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Letters to Cyclingnews - March 9, 2007
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ASO - UCI split
Like many, I have been following the situation that has developed between the UCI and ASO and others with increasing astonishment. I cannot see how the aims of the ASO is of any benefit to the sport of cycling and can only result in serious investment in the sport falling away.
Sponsors invest in cycling in order to show their brand in front of a large audience. The higher the expected audience, the greater the investment. The ProTour, for all its faults, presents the sponsors with a predictable audience and this attracts sponsors to the sport.
The ASO, RCS etc. want to break this model and impose one where they control the teams that participate in their races. Sponsors have a wide variety of sporting propositions and cannot be expected to invest in a sport where they cannot predict audience and return on investment.
The timing of the spat suggests that the ASO is cynically writing off some of the smaller but important races early in the season, gambling that they will force the UCI to accede to their demands before the major Classics and Grand Tours, thereby ensuring that companies holding TV rights, and the paying sponsors of their major events will not suffer reduced return on investment through reduced audience share.
As an individual, there is not much that I can do to resolve this issue, but I will not be watching or reading about races held by the ASO, RCS etc. until the situation is resolved properly. The Tours of California and Georgia show that it's possible to put on a great race without all the baggage associated with parochial organisations.
If the management of both sides cannot find a way forward, they should consider the best interest of the sport and resign their positions in favour of those who can.
The problem originally started when Verbruggen looked enviously at Bernie Ecclestone's bank balance and made unilateral decisions without consulting the organisers and teams. Just like the recent announcement of 20 teams instead of 18.
The UCI and the national associations have no money; they simply perform administrative functions that have value. The teams, their sponsors and the race organisers make this sport happen with their money.
If there is going to be a UCI then it is these people that should decide who the president is, what’s on the calendar, etc. not a bunch of manipulated and self-interested country delegates.
The UCI is basing their attack on the ASO and Paris-Nice on their regulation which prohibits ProTour teams from participating in national events. But that same section of the regulations limits ProTour teams to no more than 50% of the teams in other non-ProTour events, such as Het Volk.
By my count 15 of the 25 teams lining up for Het Volk are in the ProTour, which is significantly more than 50%. It appears that the UCI is only interested in enforcing its regulations when it serves its own purposes.
Both party's are acting quite unprofessionally but in the end all we want to know is: Who will win? I would think it has to be the organisers.
Riders don't grow up wanting to race...they grow up wanting to race the Tour, Paris-Nice, specific events. The tifosi don't want to watch a cycling race, they want to watch the Giro, Tirreno-Adriatico, and all the other great contests.
We follow pro cycling not just for this years racing, but for the sense of history, the aura and mystique that surrounds the years past. The UCI doesn't seem to realise that the events in question are bigger than the organisers, bigger than the UCI and bigger than the sport itself. If they continue to take the hard line with ASO etc they may not have a sport to expand.
Although I don't support the idea of Unibet.com being used a pawn in this ridiculous power struggle, another thought occurs to me: Shouldn't the potential backers of the team have seen this coming? You'd think that someone at Unibet, at some point, might have considered the following:
a) Online gambling ads aren't allowed in France
Rob Found argues that the UCI shouldn't have approved the ProTour license in the first place, but surely it's up to the team and its sponsors to take care of 'due diligence'? At the very least one thinks they might have checked with the French government in advance if they wanted an exception.
If the legality of the Unibet.com team in certain jurisdictions wasn't an issue, then it would be easier to criticize the UCI and Grand Tour organizers for their (then unjustifiable) handling of the team's situation.
In the February 19 letters, Jean-Christophe Boulay opinioned that Unibet doesn't belong in the ProTour.
Well, today, we saw two Unibet riders in the top 10 of the Het Volk (in addition to the team being quite active throughout the race). A whopping five French teams managed to get just one rider (a Belgian) in the top 10.
Maybe that is why the ASO isn't keen on this team.
There is an easy solution to the legal question for Unibet. Make up a new team kit with the words "Warning! Illegal in France" printed in French and "Warning! Illegal in Belgium" printed in Flemish in big red letters.
Thus the team sponsors rather than advertising online gambling will simply be doing their civil duty of informing the public on French and Belgian law (and of course no one from those countries would dream of breaking the law).
Wow - hasn't Unibet got itself into quite the mess! I can understand why they're miffed with the Grand Tour organizers - their Pro Tour license wasn't cheap. But why, now that they have a Pro Tour license, are they suddenly prohibited from wearing their jerseys in races on French soil, when they didn't seem to have any problems doing so last year?
I'm not so sure they're such an innocent pawn in the tug of war between the UCI and the tour organizers, either. You'd think that with so much money on the line, they'd do their due diligence and examine all the risks related to pro cycling - such as archaic, monopolistic nationalized lotteries not liking the presence of a foreign upstart nosing into their sacred ground.
I don't know that there's anything Unibet can do to salvage their situation for 2007. Sure, they can sue the UCI and the tour organizers, but that's like throwing good money after bad…but hey, they are an online gambling company - maybe they like their odds.
I think they should just stick with the ‘?’ jerseys and suck up the extra press - as you pointed out last week, it's earned them at least as much free coverage as their wins.
Thanks for covering this race…at least the results; it is the most extreme race out there. You know it when your bike starts creaking at -30 degrees Celsius from all the different materials condensing at different rates!
From doing it myself a few times it is epic. And Peter should have all the props for his skill both as a racer and back-country recon. Going down a new path getting off course/trail at that point in the race is not a decision you want to be forced into making! You've probably been up straight for 48+ hours and seeing things in broad daylight.
Not only did he set the new record, but it was another 30+ miles of untraveled terrain. Pete way to go man!
I enjoyed reading the reflection of Jan Ullrich’s early career in the piece that was written by Phill Bates in the March 8 latest news: Young Ullrich Remembered. This article showed a side of Jan that cycling fans do not often consider. Jan is a great champion that brought more to the sport of cycling than he took from it.
I, for one, am a fan that has appreciated his career and I will miss seeing him compete over the next few seasons. Additionally, I prefer to remember Jan in the light that Bates has shed upon him as opposed to how the authorities of the cycling world have attempted, unconvincingly, to portray him.
He may not have the record of a Lance Armstrong in the Tour de France, but to me, Jan Ullrich, was the greatest cyclist of his era. Seeing him ride a time trial at full speed was like poetry in motion. No one will ever look as close to the ‘ideal bike rider’ as he did. Jan, we will miss you! Good luck to you and your family
ProTour teams don’t pay for anything at the Tour of California, only the airfare. The ToC "sponsors" ProTour teams, but local US teams have to pay approximately $15,000 fee. So ProTour teams will come again and again for "free racing".
So how do you figure out the Discovery Channel's public profile in Europe? Discovery Channel broadcasts to most European countries where cycling is a premier TV sport and we don't care much for Armstrong any more either, but we do care about cycling.
It seems very short sighted and American centric that Discovery Channel pulls out of cycling sponsorship just because the US public doesn't watch cycling now Lance has retired, while Europe watches cycling on TV as much as the US watches the Super Bowl.
The viewing figures will probably show that more people in Europe watch cycling on TV without Armstrong than US citizens watched cycling with Armstrong.
While we can say that the lack of Lance riding or the recent doping scandals contributed to Discovery pulling the sponsor money after this season, the real blame goes to Discovery.
They had every opportunity to put cycling into the public eye through the use of their television networks. Instead the majority of the Discovery cycling coverage the first year ended up on cable stations that not everyone has access to (Chasing Lance on FitTv) and then the second year they switched to web only content. Furthermore, you either couldn’t buy the programs they produced until recently or they were originally available for a limited time.
Discovery really dropped the ball when it came time to promote the team. The Tour of California has shown that there is an interest in this country in professional cycling. Furthermore NBC is set to broadcast the U.S. Championship Open. Discovery should have looked to how NASCAR promotes itself, because after all if folks will sit around for hours and watch cars race around in a circle, why not watch cyclists on the open roads?
I'm getting tired of people talking about Floyd having had these results in training before as if you can compare a day's training with the third day in a row in the high Alps towards the end of a three week stage race. Who's kidding who? The point is pointless and a "red herring."
Finally, one point no-one is willing to make is that Floyd is the only solo mountain breakaway in recent if not other than maybe Merckx or Coppi to gain time on the final climb. Sastre had made up around a minute, Cunego and/or Moreau maybe seconds. Rasmussen, albeit not as strong a TT rider as Floyd, but certainly in the same general class as a mountain climber, lost minutes.
Nicholas A. Chivily
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