Tour of California: invitations and exclusions

Wednesday, 14 March 2012

16 teams will take part in the Amgen Tour of California, from 13-20 May. The race organisers announced the invitations yesterday and the full list is available, for example on cyclingnews.com.

As usual, without a pedal being turned there’s satisfaction for some squads but disappointment and frustration for others. I won’t analyse every team’s chances but the invitation of Bontrager-Livestrong and the non-invitation of Team Type 1 are worth evaluating. Here’s a look.

Team Type 1
Remember the race is called the Amgen Tour of California? Amgen is a large US pharmaceutical company. Team Type 1 is backed by Sanofi-Aventis… a large French pharmaceutical company. Sanofi is a direct competitor of Amgen, their have a portfolio of drugs that compete with Amgen and are racing each other in the lab to bring new drugs to the market.

Note Team Type 1 raced last year. But two things to think about here. First, perhaps Amgen’s corporate people didn’t know cycling well enough to realise who TT1′s sponsor was? Second, Sanofi-Aventis is associating itself much more closely with the team this year, the company name is more prominent on the jersey.

What about Omega Pharma?
Despite the name, the Belgian company is a different kind of company that offers over-the-counter consumer healthcare products like eye drops and vitamin supplements, more drug store than drug development.

Perhaps there’s no corporate conspiracy here and the organisers just felt like inviting others, TT1 had a go last year and maybe they’ll be back next year? Still if I was working for Amgen, I’d probably want Team Type 1 to be racing elsewhere.

Team Two Types?
Note the inclusion of Radioshack-Nissan and Bontrager-Livestrong with the latter squad a feeder or development squad for the former. Normally two linked teams can’t race together, there are rules:

2.2.001 Riders belonging to teams with the same paying agent or main partner may not compete in the same race except in the case of an individual event. Furthermore, no more than one national team of each nationality may compete in an event. In addition, the participation of both a UCI ProTeam and the development team supported by this same UCI ProTeam in accordance with article 2.15.130 is prohibited.

Livestrong-Bontrager has connections to Radioshack but there is no shared “paying agent” nor is it the development team. Yes the Bontrager-Livestrong squad was the feeder team for Radioshack last year. But following the merger with Luxembourg squad Leopard, Radioshack-Nissan’s development squad is Leopard-Trek, the UCI Continental team run by Adriano Baffi, Markus Zingen and Tim Vanderjeugd. So under the rules Bontrager-Livestrong can race alonside Radioshack-Nissan.

However a degree of legal separation does not mean both squads are independent of each other. With shared sponsors and common heritage these squads could well have an incentive to collaborate during the race, if only on an implicit level. Note this isn’t speculative thinking, we have seen the UCI quietly rule that Russian squads Katusha and Rusvelo can’t race together because ultimately these teams have too much in common. And besides even linked teams do race together, nobody noticed the UCI ruling in the Dwars Door Drenthe race the other day. Rabobank’s Theo Bos won and the Dutch squad was joined by its own Rabobank Continental Team.

Summary
As I often repeat cycling is relentlessly commercial and these imperatives mean one company won’t be keen to give publicity to a rival. I don’t know if this explains why TT1 didn’t get an invite but it’s a mighty incentive, no?

Don’t be surprised to see Bontrager-Livestrong doing a pull on the front in support of Radioshack-Nissan. They can race together under the rules but have incentives to ride together, eg to publicise Trek and Bontrager.

  • A final thought. With 10 days of the UCI World Tour in China – that’s more than Belgium – isn’t it time for the US to get a World Tour race? Hopefully the Tour of California can build and join the top calendar. The UCI has an incentive to fix this because the background talk of breakaway leagues will fill the vacuum if the governing body does not.
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{ 42 comments }

Scott O'Raw (@velocast) March 14, 2012 at 10:12 am

Re your final thought: is there a criteria for joining the top calendar? If races in China can gain a place before ever turning a pedal in anger, what’s the point of building an event from the ground up and gaining both support from teams and respect from the fans?

These questions are, of course, completely rhetorical ;-)

Scott.

Geoff Bumble March 14, 2012 at 10:18 am

My understanding is that until now the organisers of the Tour of California have decided not to apply for ProTour/WorldTour status because of the extra requirements that holding a race at this level would entail.

Fabrizio March 14, 2012 at 10:19 am

Your final thought is like Inspector Columbo, a big question at the end with much importance. Cycling is very strong in the US and the need for the top level race is also big.

The Inner Ring March 14, 2012 at 10:26 am

Scott / Geoff Bumble / Fabrizio: the race can ask but yes, it will face higher costs. In some ways I think we should have the best teams there… but then again some squads have little commercial interest in the US (many have even less interest in China right now) and it is good to give local teams a ride. A delicate balance. Ultimately the US needs one giant race with the major squads that gets big TV airtime and a series of other races that are also televised and this should bring in the sponsors. Easier said than done.

Jon MacKinnon (@thebreakawaycc) March 14, 2012 at 10:29 am

After seeing all the tweets flying back and forth last night between you, Scott and a number of others, I was going to write a piece on this today, as always you beat me to it. Your final thought is very… interesting!

jkeltgv March 14, 2012 at 10:30 am

@Geoff

What…like a proper drug testing programme?

Duncan March 14, 2012 at 10:31 am

Good point on Sanofi vs Amgen. Are there other examples of race organisers excluding teams on this basis?

The Inner Ring March 14, 2012 at 10:35 am

Jon: go ahead, it’s always good to read more views and insights.

jkeltgv: the ToC had a great testing plan in place but the UCI intervened: http://inrng.com/2011/10/uci-california-testing/

Duncan: thinking aloud the Unibet team was stopped in part because it was a rival to PMU, the French state-owned betting company. But the story here is bigger, at the time Unibet and other gambling companies were not allowed to advertise in France.

Peter Lütken March 14, 2012 at 10:48 am

Another thing to consider in regards to AToC going WT: Conti-teams would no longer be eligible for competition, thus reducing the number of “home teams” in the race. I’d bet part of the attraction of seeing a race in California is seeing your local boys duking it out with the big guns from Europe.

Larry T. March 14, 2012 at 11:07 am

It would be interesting if ToC was a World Tour event. As of now it’s more a California training vacation for TdF hopefuls than an important event to win. With World Tour status might that change, making it less attractive to those who think the Giro is too challenging to ride if your real ambitions are in France during July?

Gerrald March 14, 2012 at 11:30 am

Regarding Omega Pharma. I agree with your argument right now, but some developments are happening at that company: they were recently taken off the stock exchange to be able to pursue a more long-term strategy. Rumours have it that this means more medicine development and lab facility, not only being the drug store they used to be. So this might provide similar conflicts in the future.

Dennis Fernandez March 14, 2012 at 11:35 am

In view of the ToC’s position on the calendar, could the UCI give it WT status? Wouldn’t the Giro D’Italia then have a very good reason to be upset? Personally, I don’t think the ToC has much impact on the Giro (at least not so far), but that could all change if it were a WT race and paid more points and continued to grow in prestige. In my mind, I think the ToC has little to gain by becoming a WT race in it’s current time slot.

daniel March 14, 2012 at 2:33 pm

In relation to the ToC going WorldTour & some teams having no commercial interest in the USA, this is kind of where the WorldTour falls down.
Teams who have no interest in advertising in places such as China, USA etc are forced to send teams there, while the number of local teams is reduced (plus, no Continental teams allowed) as a result of the 18 WorldTour teams forced participation.
This also applies to teams who have no interest in riding certain races (Spanish teams on the cobbles, for example).

Basically what I’m saying is that teams should be able to opt out of some events they don’t want to participate in.

Touriste-Routier March 14, 2012 at 2:39 pm

I have to disagree, in person and TV audiences do not require the top teams to give support. True fans will watch any type of professional race, and non-fans will either be caught up in the action or not; these later won’t know the names anyway. In regards to the ATOC, as-is they attract sufficient top teams to cite the words Tour de France participant/winner, which the general populace might know.

There are several reasons why ATOC might not want to be a WT event. Added costs are one thing (license fees, prize lists, additional officials/admin costs, etc). Considering that the race has yet to be profitable, one might not want to throw good money after bad.

However the one major thing going WT does, finance aside, is that it eliminates most opportunities for the domestic Continental teams to participate. Local non cycling fans often connect more with the “hometown” teams than they do with foreign teams. The ATOC is often a primary objective for Continental teams; take it away, and you take away their one big chance of the year for notable glory, and exposure for their sponsors.

And to continue my contrarian thoughts the US doesn’t need a single WT event, it needs several more lower level UCI events. If one wants to develop racing, one needs as many opportunities to race at a high level as possible. As is, there is little incentive for a team to go from Continental to Pro Continental outside of Europe, because race opportunities are few and far between. The US also needs to think beyond stage races; one day races are good too, and in terms of development might actually be better. They certainly are easier to organize, and are easier for the general public to understand. Not everything needs to be the Tour de France, especially because there is only one Tour de France.

JimW March 14, 2012 at 2:46 pm

TV coverage in the US won’t happen.
The interest is not here for the average person.
We won’t see a World Tour event because of cultural reasons.
Or should I say a lack of cultural reasons.

I’m fine with my internet feeds and office park crits.

Peter March 14, 2012 at 3:28 pm

I suspect Omega Pharma’s invitation also had something to do with their signing of Santa Rosa native and multiple AToC winner Levi Leipheimer. Given his history with the race and visibility in US cycling, omitting him would be a real pr mistake, even with the potential sponsor conflict.

channel_zero March 14, 2012 at 4:43 pm

WorldTour teams are paid to appear at these races. As long as someone comes up with the money, Amgen, Chinese Authorities(???), a royal family in some oil-rich nation, the teams go.

It seems the UCI’s job for the far-flung WorldTour events is simply to ensure that there’s enough hotel rooms and communication infrastructure for the circus to come to town with ASO’s cycling media production wagon following close behind.

channel_zero March 14, 2012 at 4:47 pm

BTW, Rabobank has a presence in the agricultural parts of California. I drove by a branch in a California Mountain town about a week ago. Why there? Lots of tree fruit growers.

One person I was with asked, “Why is that place called Robabank?”

Ken March 14, 2012 at 4:50 pm

The AToC seems to be doing just fine without World Tour status. It’s a competitive race through a beautiful and challenging course, and drawing good crowds for a US race. 2011′s field was not exactly chopped liver, either. Must be doing something right!

Playvelo March 14, 2012 at 5:36 pm

Sanofi sponsorship of Team Type 1 only started this season so it likely had no bearing on their invitation in 2011. It does make one wonder because the team is competitive and they received invitations to several other big events like MSM, Criterium International, Flèche Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, etc.

@JimW I don’t agree. I believe there is steady and continued growth in cycling in the US. Just look at the increase in coverage on NBC Sports. I bet inrng.com has a good percentage of US readers that is growing over time too… with the google analytics tag included in every page here it would be easy to look up too. :)

@channel_zero Rabobank has a lot of commercial interests in California. The company also does a good job promoting cycling. You can see them at a lot of amateur events handing out Rabo chachki’s or their employees riding, so I’m happy they get an invite. We need more companies like that.

Sean Weide March 14, 2012 at 5:44 pm

Sanofi sponsorship of Team Type 1 actually dates back to the team’s beginning as a UCI continental squad in 2008. (Back then, the company was known as “sanofi aventis.”) Team Type 1 didn’t even request an invitation to the Amgen Tour of California that year, but did receive invitations and compete in the 2009, 2010 and 2011 editions of the race. In 2010, one of the team’s riders (Thomas Rabou) won the race’s King of the Mountains jersey.

(In the interest of full disclosure, I handled media relations for the team in 2008 and 2009.)

Cat4Fodder March 14, 2012 at 6:00 pm

JimW: Exactly correct. The way to build an interest in a sport is not through forcing it down the throats of television consumers. It is to build an organic interest through local races, local youth programs etc…

Look at it this way…here along the Front Range, potentially the mecca of cycling in the United States, and even then, most people have NO idea about cycling as spectator sport. But you cannot build interest in the sport by dumping a bunch of money in new races and television and expect the culture to change. You change the culture by getting people riding and racing bikes themselves, or watching their own kids race, and getting them more involved in the sport.

The Inner Ring March 14, 2012 at 6:21 pm

On the subject of TV, it is important. People who read cycling blogs are already interested in the sport, the likes of you and me are hooked. But we represent a the iceberg tip in the viewing audience, sponors come to cycling so they can reach the mass audience.

Tess March 14, 2012 at 6:32 pm

At the Ronde van Drenthe there wasn’t a Rabobank Continental squad. It was a Dutch national selection, which did contained Rabobank Continental riders but officially it wasn’t Rabobank Continental, so the UCI couldn’t really prohibit that..

The Inner Ring March 14, 2012 at 6:36 pm

Tess: thanks, that explains it from the rules perspective although younger national riders would do well to impress the big Rabo team, no?

myles March 14, 2012 at 6:41 pm

@JimW What do you base you no TV comments on? NBC Sports Network (formerly Versus) provides live daily coverage of the AToC. This is the most coverage all year, behind only the TdF.

trounder March 14, 2012 at 8:01 pm

TV coverage and pharmaceutical rivalries aside, I’m disappointed that there will not be any candy, wine, caffeine, data storage, or investment banks represented in the field. Saxo not getting the invite is perhaps understandable given their tenuous points situation. And NetApp will be at the Giro(!), but JellyBelley and Sutter Home are truly California local. Kind of sad that they weren’t included. Another sad thing is that the Team Type 1 website was already showing the ToC on their May race calendar. I do wonder what are AEG’s criteria for selection.

This story is so close to being a true piece of journalism, I just wish it went a tiny bit further by requesting comments from the organizations involved and those “negatively” affected (AEG, JellyBelley, Sutter Home, TT1). When will the INRNG acquiesce to the demands of the fanatics and become more than just a blog? Btw, that is intended as a compliment, not a criticism! I love this place.

trounder March 14, 2012 at 8:06 pm

candy = JellyBelly
wine = Sutter Home
caffeine = Kenda/5-hour Energy

Perhaps the AEG is promoting healthy lifestyles by eliminated the vices from the peloton?

Arnold March 14, 2012 at 9:15 pm

ToCA has always been a well run event with a good mix of teams at all levels. The main impediment with it becoming a more attractive event to those who are not diehard cycling fans is the course. Every year a number of stages run through areas most would consider backwaters (sorry to the folks who live in these places.) I’m sure the organizers are constrained by which cities want to bid on stages. Otherwise, why hasn’t there been a weekend time-trial in Santa Monica, which would draw masses and look great on TV? As it is now and has always been, it’s too much The Tour of California no one notices.

JimW March 14, 2012 at 10:39 pm

@myles
I base my statement on television.
The kind you don’t pay for with regular channels. Over the air.
That is the true test of cultural acceptance.
The internet and cable don’t count as those people are paying for what they want to see.
So when advertisers feel there is enough interest to put up the last hour of Milan SanRemo, Roubaix, Fleche Wallonne, ect. ect. and bump the NBA, MLB, NFL, NCAA ect. ect. to do it I’ll say we are there.

In country with epidemic obesity and an undying love for the automobile, it’s never going to happen.

Peddling Profe March 14, 2012 at 11:18 pm

I love the Tour of California. It’s the best reason I have to be ‘sick’ all year!

… though I must echo the ‘die-hards only’ idea. It’s rare when people who don’t already talk about cycling even know that a massively brilliant peloton is riding through their city later in the day….

Max March 15, 2012 at 1:58 am

But why only 16 teams? It makes for a small peloton of 128 riders. I am sure the continental teams would be willing to pay for the logistics just to get the invite.

Cat4Fodder March 15, 2012 at 8:34 am

@Inner Ring:

Ratings in the States is still dismal comparatively, so yes, it helps sell the idea of sponsoring a team to potential sponsors, but honestly, if you think Sutter Home or Bissell are sponsoring those teams for exposure on OLN/Versus/NBC Sports in brief shots from AToC, that seems unlikely. I would bet most sponsorship in the US is driven by three overall factors:
A) Company actually conducts business in the industry (See Jelly Belly)
B) Company is trying to convey an image, which is going, in the US, to be conveyed more through magazine ads, internet ads etc… Mountain Khakis perhaps.
C) Company’s marketing decisions are driven by an individual with an interest in cycling, and this kind of is a vanity project.

But again, television is nice, but it is not the key to growing this sport in the United States.

@Peddling Profe

Until this year, I would argue that AToC has been somewhat a dull race overall, as they seemed to find ways to veer away from challenging territory. As I have asserted in the past, the best thing the Tour of Utah, AToC and Tour of Colorado can do is try to schedule so there are three races, three weeks in a row. Set it up so each race stands on its own, but the three weeks in a row could eventually kind of set-the stage for a dedicated “August” period when professional cycling takes somewhat center stage in the States.

robin March 15, 2012 at 8:42 am

I find it very hard to be interested in the tour of california. It, somewhat like the tour down under, is more a triumph of marketing than anything else. Frankly the amount of noise it produces in the media is disproportionate to the quality of the racing.

lukascph March 15, 2012 at 10:00 am

Dennis Fernandez: The Volta a Catalunya took place in mid-May for several years (2005-2009). As far as I can remember, the Giro organisers didn’t complain about that. And I think there wouldn’t be any problem if the Tour of California got the WT status either – the date would remain the same, there would only be more WT teams in the race. And the Giro isn’t going to be threatened if Lampre, Movistar, FDJ or Astana send B (or even C) squads to the states – the lion doesn’t care for the tiny fly.
Because no matter how often the PR people repeat it, Cali is not “the 4th GT” – for most European pros it’s a preparation race for the summer at best, and another race they have to do at worst. Only a couple of US pros genuinely care.

No disrespect, I think it’s a great race, but it’s just not very important in the grand scheme of things. And I also think they shouldn’t go WT, US cycling is top-heavy enough as it is. What it needs is more lower-level UCI races.
One problem there could be the requirement of three foreign teams in a UCI race – with only Canada and Mexico as neighbouring countries (and the whole USA about as large as most of Europe) that will be hard to come by for a 2.2 race, especially if foreign teams coming over from Europe or up from South America (especially the Europeans) will expect some king of reimbursement for the travel costs. A solution may be to “link” some of the smaller races with the big ones (like Elk Grove did last year, taking place the weekend before Utah, and getting a.o. Geox to compete), but that would only work for attracting big foreign teams – European continental squads generally aren’t going to be invited to Utah, or Colorado. To get smaller teams to come over, the smaller races could link up with each other and share the travel costs (which will be lower overall if the teams only take the plane over once for several races). It’s been done even in Europe: Denmark’s GP Herning almost always had another race on the same weekend (GP Himmerland last year, GP Aarhus when that was still around) for this very reason – and there are many more foreign countries close to Denmark.
If the US could move some of their events (don’t even have to be new races, they could use those already existing) to UCI 2.2 status, and attract a few foreign teams (Mexican Tecos and Canadian Spidertech would be shoe-ins, of course) – Drapac? British teams (Endura and Rapha Condor have both raced in the US before, and Raleigh could use it for sponsor exposure)? Nutrixxion? Cykelcity? or even some of the good amateur teams from France, Spain, Italy or Belgium? – it can only be beneficial in the long run. The Vuelta de Bisbee and Tour of Gila is one possibility, the foreign teams could hold a altitude training camp in between the two races.
And I’m still hoping for a return of the US Cycling Open – what an epic event in 2007…

Touriste-Routier March 15, 2012 at 11:10 am

@ Lukascph Attracting foreign Continental Teams has rarely proven a problem for UCI 1.2 or 2.2 races in the US; unfortunately they are typically starving for UCI races. If the Canadian teams can drive to the event, travel stipends are minimal, if any. If an event can afford to be a UCI event, typically some travel stipends are budgeted for. Pro Continental and World Tour teams are more expensive of course.

If one can’t afford the stipends, typically the race wouldn’t qualify for the UCI sanction, and would rely on USAC sanction instead; this way they could also charge entry fees if desired.

Bundle March 15, 2012 at 4:43 pm

The increasing role of pharmacrats in cycling sponsoring is very interesting. I hope this trend continues, and starts to include medical insurance companies as well. They could provide more credibility to the sport.
As for the World Tour, it is simply nonsense. Races should compete to get the best show and the maximum audience, and that’s all. Regulators should only guarantee that the competition is fair. What if one day the Giro wants to move to June (which it has reasons for)? What if the Vuelta wants to go back to April (which it also has strong reasons for)? What if the rich Chinese want their races in mid-July directly competing with the Tour de France? What if the Tour of Austria aims at maximum status while preserving its July calendar? Well, all one should say is good luck.

Alan Cote March 15, 2012 at 5:50 pm

Don’t forget there are two WorldTour races just over the US border in Canada, both excellent events. Canada is often joked about as the US’s lapdog, a vaguely socialistic friend to the north that the US pays little attention to. That’s certainly true of those WorldTour races, where US cycling media (VeloNews, Bicycling, etc.) inexplicably gave the events comparatively little notice. If the riders/teams at the Quebec events were racing in the US, domestic cycling media would go weak at the knees– x10 so if the races were in Colorado, a location which seems to cause of a lack of objectivity.

Anonymous March 15, 2012 at 8:05 pm

lukascph:

A) Completely agree on the US Cycling Open…it felt like a Spring 1-day race should, and Svein Tuft announced himself to the cycling public at large that day. Also well shot..They really nailed how to shoot a race. The fog, cold and rain was awesome.

B) Alan Cote: I agree – it is cool there are two WT raced in Quebec, but….if i recall they could come up with better, more challenging parcours.

channel_zero March 15, 2012 at 9:06 pm

Arnold @ 3/14,

When the ToC had a TT in downtown L.A. there was no one there. That benefited the race organizers because the City shuts down downtown streets for filming on weekends regularly so it was easy to get it done. Not much spectating going on because most of the people living around the downtown LA TT course were working!

Let’s get your dream of having a TT in Santa Monica a shot then. The organizers would need crazy amounts of money to get enough streets closed down. Look how many years it took the LA Marathon owners to come up with the budget for a Downtown to the sea course. You are talking about the same neighborhood/people where this happened: http://latimesblogs.latimes.com/lanow/2010/01/cyclist-sentenced.html It’s a good idea, but I think local politics would put an end to your idea.

Arnold March 15, 2012 at 10:55 pm

I assume stages are not an attractive proposition for places like Santa Monica. At least, that’s the perception. Although there are a number of running events and at least one amateur cycling race. If the race mostly takes place in desolate parts of CA (including downtown LA), what’s the point? As it is now, I think it’s kind of embarrassing. The fact that so much of it is shunted off to low or mid-tier parts of the state, reinforces the minor league nature of cycling and misses the opportunity to expose the beauty of the sport of non-cycling fans.

Peddling Profe March 16, 2012 at 12:09 am

@Cat4 I was lucky enough to be at the Sierra Road finish this last year, and that was pretty amazing. I do like your idea of a three week US type cup – sounds beneficial for riders, teams, the races and all.. I only wonder if the US could maintain attention on local races for three solid weeks…..

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