ASO involved in Tour of Beijing?

Monday, 18 July 2011

UCI Beijing

Time to step away from the Tour de France for a moment and reheat an issue that’s been simmering all year. There was a frustrating saga earlier this year when teams rejected the ban of race radios, the portable communications linking a rider with the team car. Things went so far that it set up a serious conflict between the top teams and the sport’s governing body, the UCI.

The issue is still a sore matter with the leading teams threatening to boycott the new Tour of Beijing, not so much because they want radios but because the teams are in a power struggle with the UCI, the radio issue is a Trojan Horse for bigger ideas.

Masterstroke?
Now comes news of a crafty tactic by the UCI. They are involving ASO in the organisation of the race. I’d heard this from a well-placed source last week but now the news is reaching the media too so let’s explore the idea.

This Chinese race, scheduled for October, is being catapulted into the World Tour calendar despite being completely new. Noticeably it is organised by the UCI itself, the governing body is branching out into race organisation and has a substantial financial stake in the race. As such the absence of the top teams in this race would be a big embarrassment and possibly financially damaging for the UCI. The top teams know that threats of a boycott gives the UCI sleepless nights.

ASO is the company that organises the Tour de France and consequently it is one of the most powerful players in the sport. Perhaps ASO will bring more in terms of organisation but this is a very clever move by the UCI. Teams will think twice about upsetting the Tour de France organisers because selection to the biggest races could be stake, certainly it would not make sense to upset both the UCI and ASO.

Deploying the badger
There’s also a genuine business interest for ASO. The company is promoting a cyclosportif event in South America later this year and is reviewing plans for a similar event in China. They’ve even dispatched Bernard Hinault to Shanghai.

No end to the issue
The politics goes on. ASO could underline the weakness of the governing body. Does the UCI really need help to run a race in terms of organisation? Is it struggling to enforce the UCI World Tour rule that all teams with “ProTeam” status take part in races with World Tour status?

We’ll see what happens but this could be both a clever tactic but also a sign of the ongoing and unresolved bickering that exists behind the sport. There are frustrations, ambitions and – above all – a lot of money at stake. The power struggles go on but if the UCI gets ASO on board then the game has changed.

UPDATE - 1820 CET: we can remove the question marks now. My source was correct and the UCI confirmed the partnership with ASO today during the Tour de France rest day.

Tom July 18, 2011 at 12:04 pm

This is really starting to look like the FIA-FOCA battle in motorsport in the seventies. It ended up favourably for Bernie Ecclestone who runs formula one since then.

Rooie July 18, 2011 at 2:13 pm

This is the worst outcome for the position of the teams. ASO is private for-profit organisation shareholders, while the UCI is a non-profit organisation. Not the UCI but the ASO determines which teams are eligible for the TdF, PN, Paris-Roubaix, Vuelta etc.

The profits made with cycling (tv-rights etc.) currently go directly to the ASO. The UCI and the teams don’t profit whatsoever form the most important and most profitable races. For the position of the teams and the riders, the current collaboration between UCI and ASO must be very treathening. They are allowed a fee, but not much more.

If we look at the teams in autoracing and football, we see the same problems. The UEFA essentially lost there battle with the clubs (stable organisations cause of there stadiums), which resulted in the biggest clubs earning quite a fair share of the financial results of the Chapions League. Ecclestone was able to neglect the teams. He was able to overwpower the unstable racingteams, thus getting full control over the F1 by himself.

The teams and riders in cycling should withstand the ASO and request their share of tv-rights or partial ownership of ASO. For the riders this can lead too much higher earnings, because then their teams and not ASO alone can profit from the Tour and other big races.

Rooie July 18, 2011 at 2:19 pm

An afterthought.

Look at the balance-sheets and incomes of the biggest footballclubs in the world . Apart from the oocasional sheiks, approximately 2/3 is drawn form the teams share in tv-rights, 1/6 form ticket-sales and 1/6 from sponsors.

In cycling though, the biggest teams are almost 100% financed wih money from sponsors. In other words, they miss 5/6th of the possible aernings a footballclub can make.

Touriste-Routier July 18, 2011 at 2:22 pm

Bringing in a 3rd party to manage things makes a lot of sense for a UCI owned event. Just because an organizational has the requisite technical skills to organize a race, doesn’t mean they have the logistical skills, equipment, or available bandwidth. Many races use this model; in the US, the Tour of California is owned by AEG, but it is “run” by Medalist.

If the ASO is merely put in place on a “work for hire” basis, they may not care about who enters and who does not, after all, it isn’t really their show. Phone calls/visits between team management and ASO management will tell the tale.

The Inner Ring July 18, 2011 at 2:25 pm

Rooie: note in football teams get the money because they host the games. In cycling, it is the race organiser who hosts the competition. It’ll be hard for teams to get a share, especially since even just competing in the Tour is a valuable proposition.

T-R: true but the UCI organisers the Worlds every year and had set up a special race promotion business to run the race. Something’s changed suddenly.

ave July 18, 2011 at 5:13 pm

There was an interview with Pescheux in Cycle Sport, where he said cycling in an amateur system in the roots. And there’s cycling besides the races shown on TV, and they need them…

So ASO seems to stand on the side of the UCI.

MarcL July 18, 2011 at 6:15 pm

This is a good move by the UCI, and an opportunistic one by ASO, to forestall the power grab by the teams. The teams are going after the UCI now, but long term they would be on a collision course with ASO as well. I am pretty sure that all parties that are pursuing growth of pro road cycling see that some form of revenue sharing must occur. These are the initial moves in this larger fight.

ColoradoGoat July 18, 2011 at 6:59 pm

Ignoring the power struggle issue – how about the fact that I bet most cyclists would have no interest in racing for 5 straight days in the wonderful Beijing air. Want to ruin your lungs…spend upwards of 15 – 20 hours breathing Beijing air, unfiltered in a week. You might as well take up smoking.

Beth July 18, 2011 at 10:23 pm

I agree totally about the air; I know some people who have spent several weeks in China recently and they describe it exactly as ColoradoGoat says. This spring the teams decided to end their boycott threats because they didn’t want to hurt the financial interests of the race organizers. Especially at such short notice. But they have given notice about this late season race way in advance. If the teams are to ever have any power to their union, they need to not blink. The power balance is way way way on the side of the UCI, with ASO, RAI, and other organizers a comfortable second place. The teams are scarcely at the table. What would happen, if it came to a game of chicken, with the UCI and the ASO basically daring the teams to not show up and see what happens. What would happen? I don’t know and am asking. If the teams really believe this is an issue worthing fighting over, then they need to take a stand and not waver from it. Easy for me to say, I know.

Touriste-Routier July 18, 2011 at 11:21 pm

@INRNG the logistic for Worlds, are essentially the same as a one day race; the courses are fixed, even though the races last several days. But a tour is a very different beast since the starts & finishes can change every day.

@Rooie et al.: One can not automatically equate prestige and history with profitability for an event. Like INRNG stated, the teams don’t have much power with the race organizers, and I doubt they ever will. You can’t really compare business structures of leagues (baseball, football, hockey, etc.) with cycling; they have very little in common, from the lack of stadiums to the lack of universal tv deals.

The racers/teams need the races; the organizers bear all the business risk of putting them on, and don’t have much in terms of tangible assets, and not all events are truly “for profit” ventures. If one team boycotts a race, there are loads of Conti Pro & Conti teams who will be happy to take their place, even if it is the Tour of the Calcutta Slums on January 1st. What many people don’t realize is that teams often get travel stipends or appearance fees for participating in events, particularly less prestigious events.

Bundle July 18, 2011 at 11:59 pm

Forget Beijing and its polluted dry air. Better make a classic one-day race from Naryn (Kyrgyzstan) to Kashgar in the Chinese Xinjiang, 330 km. of bad, bad roads through the 3.700 meters high Torugart Pass. Give this sport its sense of adventure back!
I would love to see one of those 50 metre Schleck accelerations on a climb that’s 70 km from the finish.

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