Asymmetric globalisation: UCI adds more racing in China

Monday, 13 February 2012

Hangzhou province

As well as the decision to rule on Saxo Bank’s future in the top level, last Friday’s UCI press release announced a new race, the Tour of Hangzhou. This five day stage race will take place in October after the Tour of Beijing. Just like the Beijing race this new event is being fast-tracked into UCI’s World Tour calendar and immediately I assumed it had to be run by the UCI’s commercial events promotion arm, Global Cycling Promotions, a fact confirmed by Velonation.


The race could be good
The Beijing Tour saw the UCI apply its expertise and hire Tour de France organisers to help with logistics. GCP can tick all the boxes for organisational skills and more so the race should meet the required standards. Better still, the region around Hangzhou is semi-mountainous and does not suffer from the appalling air pollution that is a health hazard for the Tour of Beijing. The city is also embracing cycling as a form of travel.

We can only speculate on the route but we can be sure that the race becomes crucial for many teams. Whilst many riders will be groaning about having to race in China in October, these 10 days become crucial for lesser-ranked teams. A stage victory or two can make all the difference when a squad is trying to retain its place in the top league. 10 days of racing means 10 days of points.

But we can only speculate on the future of the race, for now all we have to go on is the UCI press release. Here’s the relevant part of the text, my emphasis:

The five stage event would run from Wednesday to Sunday during the week following the 2012 Tour of Beijing.  Called the “Tour of Hangzhou”, it would be held in the area surrounding Hangzhou, a city with a population of 8.7 million in Southern China.

Pat McQuaid lauded the decision: “It is a natural step for cycling which is currently enjoying a period of huge growth worldwide. This will generate great visibility for teams and riders and can be expected to give a big boost to cycling. The injection of funding directly benefits the sport with financial returns from the new races re-invested into cycling and also profiting teams and other stakeholders down the line…”

…President McQuaid reiterated UCI’s commitment to investing in development at grass roots level and outlined that the WorldTour success has allowed the reinjection of considerable funding into training and development at regional, national and international level for men and women. He explained that the WorldTour is also expected to bring some direct returns for the athletes, teams and stakeholders involved in the future.

Note the frequent references to funding and returns. There are more references to money than sport.

Conflict of interest
We can see the twin goals of a governing body trying to promote the sport and an events promotion business catapulting a new event onto the top league. Many race organisers would love their event to enter the top league but struggle to convince the UCI; here the UCI is able to vote in favour of its own projects, there seems to be no independent panel to make the assessment in a neutral sense.

Asymmetric globalisation
If the World Tour is expanding in China, it is still not very international. We have 10 days in China but there’s not a day in Brazil, India or Russia, for now at least. And note there is only one day’s racing in Germany, Europe’s wealthiest economy. There’s nothing in the USA and Britain despite big budget pro teams and booming mass participation. Wealthy Japan has no big race. Indeed China now has more days of World Tour racing than Belgium.

Follow the money
It seems the UCI is spreading to sport to wherever GCP can sign a contract. As this blog first highlighted, the UCI raided the World Tour fund to provide seed capital to start GCP, something several teams are privately furious about. Now the UCI appears to justify the expense of GCP because profits from GCP will be ploughed back in to the sport. What is not clear is whether these profits come after the directors of GCP have taken their share.

In addition you don’t have to be a master kremlinologist to note the press release is talking about “direct returns… in the future” which seems to be saying “don’t form your breakaway league” by  implying money will one day flow to teams and riders. That’s possible but it’s odd much of the message seems destined for a handful of team managers exploring a breakaway league rather than the media and fans.

Summary
For all the financial interests and business decisions, there’s still some sport to be had and we should welcome this. But the UCI’s own press release makes more claims about revenues and money than racing and riding so the financial angle is impossible to ignore. With five days in China already, another five does not mean we’re taking cycling to new places.

The Tour de France was created to sell newspapers. But in a commercial sport it is still novel to see a governing body become so involved. If the UCI wants to try its hand at money-making and race organising then it cannot express surprise if money-makers and race organisers want to run the sport tomorrow.

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{ 19 comments }

CAT4Fodder February 13, 2012 at 8:05 pm

Here is my big fear given the current arrangements. Right now, it seems fairly benign, but it does raise questions about pay-offs and who knows what potentially corrupt actions may be occurring so that Pat can line his pockets. But again, these were open dates, and this is not interfering with more established races elsewhere.

But what if, for example, the UCI starts to run the idea of setting up its own events to compete with events which are based where cycling actually is one of THE major sports. What if for example, the UCI undercuts Het Volk for a race in India? What if the UCI, using the GCP, starts to hamper the sport in other places…such as the August period? The Tour of Utah is always at risk of ending, but currently, seems to have a nice set-up schedule wise, and attracts some big teams. But what if the UCI decides a race in India or Turkey or Russia should be scheduled that week, and under GCP, force these teams to have to go to Russia instead?

This is the problem I have…GCP essentially guarantees teams for its races…no other promoter gets that.

Pedaling the road February 13, 2012 at 8:13 pm

Interesting post. “China now has more days of WT racing than Belgium” a great way to visualize the globalization, and enlighten the challenges of today.
Cycling and money need to go hand in hand, no doubt, but there is a cost and who will pay? There are several questions about the GCP and how they operate. Their ROI last year was surprisingly small.

The Inner Ring February 13, 2012 at 8:20 pm

CAT4Fodder: exactly, the worry is that the UCI is now incentivised to make money and collect revenue and there are no safeguards for the more traditional role of a governing body to compile a fair calendar of events.

Pedaling the road: we’ll have to wait and see for the UCI accounts. The last time they were published the UCI left a giant IOU note for the pro teams as it siphoned off their money in the Pro Tour fund to provide the seed capital for GCP.

Privateer February 13, 2012 at 8:28 pm

This is a blindingly clear conflict of interest. Who regulates the regulators?

Roadie61 February 13, 2012 at 9:32 pm

The UCI [read: UCI/GCP] continues to not show loyalty to nations long-invested in Pro cycling; that Germany has one day only of WT racing and none in the U.S., Britain and Japan is unacceptable. With mass participation by citizens in both recreational cycling and racing (Germany, U.S. and Britain), these countries deserve WT status races.

China embraces cycling as a form of utility and travel, which is both good and necessary in a nation this large, but their government took people out of work and placed them on the streets of Beijing to watch the Tour of Beijing. Not a natural evolution of spectator-ship. China trumps Belgium in WT racing days, pathetic.

Pat and his cronies stole money from the WT fund to create GCP; they’re likely lining their pockets first — conflict of interest, hell yeah! It’s 2012, time to breakaway from the UCI!

STB February 13, 2012 at 10:31 pm

London recently announced plans for a ‘world class’ UCI elite road race for 2013 (which will also combine a mass participation sportif style event).

http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-16730893

I don’t know what the UCI stance is on this event but I hope it takes off.

Michael February 13, 2012 at 10:38 pm

China has 4 Continental Races, more than, amoung others: Canada, UK, Australia and Switzerland.

Hangzhou is the second largest city to host a GT stage after Beijing.

No one complains about State funding for Astana, Caja Rural, Euskatel, or any of the local cycling races in other parts of the world like the TDU, people only don’t like China because of their own personal bias.

We should be celebrating every country who wants to popularise cycling, not tearing them down because someone is making money from it.

As far as the terrain goes, there are some decent climbs in that area should the organisers want to use them, although typically they just go into mountain valleys so you couldn’t string together multiple passes very easily.

Cam February 13, 2012 at 10:49 pm

“here the UCI is able to vote in favour of its own projects, there seems to be no independent panel to make the assessment in a neutral sense.”

In the context of race approvals, isn’t this supposed to be the UCI’s Licence Commission? I wonder when the Commission last received and subsequently declined a completed ProTour/WorldTour event application with guaranteed funding?

The Chinese Cycling Association was slow to act on stage race opportunities prior to the Tour of Beijing materialising; it doesn’t appear to be the case now.

The Inner Ring February 13, 2012 at 11:02 pm

STB: yes, let’s hope more races appear.

Michael: I hope I’m not suggesting anti-China bias. Rather I’m just concerned that the calendar is being dictated by where the UCI is able to find races willing to engage GCP as the organiser. It’s different to Astana because the UCI is a governing body.

Cam: in simple terms the UCI President, Pat McQuaid, is a director of GCP.

Michael February 13, 2012 at 11:17 pm

I’m just saying no one would complain if GCP organised a protour race in Britain, and cycling fans would be over the moon were GCP to organise one in Colombia. Yet when it’s China everyone is up in arms.

Cam February 14, 2012 at 12:09 am

“I’m just concerned that the calendar is being dictated by where the UCI is able to find races willing to engage GCP as the organiser.”

Absolutely my sentiment also – the UCI is obviously on a money-driven “China bender”.

Back to my original question and your reply “in simple terms the UCI President, Pat McQuaid, is a director of GCP.” This is well known. My question related to race approvals.

Are you effectively implying members of the UCI’s supposedly independent Licence Commission (LC) are puppets of McQuaid? ie, if two events of equal merit and same origin are put to the LC – one by a non-related organizer, and the other by a McQuaid-led organisation (GCP) – the LC will automatically grant, or give preference to, the GCP event?

Additionally, the Professional Cycling Council – with four members representing teams and riders – gave support in principle to the Tour of Hangzhou. Surely we would hear protests from these members if they felt there was too much a conflict of interest?

Cam February 14, 2012 at 12:24 am

“But again, these were open dates, and this is not interfering with more established races elsewhere.”

The Tour of Lombardy was positioned into a late September slot for 2012. Prior to that, it had been held in mid-October – exactly where the Tour of Hangzhou is now positioned.

Was there an ulterior motive?

Jonathan February 14, 2012 at 6:21 am

The posts are all excellent, so is the inrng site. For fun I wanted to comment on something besides the money. The areas West & North of Hangzhou have excellent cycling, with some good climbs . Some climbs are mid 10~15% grade, and go for ~5km before you reach the top and start your descent into the next valley. I have not done more than a handful of them, but it is easy to string together some excellent valley’s.

~20+ years ago Beijing spent a ton of cash trying to build roads so the rural people could get access to the cities for their goods and so on. They strung together valleys that had maybe a few dozen people in them with great roads, all things considered. As the years went by, most of these people moved to the cities and ironically enough some of these roads go largely unused. I live and ride about an hour east of Hangzhou on very similar roads & terrain and hours can go by without seeing a person or anything on wheels. 4 years ago when I moved here I was one of maybe a dozen road cyclists. Now there are hundreds if not thousands of people in this area who have taken up cycling. It is catching on quick here, and this race will only help.

The air quality around the area is not great, but a world away from Beijing. The rural areas where they will presumably be racing are much better than Hangzhou itself.

Hangzhou is lucky to get this race. Very lucky. It would have been interesting to be in that meeting when it was decided to hear just that the terms are.

The Inner Ring February 14, 2012 at 7:52 am

Michael: there’s talk of new races in Colombia and Sotchi in Russia too and I’m vigilant here.

Cam: there’s no way of knowing how the UCI’s committees act but my concern is that there are no safeguards to manage the conflict of interest. The governing body has a new incentive to earn revenue but has not changed the structure to address the conflict of interest. For me the UCI could take some simple steps to ensure better transparency and governance, that way the likes of Roadie61 can’t point fingers so easily.

Jonathan: very good, thanks for the local knowledge.

Bundle February 14, 2012 at 10:48 am

The more I think about it, the more I see that riders must break away from the UCI, or reconquer it. Or else race promoters will break away for themselves. Perhaps sooner or later ASO and RCS (and Unipublic if it’s still somehow independent) will set their own league up. I wonder what would the audience choose, a TdF, Giro or Paris-Roubaix without the star riders, or the top riders riding races without tradition.
Anyway, if the Chinese are showing the colour of their money, how much are they distributing in prizes?

Ronan February 14, 2012 at 12:26 pm

It’s interesting that one of the main criticisms of the proposed breakaway league was that it would seek to create these 4 day races around the world in various pockets of potential growth for the sport. This all seems strangely similar.

I, for one, am not against the widening of the sport’s horizons to embrace a greater physical mass of people, races and funding. However, the UCI could and should have done this in a far more transparent and cohesive way.

Touriste-Routier February 14, 2012 at 3:13 pm

It would seem to me a safeguard for the sport, should the Pro Tour/World Tour concept continue, would be to not allow first year events into the top tier. This automatic entry for unproven events run by the GCP/UCI is a clear conflict of interest. Let them earn their way in via proven track record of attracting teams (not compelling them), spectators, and finances.

While in theory races such as Beijing & Hangzhou globalize the sport by providing exposure to new audiences & sponsors, do they really help develop the sport?

The continued focus on the top tier (World Tour) while largely ignoring the 2nd tier (Pro-Continental) seems to be a huge developmental road block. While there are plenty of opportunities for Continental teams to race home and abroad, and the World Tour teams have their own designated circuit, opportunities for Continental Pro teams are somewhat limited and geo-restricted, unless you have wild card status. There needs to be ample incentive to upgrade from 3rd tier to 2nd tier status; right now it doesn’t exist.

However, if these new races focused on these 2nd tier teams initially, the spectators would get all of the entertainment, and the sport could globalize and develop simultaneously.

channel_zero February 15, 2012 at 7:12 pm

That Sochi event has been talked about for a couple of years now… Maybe when we get a Russian oligarch in the UCI more senior roles, Sochi will get approved?

You guys have to remember China has more Euros and Swiss Francs than they know what to do with. You can only buy so much stuff from these countries because you’ve taken most of their manufacturing from them with a fixed YMB exchange rate.

For now, Pat is the lucky recipient. I still want to know what Pat and others commission is for landing these deals.

channel_zero February 15, 2012 at 7:25 pm

opportunities for Continental Pro teams are somewhat limited and geo-restricted, unless you have wild card status. There needs to be ample incentive to upgrade from 3rd tier to 2nd tier status; right now it doesn’t exist.

Touriste-Routier,

Wise words! I think the fact that Continental Pro teams are essentially stuck is by design.
1. UCI controls the development pool of riders for ASO’s events. Until WCP, this was the only influence the UCI had with ASO and RCS.
2. Promoters/events can’t become bigger than the ASO if the only riders available are a tiny pool of Pro Continentals and a smattering of local talent for a given event. The racing just isn’t that exciting.
3. The development system and competitive participation in general is stunted, such that there is only one path for a rider to make more than a barista at Starbucks and that’s the UCI’s WorldTour.

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