You may have heard that recently, the Gifted Group who are behind ambitious plans for a World Series Cycling project met for discussions on how to proceed with their ideas. The main man behind it, Jonathan Price, claimed that ‘We’re working with the UCI and Zdenek [Bakala, the owner of OPQS]] to build a competitive product that we think cycling fans worldwide want and which is good for the sport.”
So to recap, what is it that they think you and I, cycling fans, want? Well, it’s a race calender that goes like this effectively:
– The teams ride the three Grand Tours, the Giro d’Italia, the Tour de France and the Vuelta a Espana which are included in the series.
– They also ride just six of the ‘major classics’ , ie Milan San-Remo, Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Amstel Gold, Liege-Bastonge-Liege and the Tour of Lombardy.
– Here’s the odd bit. The riders are obliged to ride 10 (ten…) new 4 day ‘Grand Prix’ events which consist of a flat stage, a time trial, a rolling stage and a mountain stage.
– Riders would only ride a max of 88 days a year, which would leave 44 days for grand tours and classics. This would be as part of the anti-doping system.
– There would no longer be a world championship, with a points system over the Grand Prixs deciding who would be the world champion and the best team at the end of the year.
– The teams share the TV revenue and get greater technological freedom over bikes etc.
As of this moment, eight teams have signed up for this, Omega Pharma-QuickStep, Garmin-Sharp, Cannondale , Movistar, Vacansoleil-DCM, Saxo-Tinkoff, RadioShack-Nissan and the former Rabobank. All seems to be good and trendy then, but this is in reality a system that would surely be hugely detrimental to cycling in a variety of manners.
First off, the racing. The World Cycling Series (WSC) claim that small race organisers won’t be disadvantaged, but when these small organisers live off the TV revenue, it doesnt look good when WSC seem to have their main aim to be taking TV revenue off them and giving it to the teams. Plus, if all the ‘top riders’ are now obligated to ride these 4 day Grand Prixs, which adds 40 days of racing to their calender, they are hardly going to be able, let alone want, to compete in the races history has proved to be the best. In essence, the plans will kill off the smaller, romantic local races and drive everything into the hands of ‘supermarket’esque movements who soak up all the little men into one amorphous blob.
And then there’s these 4-day ‘Grand Prix’ races, that must consist of a flat, time trial, rolling and mountain stage each. Cycling has flourished because of its innovation, flair, characters and dramatic appeal. So how exactly does making all races generic and conformist to a pattern work with that? And where exactly are these places where all three types of terrain are to be found? You couldn’t have such a race in Britain realistcally, nor in Brittany, a cycling heartland. So no doubt this will be part of a ‘globalisation’ push where riders will be shipped out to Russia and China and made to ride up a mountain no fan has ever heard of to justify some checkpoint in the WSC’s ‘diversity’ book. Fans want to see riders take on the historic, existing races – not forced into sterile, generic events built to rake in money. For as we will return to, that is all the WSC seems to be about.
As for the decision that the world champion is now a season long ranking, why the hell has cycling suddenly become obsessed with season long rankings? The WSC claim the grand prixs will be able to show everyone who is the best sprinter, climber, time triallist etc, but a) we already know this (Cavendish, Contador, Wiggins for this 2012), b) why do we need an over elaborate 40 day race series to tell us this anyway?! Cycling is not about numbers and stats, it is about history and drama, and yet the WSC seems to think that rankings and definitive answers are what fans want. I certainly don’t, it sounds mind numbingly dull.
This is best surmised by the idea that their wouldn’t be a World championship. I’m sure the analogy they’ll draw will be from F1, the sport they are clearly desperately trying to emulate, where they’ll say the world champion is sensibly decided by the accumulation of who is best over the year, not a single race. But they clearly havent thought it through even if we dont attribute the F1 analogy to them – who gets the points priority for instance? If the points for the mountain stages and time trials are the same, then who wins if two men both win the same number? Do we really want a world champion decided on ‘countback’? Wouldn’t a much better idea, one that would reflect the diversity of abilities and talents in cycling, and would still fit with the WSC’s goals, be to say, ooh, I don’t know, have a different course every year and a one day race that provides drama and excitement and the chance to stake everything to win the ultimate prize for a whole year. We could call it the World Championship Road Race.
Unfortunately, it all looks very much like the WSC is simply driven by money. My pal Vaughters has oft claimed that TV revenue should be shared, and that appears to be the key motive for teams to get on board – extra funding. The race series appear to be poorly disguised ways to turn cycling into F1 and thus be able to sell broadcast rights at obscene prices and make the teams even richer. Note who hasn’t been mentioned in this little scheme – the fans. They (we) would undoubtedly have to pay to watch at some point, whether it be some Flanders-esque circuit scheme or a TV package, plus get dictated which events they would like to watch. When you remember that cycle racing was invented to sell newspapers, and thus to entertain the public, the WSC just shows how they have completely lost their way, removing fans and turning the whole sport into an insular, cossetted, Vaughters friendly buisness plan with no regard for the traditions or ideals of the sport at all.
Cycling isn’t in as bad a position as everyone seems to whine on about. The media frenzy over Armstrong seems to have created this illusion that it’s about to collapse and desperately needs saving, as reporters throng to get their piece in on it (forgetting that none of the ‘evidence’ would get past a court of law, but thats besides the point) and the UCI have become a political football for everyone to try and claim drastic change needs to be implemented, oddly enough all collated to their business interests. Cycling the sport, not the politics, is just fine the way it is. Sure, some things need fixing – the points system, the obtuse license method, doping, and weight limits. But the current climate seems to perceive this need to ‘change or die’ and that globalisation is the only option. Cycling needs renovation, not revolution, and so hopefully, the teams will see sense and abandon the WSC and their plans to the history books.