’ and Hamilton’s revelations made much bigger news than the typical positive test. Who wants to spend millions to sponsor an ugly press conference?
- The economy still sucks. It’s why there’s no Tour of Missouri and no Tour de Georgia. Finding sponsorship money is as unlikely as winning the lottery two days in a row.
In the U.S., races come to an end. That’s the unfortunate reality. But these next two years could be key for the event’s longevity; it’s up to AEG to use the time to court (and land) a new sponsor. Make no mistake, this news is huge.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
Last week cycling lost yet another home to the peloton. The Tour of Missouri which had quickly risen in the continental ranks as second only to the Tour of California, was found beaten to death this past week, pummeled by some dirty politics and back room dealings. Word on the street unfortunately has it that there are either links to the mafia or a sheep-lovers cult and the murder rises to that of a crime of the highest order. Tour organizers found the lifeless body of the Tour of Missouri outside the steps of the hill on the capitol steps, just west of the Governor’s mansion and immediately put her on life support. Diligent efforts were made to save her life, but after courageous efforts, she passed this past week on May 27.
After a seven-month negotiation with State Tourism, which included a bi-partisan state senate and house approval of $1 million in support for the Tour of Missouri sponsorship, the United States’ second biggest professional cycling event and one of the top stage races outside of Europe, will be officially cancelled should earmarked funds not be released by Tourism and the Governor, according to the board of directors of Tour of Missouri, Inc.
“This may be a win for the Missouri Tourism Commission and the Governor, but a huge loss for the state of Missouri and its citizens,” said Mike Weiss, chairman of the Tour of Missouri, Inc. “It has been an insanely complicated battle for something so beneficial, and it’s left all of us absolutely baffled.
—Tour of Missouri press release May 27, 2010
So, OK, I’m indeed bitter, pissed and sarcastic here. It seems like yet another continental racing effort that just seems to come and go. The sad reality is I can go on with a list of them that I have came to love, like loved ones in my family. The Tour DuPont, Coors Classic, Red Zinger, Tour of Georgia, and now the Tour of Missouri. What does it take to develop a race w/tradition and a heritage that is set in stone?
Can we blame the opposition? As cyclists, we sometimes are not even unified ourselves in something we love. Some work and negotiate to make these races happen. Sometimes it may mean negotiating and developing what appears to be odd relationships. However, working with others to gain support that is more in our interest than theirs is to our benefit, i.e. Amgen and the Tour of California. Despite these benefits however, there are those who despise the corporate support of our racing ventures and cannot understand why we have such odd relationships. Others are indifferent and do nothing in support nor otherwise.
The sad reality is that it takes money and a lot of it in order to support races and events of this magnitude. Private sponsorships, mutual relationships and negotiations have got to be delicately balanced in order for us to have and enjoy something so central to us, that of big cycling events and races.
So our opposition uses this against us. They exploit this weakness and use it as an advantage. They use those who say nothing and point to them as examples that ‘most don’t really care’. The vocal opponents would rather see money used elsewhere.
The key is this: I hope for our sakes that we can unify our divergent ideas, respect our differences and recognize the single thing we have in common. The bike. Sure, we can have interesting discussions like we have here at RKP, we can even heat it up at times, we can correct one another, challenge one another, but when it comes to the outside circles that we congregate ourselves we should represent cycling well and always help it become elevated to the ranks it deserves.
As far as the Tour of Missouri goes, rest in peace my friend, it was a great ride wasn’t it?
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International
In part II of our talk with Steve Bauer we ask him about his best day ever, the ’88 Tour de France where he finished fourth and his decision to become a team director. You can read part I here.
RKP: What about when you look back on your career—your best day. What’s the day you look back on with greatest pride or most satisfaction?
SB: I think the best day, the best one-day race I did was in the world championships in Chambery where Greg won [ed. note: 1989]. I punctured at the top. I was on really top form and I just won the Championship of Zurich the week before. It was a very difficult course that maybe I wouldn’t put myself as one of the favorites, but I was just so strong I rode an excellent race. I was patient, I waited for the attacks and the last lap I was there with all the best and over the top and the break was right there. Greg had just bridged across and I was coming across and I got a flat tire. So you know … I was on, and Kelly was under-geared. He only had like a 13 on and I had the right gear. Who knows if I had done a stupid attack or not done something right. I’m thinking to myself if Greg had led me out for 300 meters (laughing)—which he did. You watch the tape—like Fignon goes and Greg chases him down, he turns the bend and down the straight. He’s on the front for a long time and nobody can come by him. Konyshev was in the break all day.
I think to myself, if he’d led me out like that I don’t think he would have held me off, that’s how good I felt. It’s just bad luck. But I wasn’t there in the sprint because I had punctured, so who knows what would have happened. If I would have changed up or if I had waited for the sprint or if I’d attacked, who knows? You just never know ‘cause I wasn’t there.
RKP: The ’88 Tour. Going into the Tour that year. What were your expectations, how it unfolded. Did you see yourself stepping into such a major role?
SB: You know what? I don’t think so. Maybe I didn’t believe enough in myself. It was one of those Tours where it was extremely hot. A lot of guys were dropping out, or had trouble. Fignon was dropping out. There’s sort of a lot of favorites who weren’t there. Greg wasn’t there. That’s not to say it was a totally soft Tour because some of the guys were out, but I think the conditions that year suited me really well. I would say I was on the peak, the peak of my career so I was on super form. I can’t say I expected to be so close to the podium, but that’s the way it evolved. I just found myself climbing well and just in super condition. That’s what it’s all about, you know? Being at the top of your form.
RKP: So now you’re involved with Team Spidertech presented by Planet Energy. How did that come about?
SB: That was kind of interesting. I’ve been asked a lot—well, more than a few times—to be a director for a pro team. As far back as Jim Ochowicz asked me when I moved on to Saturn Cycling Team in 1996, if I would continue on as director with Motorola. I said, ‘Nah, Och, I want to race another year.’ So that was kinda the first time. And then the same year the Postal Service was starting and Mark Gorski asked me if I was interested in racing for their team, but they wanted me to continue on as a director afterward, sort of like double value. He was interested; I can’t say negotiations went very far.
And then I got into the bike touring thing because that’s sort of what happened to finish the career. Wanted to race, got into the Olympics, looked at alternatives, then started doing the bike touring thing. I was about two years into that and Lance asked me if I wanted to direct the team. So that was when they were looking for a new director and, uh, history has it they took Johan Bruyneel. Because I said no. And the reason I said no was the timing wasn’t good for me in my life; I just wasn’t ready to do it. And over the years there’s been other asks, so when this came along, the chance to go back to grass roots in Canada—I saw the Canadian racing scene had evolved, there were some good riders, obviously have more riders on the ProTour now. the sport’s evolved competitively in Canada, I thought, ‘You know what, there’s some good riders here, maybe we can work with some of them and build something.’
That felt right. I don’t know why, but it just sort of felt right. Why Lance would ask me and I wouldn’t go with Lance and start our own thing—I don’t really evaluate it that much, but that’s what happened. It feels good but it’s a lot of work. It feels like the right thing to do. To be back in the game, in a special way, it feels good.
RKP: Is it fair to say that because it meant developing primarily Canadian riders that it had a greater attraction for you?
SB: That was a hot button. Working with Canadian partners … the Canadian theme is definitely strong within our mandate but I don’t know if that’s the principal reason. I think taking ownership of something that you build is intriguing; it’s a lot more work obviously, but we set our own destiny so to speak. That’s sort of been my life in cycling. I haven’t really worked for anybody else. I’m not saying that’s the pure reason either, but sometimes timing makes the difference for everything.
RKP: In terms of objectives, what are the big races you are hoping to get into and what are the big performances you’d love to see?
SB: Well, I think in two short years we’ve evolved nicely. You always want to grow quicker, win bigger races, but I think our evolution is on track. We have a stronger team this year than we did last year. We have a little bit of experience behind us now—we won some nice races and we have the potential to win more. I think winning a stage of Missouri last fall was a fantastic opportunity and proved that we have some pretty talented boys on the squad.
RKP: It was a very high-profile performance.
SB: Yeah, you don’t go by the fastest guys in the world every day. But, you know, it just shows our focus was right and we were there to win a bike race and not just to be part of the show, and show that we could go on the attack. We did some of that too, but we also won a bike race, which is what it’s all about.
This year our fingers are crossed for an invite to the Tour of California. We believe that we’re going to get that opportunity. It’s a much tougher race than Missouri and obviously the competition will be deeper and we’ll be well prepared, but the opportunity—if it arises—we have some pretty fast guys and you never know. You get a little bit of luck, the right chance and it’s within our grasp to win a stage. I’m not saying I think that’s a dream, I think it’s possible. We might not even get top 10 in a stage, but there’s guys on this team that are capable. We won’t get many chances. You know what I mean? There’s 16 teams and there’s only eight stages. And most of them don’t really suit our team well. So, if we got one shot at a final sprint, we might have an opportunity. Even a podium or top five would be pretty cool.
Philadelphia is a big goal because it’s totally within our grasp to win that bike race, and that’s a big focus.
Then the rest of the season we’ll move through our regular goals of the Tour de Beauce and the Canadian Nationals, and then in the fall we have the big ProTour events in Canada, which we’ll compete in as a national team. We have a wild card as a national team. Spidertech will be a part of that and our infrastructure and our riders will be, too, but we won’t fill the whole roster, because that would be a little bit too bold to expect all our riders could fill a national team. There are some other good boys on other North American continental teams that are pretty good that would supplement our guys pretty well. We’re looking forward to that and we’ll need to do some pretty tough races to get our guys prepared, because those are going to be tough one-day races—up and down, climbing, perfect classic bike races.
RKP: Are there any plans to go to Europe this year?
SB: We’d like to go to Europe in August. We’re aiming to do one or two stage races in the middle of August to prepare for the ProTour events in September. We’d like to have more bike races in North America, but we might need to go to Europe for a few weeks—two or three weeks max.
RKP: That should be educational for the guys.
SB: Yeah, some guys have been there; actually, in year one we went over to Belgium and showed them a little bit of the toughness of the Belgian one-day races there. We got beat up pretty good and guys got sick and the whole nine yards. It was probably a little early in our evolution, but the thing is there are no bike races here in March. There’s not much going on, it’s too bad. We need more stuff in February, like the old Tour of Texas; I don’t remember just when it was, but it was early. I remember racing against 7-Eleven back then.
Images: John Pierce, Photosport International
Back in the 1990s Mario Cipollini was getting fined by the UCI with the frequency Cristiano Ronaldo seems to be fouled. The Lion King couldn’t just show up to a stage of a grand tour and ride it. No, he had to put on a show and when Cannondale became the sponsor of Cipollini’s Team Saeco, in them he found a willing partner to make an entry spashy enough for Milan or Paris.
Leading the Tour of Italy? Let’s do a pink kit and bike to match. Leading the Tour de France? How about a yellow kit and a matching yellow bike? Celebrating the Fourth of July? Why not wear some stars and stripes shorts?
Cipo may be gone, but Cannondale’s sense of style is intact. We received these photos from Cannondale of a special bike they whipped up for the Tour of California.
Sprinter Francesco Chicchi of Team Liquigas took two stages at last year’s Tour of Missourri, the stages into St. Louis and St. Joseph. Following his win in St. Louis—the gateway to the West—Chicchi declared his love of American western movies and the folks at Cannondale decided to have a bit of fun.
Cannondale presented Chicchi with this bike upon his return to the U.S. for the Tour of California and with the bike comes a nickname: Frank the Sheriff.
Cannondale worked with an Italian design company called Artech to give the bike its wild-west-themed look. Artech is no stranger to the bike industry. This isn’t the first time they have worked with Cannondale, and they were also responsible for the custom paint jobs you may have seen on some of Cinelli’s Ram integrated bar and stem combination.
Liquigas saddle sponsor Fi:zi’k even got into the act with a custom Arione saddle with the central leather strip replaced with one of cowhide. They also provided him with leather bar tape.
“I hope the day comes this week when I can fire off another shot and win here in California. Then they can say that the new sheriff is in town, named Frank!” Chicchi said when he was presented with the bike.
USA Cycling, in response to a request from the UCI, has banned race radios in almost all road and track events. With the exception of UCI HC or Category 1 races, radios and audio playback devices (iPods and MP3 players to us normal folk) may not be used. Effectively, that means you’ll see radios still in use in all the events that actually result in race-watching tourism: the Amgen Tour of California, the Tour of Missouri, the Philadelphia International Classic (men) and Liberty Classic (women).
Last fall, the UCI banned race radio use in all races with a .2 classification. USAC’s action extends that ban to non-UCI-sanctioned events, thereby ensuring that you won’t see radios in use in any Pro/I/II events. The same is true for similar category European-held events, as was announced a few months ago, but this expansion of the ban—which also includes “audio playback devices”—moves things a small step closer to an outright ban on race radios in the events we cycling fans really follow.
For radio bans to extend further one of the best developments that could take place is for race organizers elect to ban them from their races. The Amaury Sport Organization is the obvious candidate for this as they could try it in a race such as Paris-Nice before considering it in an event such as Paris-Roubaix or the Tour de France.
Team can be expected to fight any expansion of this rule with the fervor of a gang war, but the arbiter will be race outcomes. The success of a suicide break or two will give the UCI all the ammo it needs to push its will into all the ProTour events.
Image: John Pierce, Photosport International