I’ve been away for the last two weeks and catching up with news from cycling. Here are a few things that have caught my attention so far.
Four weeks to go
The 2012 season is now less than four weeks away as the Tour Down Under starts on 15 January 2012. The race has grown on me over the years. Some label it a training race in the sunshine but if was only that it would be great as it marks the end of the winter off-season, we get to see the new kit and bikes abd with internet streams, the racing too.
But the rising importance of UCI Pro Tour points and the haul on offer mean the race is no holiday, there is now too much at stake for riders and teams. The overall winner takes 100 points. That’s the same as winning Paris-Roubaix or the Tour de Suisse and it is substantial enough to alter the team rankings. The top-3 teams in 2011 were separated by fewer than 100 points.
This year’s edition is also an improvement given it features an uphill finish on Willunga Hill. Previously used mid-stage, this is no mountain but at 3km at 7% it should offer more variety to the general classification and break from the common sprint finishes to most stages.
Australia cycling seems to be enjoying the dividends of Cadel Evans’ Tour de France win and I hope the race is enough to satisfy curious TV viewers who tune in to find out what the sport is about. It seems some fans are nervous as the race has been poached away from “home of cycling” broadcaster SBS to rival Channel Nine and the production values and commentary skills are uncertain.
No more Tour Méditerranéen
One race that’s less successful is the Tour Méditerranéen, it won’t happen in 2012. An early season race in February, it often featured the first summit finish of the year on Mont Faron and I’ll miss this race.
Not the biggest race but it’s another French event off the calendar. Luckily there are many more but outside of the prime events run by ASO like the Tour or Paris-Roubaix many pro races are run by semi-amateur organising committees staffed by volunteers and local cycling officials and often happen thanks to the charisma and drive of a particular organiser. Rising organisational costs seem to have hit the Tour Med and I fear more events will meet the same fate.
The central Asian nation is known to cyclists for the Astana team and emblematic rider Alexander Vinokourov. Indeed the team exists to promote the country abroad and also serves as a means for ruling President Nazarbayev to sprinkle himself with some celebrity dust. It goes well beyond cycling, The Economist noted:
“Mr Nazarbayev spends fortunes on having Western public-relations firms, lobbyists and a former British prime minister, Tony Blair, burnish his image”
Not that he has to care about popularity, last April President Nazarbayev was re-elected to another five-year term receiving 95.54 percent of the vote. The Economist says “elections are rigged and a vast media and public-relations machine is given over to his personality cult“. The Astana team is part of this machine.
The same weekly newspaper describes the country as “nasty” and “brutish” and now reports say protesters were killed by police in a recent demonstration, the body count seems to vary from 10 to 70 according to different sources. Whilst we want to celebrate the sports team and welcome Kazakh cyclists – partly as a means to escape the bad news of oppression or violence around the world – knowing the squad exists as a PR exercise for the grim rulers of this country means I’m finding it hard to celebrate the team.
Philippe Gilbert has been named sportsman of the year in Belgium, alongside tennis player Kim Clijsters as best sportswoman. Gilbert now joins Clijsters by signing with sports and media agency Golazo. Like Mark Cavendish with Wasserman Group, Gilbert is employing the services of a large organisation to manage his affairs and image, although Golazo isn’t in the top bracket of agencies. They could start with his personal website which needs a remake.
At the other end I was catching up with the interview on Velonation with Dan Lloyd of Garmin-Cervélo. Lloyd tells Ed Hood that “He was finally told that his contract wasn’t being renewed after the Giro di Lombardia, on October 15th” which sounds odd since the normal rules say a team should notify a rider by no later than 30 September if they are not being kept on.
When asked if he had an agent, Lloyd says he had “someone trying to help” but he and any helpers probably shouldn’t have waited until mid-October to find there was no spot on the team. Don’t get this wrong, I’m not blaming here but a consistent thing across the sport is that everyone seems to leave things until the last minute. I still think teams should be required to register for the following season by July, allowing more time for riders – and their agents – to find a spot before the season finishes.