The Brave New World Series Cycling

Tuesday, 11 December 2012

The Gifted Group’s Jonathan Price has been briefing sections of the cycling media about the plans for the “World Series Cycling” formerly known as the Breakaway League but now a scheme that the UCI has granted with an exclusive agreement to negotiate. The grand tours and the big one day races will remain on the calendar but will be joined by a series of 10 new events, each a four day stage race.

Cycling is rooted in history, a conservative sport where change is slow. So there’s bound to be some concern and resistance about these brave new plans for the sport. Even if they were a master-plan with the Midas touch, they’re radically different to anything we know so they’re bound to disturb us.

But based on the information we’ve been given it’s hard not to be sceptical about these plans as they seem to offer a bland product that’s packaged for sponsors and TV with formulaic format that worries me. Clearly it’s all about design and implementation but fans have every right to be cautious here. Especially since these plans are no longer theory but actively under consideration by the UCI with the idea of launch in 2014.

First note “World Series Cycling” is only a label to work under and it’s unlikely to be used should the scheme be launched. But for now let’s use WSC as the label.

The Problem
Cycling has its problems with the UCI’s governance and the spectre of doping but let’s put these aside for now. When it comes to the races themselves I see three problems:

  • The calendar is a mess, a jumble of events that come and go and where viewers struggle to see a hierarchy of the events and where big events clash. We have 193 races on the men’s pro calendar, of which 122 one day races and 71 stage races. Yes we know the Tour de France is big but what about the Dauphiné and Tour de Suisse, or Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, in case each great stage races but they clash on the UCI’s own World Tour calendar. Great races shouldn’t have to compete against each other. Streamlining this and sharpening the calendar makes sense… if done sensibly.
  • The geography of racing could be improved. Brands want exposure, if not globally then regionally. Right now there’s a concentration of races in some countries but not in others. Is cycling a Euro-centric sport? Yes but the spread is asymmetric, for example  Germany is Europe’s largest consumer market but has very few races, the same for Britain which is another large economy with few events. Even if the sport is spreading around the world it is very uneven with 10 days in China but nothing in India or Brazil, yet alone a single day of World Tour racing in the US or Japan. This uneven geographical spread means many big sponsors stay away from the sport.
  • Racing can be boring. Now I’ll probably watch every stage of the Tour de France but a grand tour is three weeks long and the race is not decided every day. Some of the race is a snooze with siesta stages in the Tour de France where even L’Equipe was moved to write about broken alarm clocks, hammocks, snoozing, snoring to describe one stage where nothing happened for hours. If there’s a way to make the racing more lively and get greater TV audiences then let’s take a look.

Still, are these big problems and are there any answers? If there are answers will they work out better or just bring the risk of a flop? Do we want more races around the world, more sponsors and a sport geared to an audience with a shorter attention span? I think the sport can be enhanced whether stopping good races clashing or sprinkling a few races around the world. Maybe not shifting the centre of gravity too far, but at least taking trying to the UCI World Tour to the US and perhaps South America.

The Solution
Let’s work on the assumption of a trinity of problem: too many races in parts of Europe, a series of odd races generated by historical accident and some races that are too long for the casual viewer then what is the solution? In a classic Cartesian gambit you do the polar opposite: create a series of homogeneous races evenly spread around the globe that are short and snappy for a tight TV package.

It’s a classic business technique. Take McDonalds because if people around the world have been eating bread, meat and vegetables for years the ingredients and recipes vary wildly. Only McD’s offers a burger in a bun with onions and gherkins that’s the same in Beijing, Boston, Brisbane or Bourges. Indeed this sounds like something cooked up by a consultancy and Gifted Group’s Jonathan Price speaks the lingo as he works to “build a competitive product“.

The prime races on the calendar will stay, whether the Tour de France or Milan-Sanremo. These legacy races will be joined by 10 new races, each expected to be a four day stage race. I gather the plans include one for Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Qatar, South Africa, US with three for Europe too. The idea is to have at least one mountain stage, one time trial and one sprint stage in each of the 10 rounds of the WSC. Of course this will depend on the terrain and will hopefully offer variety, eg one round could be very mountainous whilst Qatar will be totally flat unless a Sheikh builds a scale replica of the Galibier for fun.

Scepticism
It’s here that I’ve got more reservations than a restaurant on Friday night. Four days is an odd length, it doesn’t give much time for a story to build in the race, for people to get hooked as it’s over before you know it. Still it’s not unusual: say “stage race” and you might think of a three week grand tour but actually the average length of a stage race is six days. Strip out the “grandies” and the typical stage race closer to four days than you might think. Much of the calender is populated with short stages races like the Tour de Picardie or the Szlakiem Grodòw Piastowskich that have a modest reputation at best. The longer the race the greater the prestige although not always.

No, it’s not so much the length but the artifice of having The Sprint Stage, The Mountain Stage and The Time Trial each time, it means there’s less subtlety and instead this becomes road cycling’s version of the omnium race in the velodrome where riders compete in a range of disciplines to win rather than a week of racing where surprises can occur. Now I quite like the Critérium International once a year in Corsica or the Three Days of De Panne too but 10 versions of this presented as cycling’s premier events? It’s the sporting equivalent of a TV dinner rather than a seven course gourmet meal.

It’s also disturbingly new. Cycling is rooted in history and change upsets people used to events slowly evolving over years, we’re still debating time bonuses and the merit of prologue time trials. 10 new races is shocking. But calm our jerking knees as there are practical considerations. Creating new races is difficult, there are already several races on the calendar that have an artificial feel like the World Ports Classic, the ENECO Tour or the Tour of Beijing.

Strade Bianche: the new race that is a classic

It’s hard to think of a new race that’s exciting, the only one I like is the Strade Bianche in Italy and this works so well because RCS make such an obvious play on exploiting cycling’s past and run the race in the Tuscany region, a hotbed of Italian cycling. Don’t get me wrong, it’s lekker if South Africa gets a top race, after all Cape Town is home to the world’s largest cycle ride the Cape Argus Pick n Pay Cycle Tour. But will it have an African feel? I worry it’ll just be Round 7 of the World Cycling Series, the race flies in for a weekend and is gone for another 360 days. I’d much rather see a race start small and grow into something big as this feels more genuine and it’s probably more sustainable.

Indeed the new WSC format has the worrying feel of a Formula 1 Grand Prix where only expert fans can tell one circuit from another, the rest of us see unremarkable strips of tarmac that, apart from obvious cases like the Monaco GP, could be in Malaysia or Portugal and where the races are timed for TV audiences rather than hours suitable for the local spectators. In short the venue can feel immaterial. But in cycling the race is special because it relies on the local geography, whether the basics like terrain, climate and road network or other local factors, whether giant Basque crowds or Belgian pavé. Hopefully this is taken on board but what if it’s not?

Lost races
Worse, if these four day races don’t grab you, there’s the opportunity cost. 10 rounds means ten weekends taken up for these new races and this is going to come at the expense of races currently on the calendar. As Spanish writer Fran Reyes points out the current cycling season takes up 39 weekends of the year. The WSC want their calendar of the existing races like the grand tours and major classics plus the 10 new rounds to occupy 28 weekends (and weekdays of course) meaning there would only be 11 weekends for other races throughout the year. With this we might see races like the Paris-Nice, the Tour de Romandie and the Dauphiné fall outside the calendar, something that won’t just sadden Bradley Wiggins. No, the sport could lose many top races as if our top teams and riders are busy doing the Tour de Cape 4-Day Classic then they won’t be gracing another race. And to borrow from Joni Mitchell, you don’t know what you’ve got ’til it’s gone. If a race like Paris-Nice goes then it might never come back even if the Gifted Group and the WSC collapses in three years.

There’s also a sporting aspect here that riders can’t function on a diet of one day races and four day stage races if they want to be competitive in a three week grand tour. Yes the new regime might be the same for everyone but it would mark a change where riders have long used stage races for training.

And if we’re doing objections then the new plans talk of spending a lot of money on anti-doping but they don’t address the obvious conflict of interest of a business trying to promote the sport whilst also being tasked with the installation of an anti-doping policy. I’d welcome bigger spending and have long suggested race organisers have much to gain by matching the amount spent by the teams and governing body because it protects their assets too. But tasking an independent body with this would be much better from an ethical point of view.

The business model itself is clearer now, it will follow the Tour of Beijing model where the WSC will own the rights to a race but buy in help from the likes of ASO to run the race whilst the UCI officiates, supplying rules and commissaires. Perhaps even the UCI’s controversial subsidiary GCP will get a slice of the action running things?

Bakala, soon the most powerful man in cycling?

Some Good Ideas
Call it a leitmotif if your generous or cliché if you’re tired of it but I keep typing “the Tour de France was created to sell newspapers and pro cycling has been nakedly commercial ever since” here. Because it’s true.

We can’t deride these changes just because someone stands to make a pile of money, after all that’s the genesis of the sport. Other races were created to show how tough a bike was, Paris-Roubaix was created to sell tickets for the velodrome and so on. The Corinthian spirit was  distilled into francs, schillings and guilders from the very start.

Similarly the business jargon used by Price is unusual in pro cycling but I welcome aspects of it because as this blog can point out often pro cycling is often too amateur. A coherent calendar and a more sponsor-friendly approach can improve plenty.

Gifted Group, Zdeněk Bakala and others can smell money. For me the concern is not quite the commercialism, more how this money is made. I can live with ASO’s business model because it rakes in money every July but uses a portion of the funds to subsidise races like Paris-Nice or Paris-Tours which are reputedly loss-making. The financial engineers behind the WSC might be willing to confront losses to get the project off the ground but it’s hard to imagine them over time promoting great races if they can’t make a profit. No, it’s the way these new races get packaged into homogeneous little products which they can sell for TV but this means abandoning some good races. The weaker races on the calendar today don’t have a right to exist in perpetuity.

Atomistic Model
Still, I rather like the current chaotic structure of the sport. With competing race organisers promoting races under UCI rules it means nobody really controls the sport. This does mean leadership and cohesion are a problem at times but it’s not all bad. It prevents monopoly control and the kind of clumsy dictatorship problems where good intentions go wrong because of no checks and balances. After all if you think the UCI has a stranglehold over the sport, imagine a company that owns a lot of races and sets rules and funds anti-doping and sells TV rights and that is even less accountable to you.

Conclusion
The UCI said todayany media reports about the future of the calendar are pure speculation at this stage“. True we’ve only got a glimpse after the media were recently briefed so let’s not extrapolate too far. None of this might happen or the plans could change. But let’s not kid ourselves, I gather Gifted Group are readying TV deals and discussing new races with host cities. The speculation is more when the deals get signed and what it takes to get the UCI onboard rather than whether the plans exist.

Cycling is in a mess and the need for change obvious. But what reforms? Alterations often get shot down by conservative fans and the cynical media. So when I see these proposals I’m reluctant to criticise in case it’s a knee-jerk reaction, to reject an idea just because it’s novel. I don’t want to play the Cassandra, the naysayer or just say no because it’s different. The calendar needs reform, World Tour races shouldn’t clash and certainly a lot can be done to make the sport more sponsor-friendly, for example not blowing Katusha out the sport 40 days away from the start of the new season for as yet unknown reasons would help. But the idea of 10 four day stage races worries me. It just sounds bland, ditching the rich flavours of tradition, history and variety that make cycling such a subtle and sophisticated sport to follow.

If we welcome new events let’s hope it’s not at the cost of losing some good old ones. Maybe the sport needs a World Tour race in the US, no? Maybe I could live without the Tour du Poitou Charentes or the “Vuelta a Spanish Region”. But some races are essential, who wants to lose the Tour of the Basque Country to gain a sterile event that suit sponsors but has all the emotion and history of this year’s new creation, the World Ports Classic or the dreaded Tour of Beijing? No thanks.

For now we can only watch as the Gifted Group and Mr Bakala work to convince the UCI to approve them. The changes are so big that if they happen the sport can’t go back.

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{ 57 comments }

Mark December 11, 2012 at 6:35 pm

Presumably you mean hard ‘not’ to be sceptical in para 3?

The Inner Ring December 11, 2012 at 7:40 pm

Yes, fixed, thanks.

BC December 11, 2012 at 6:40 pm

You can put me in the ‘conservative’ camp. Whilst the calender clearly requires major attention, this simplistic model will put at risk some smaller long established races. I for one would like to see some ‘classic’ style one day races in the mix. Our existing classics are 100 years old and were designed for a different time and technology. More ‘Strade Bianca’ and less of the plastic imitation we now see appearing in the calander. Conservative doesn’t mean no change – it just means change for the better, not poor imitations that will never capture the drama and imagination of the true fans.

El Tejan December 11, 2012 at 6:42 pm

I think you mean “But based on the information we’ve been given it’s hard to NOT be sceptical about these plans as they seem to offer a bland product that’s packaged for sponsors and TV with formulaic format that worries me.” Sorry for the pedantic comment. Please feel free to delete this post after editing.

lucky December 11, 2012 at 7:23 pm

death of cycling

trounder December 11, 2012 at 7:40 pm

This reminds me that media has been styling road bicycling as the new golf (ie: drop a few grand on gear, get away from the house on the weekends, spend time outdoors, etc.). It looks to me like this World Series Cycling deal is modeled in that fashion like the PGA Tour. A stage is a round of golf and after 4 of them, they crown a winner and move on to the next scenic venue. Makes for a great sleeping aid on Sunday afternoon.

I wonder who’s pitching this at NBC Universal right now…

Ankush December 11, 2012 at 7:41 pm

First sensible thing UCI could do is to streamline the existing calendar. McQuaid and his cronies seem to be willing to line their pockets by selling the soul of the sport. No passionate cycling fan would warm up to the idea of 4-day stage races. Fans could start to like races like Tour Down Under which grow organically rather than Tour of Beijing which was thrusted down our throat.

Graham Goodman December 11, 2012 at 7:46 pm

Completely agree. The Strade Bianchi works because it has a personality that justifies its place on the calendar. National representation by itself will never sell a bike race to a global market. After all, for a sport to call itself global, it isn’t enough to have events around the world; it has to have the world watch each of those events. And that is particularly true for a sport that is effectively sandwich boards on wheels.

Poland, Beijing and Eneco are all examples of bland races who only exist because they represent a country and end up being ignored by everyone else as a result. While TDU, Qatar and Oman are not the most spectacular of races, they work because they understand their role within the season’s structure. This proposed brave new world doesn’t seem to understand that. It’s as if they thought “Field of Dreams” with its “build it and they will come” mantra was a documentary.

The strange thing with this new proposed calendar is that none of the legacy events appear to be particularly similar to the new proposed Grand Prix. Isn’t that an indication that the Grand Prix format isn’t going to produce the new legacy events of the future?

Nick December 11, 2012 at 8:44 pm

I’m trying to understand the sea change in cycling that may be happening, and it seems like there are a couple, possibly contradictory movements. There’s the “WSC model” which seems just as autocratic or insular as the UCI, and then there’s the Change Cycling Now movement, which is aiming to increase participation from all stakeholders so that the sport becomes more democratic and balanced. Is that right? Or are these two models about different things and trying to solve different problems?

It seems there are a number of moving parts right now and I’m having trouble imagining how they’ll all fit together.

channel_zero December 13, 2012 at 8:53 pm

Exactly right.

Pay attention to how this World Series cr@pfest is moving along. Someone puts up big money and Pat and Hein are moving forward and absolutely, positively screwing every other elite race promoter but ASO and RCS.

When the money is gone and no one is watching the four-day Tour of Someplace with few/no roadside fans, so are every other elite promoter but ASO, RCS aaand World Cycling Promotions.
Meanwhile Pat and Hein will have personally skimmed off of the original deal and the WCS events with nothing to show for it but the fourth-year Olympics and rampant doping.

Which is why Change Cycling Now needs your help.

Alex222 December 11, 2012 at 8:45 pm

My first fear, which you have raised above, is the increase to the UCI’s control of the sport. All the problems of Beijing tenfold.

channel_zero December 13, 2012 at 8:57 pm

Pat has long wished for a UCI that resembles the (U.S.) NBA, or even better F1. The old system of independent promoters and a passive cycling federation are roadblocks to meeting that end.

The part never discussed is once the federation kills off the last of the independent promoters and mostly jettisons amateur competitive cycling, who exactly is reaping the profits in an NBA-style federation?

The Mosquito December 11, 2012 at 8:56 pm

I will reserve judgement until I see the quality of their podium girls.

Matthew December 26, 2012 at 4:48 pm

+1

Darren December 11, 2012 at 10:14 pm

Have there been any reactions from within the peloton?!
Not sure I like the four stage model! Bland!
But yeah, replace some of the ‘nul’ races like Eneco with some more
interesting and dynamic locations like South Africa!

jason December 11, 2012 at 10:20 pm

It might work like “twenty20″ did for cricket.

The Inner Ring December 12, 2012 at 8:10 am

Or see the WSC… World Series Cricket which launched but folded a few years later: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/World_Series_Cricket

I can see the need to sharpen up some of the racing but the cycling proposals here are radical. I don’t know too much about cricket but reading into it, Twenty20 seems additional to the tradtional, slower Test Match format. In cycling here we will not create new races alongside old ones but the creation of the 10 new races will mean existing races on the calendar this year will vanish from the calendar and maybe even the sport.

Nick Evans December 12, 2012 at 1:14 pm

The increased popularity of Twenty20 has meant that some players, particularly from poorer countries such as the West Indies, or more mercenary types from richer countries (hello, KP) withdraw from Test matches for their countries so that they can play in the Indian Premier League Twenty2o competition.

It’s also possible to see Twenty20 as the direct descendant of the WSC – night games, a more TV friendly format (1 day in WSC rather than 5 for Tests) and stronger marketing led to One Day matches eclipsing the popularity of the Tests with only a few traditional exceptions (the Ashes between England and Australia, the post-Christmas Boxing Day Tests in Melbourne) able to survive on an equal footing. Teams started to schedule more one-day matches in place of the longer format games, and this pressure led to people looking for an even more TV-friendly format, hence the 2 hours slugfest of Twenty20.

Might be worth your reading into it, as there does seem to be a parallel with cycling.

Touriste-Routier December 11, 2012 at 10:39 pm

My thoughts were more on long the lines of, if a team doesn’t like the Pro/World Tour, they certainly are not going to like the new WCS races. They still have all of the travel and expense of competing in a too long season, at far flung places of the globe, which may or may not resonate with their fans or sponsors.

The introduction of this “league” might hurt certain events, but then again, it might just refocus them. Not all races need top teams in order to thrive; some races might be better off with more Pro-Conti and Conti teams than they are with the Pro Tour teams. Besides, this is what helps develop the sport.

There are certainly some bland races out there, but most of them exist due to independent organizers and sponsors, not the UCI (the Chinese GCP races excepted). OF course the UCI didn’t need to artificially elevate these races status by including them in the premier calendar.

We may not like the WCS format, but we should applaud their thinking outside the box. Their challenge will be getting the teams, riders, sponsors, and finally fans excited about them. What they need to realize is that very few people care about a season long contest. Casual fans only care about what is happening right in front of their eyes, and serious fans will tend to follow races with history and tradition. If there needs to be a series or season long contest, please bring back the Super Prestige Pernod!

TomC December 11, 2012 at 11:02 pm

I’m not sure that i understand the large problem with having races such as Tirreno-Adriatico and Paris-Nice clashing. It means that we get two great races to follow at the same time with a good quality field but also means we don’t have all the contenders for the grand tours in the same race, adding some mystique and intrigue to each contender’s build. This allows a grand tour that is more open in anticipation and less of a foregone conclusion.

Is the wisdom that if the races did not clash then the standard would rise as all the GT contenders would be in attendance? Would we not still get riders keeping their cards as close to their chest as possible and simply racing different weeks to each other instead of simultaneously?

The Inner Ring December 11, 2012 at 11:12 pm

Some good points. Keen cycling fans will welcome two simultaneous races but the wider public wont know which race to follow. And broadcasts of each race can be tricky to get, often you have to resort to pirate video feeds.

leif December 12, 2012 at 12:46 pm

Rather than talk television rights we need to start referring to this as broadcast license.
The market of the future is smart phones…

will December 12, 2012 at 9:51 pm

They can cope with more than one Premier League match on at the same time so sure they can manage this.

slim jim December 12, 2012 at 1:16 am

The only reason I think this could work is the Tour Down Under. Admittedly this is race has been running for some time (and we Aussies have a reputation for being nuts for sport; almost any sport) but it didn’t start dragging cycling fans from all around the country to Adelaide for a week until it got Pro tour status.

Mike Turtur always manages to secure a couple of big names (Evans, Valverde, Pereiro, Armstrong, and this year Gilbert) and people flock to see it. If WCS gets the right names and develops good stages then it could work.

I don’t think a time trial in all of them is a good idea though; they’ve always deliberately left a TT off the TDU because of the logistics of freighting extra bikes to Australia.

Timo December 12, 2012 at 1:44 am

I anticipate no rider cross over. That the pro teams will effectively have another set of riders to race the WCS and nothing else. It will be a team dedicated to the 10 events. Much like Formula 1; they can have consistent crowd favourites and an ongoing team/individual points ladder. Some teams will be running for the overall crown while other will be targeting individual races. It’s pretty much Formula 1 for cycling; much more of a standardised approach to sporting events.

I definitely get the feel of “in addition to” the Pro Tour rather than “instead of”. There are certainly enough riders to cover it.

ave December 12, 2012 at 1:48 am

I might be stupid to say this, but I hope this fails and fails fast.

Al December 12, 2012 at 1:48 am

4 days seems fine to me, Seems to work for the PGA Tour, so why not.

The problem I’ve had with the longer stage races is that theflat stages are BORING. The guys ride for 200km but nothing is really decided until the last 500m. There is no motivation for anyone, other than the sprinters, to do anything beyond finishing with the pack. If, like a PGA event, they made the first 2 days mean something (making the cut), it would probably provide sufficient incentive.

For example, have a road race and criterium on days 1 and 2. Combine the results. Top 100 go thru to the weekend. Climbing stage on day 3 and a time trial on day 4. Keeps you guessing right until the end. I’d watch it.

Paolo December 12, 2012 at 2:39 am

Even 200km flat stages contribute to the accumulation of fatigue for the riders. That is what makes a GT a GT. 4 days is a good length for juniors.

Timo December 12, 2012 at 3:23 am

Watching fatigue accumulate is boring.

Paolo December 12, 2012 at 6:15 am

You might enjoy track and BMX more then. Watching the result of accumulated fatigue is not boring.

The Inner Ring December 12, 2012 at 8:12 am

I can see your point but I think we could try other things to liven up a dull stage. Put more intermediate sprints so we have a mini finish line in the middle of a sprint stage, think about smaller teams so the race is harder to control and more.

But we will still have the grand tours and long stages even if the WSC is formed. My concern is that 10 new 4 day races dropped into sport is no guarantee of excitement.

Cap'ns Crew December 12, 2012 at 5:26 am

Cycling’s race formats are not the reason for lower viewership and sponsorship. Cycling is at a point where the most important race has had no winners for years. With the expected arrival of Puerto the sequel, Padova and Mandova maybe 2013 needs the cycling community to work towards restoring credibility first before bold utopian race promoters plans are pursued.

After all what do we think will help us through such a dark spectre hanging over the sport, a connection with the history and roots of man-o a man-o competition or an attempt to chase fickle future expected tv viewers and sponsorship loot?

The Inner Ring December 12, 2012 at 8:14 am

True but we can fix the calendar (or the points system) more easily than the problems of doping.

But yes, I’d like to see the sport sort out its leadership and governance first. You can have all the sponsor-friendly “packages” packed with “value” but these are meaningless if huge teams like Katusha get ejected from the sport without reason just a few weeks before the new season starts.

The Potato Man December 12, 2012 at 5:54 am

I don’t mind the idea but I think they have the format wrong. I’d rather see the events being challenging one day races, much more interesting to see riders leave everything out on the road. You could make use of some current semi-classics (Clásica de San Sebastián, Grand Prix Cycliste de Montréal, E3 Harelbeke for instance) and add a couple of new regional races (one in the US a week before the Tour of California for instance). This would provide a solid basis for the series by including some of the history of the sport. If you then supported the race with a women’s race, a Criterium and maybe some amateur racing the day before to build up to the main event then you make it a weekend of racing which promotes more aspects of the sport.

jason December 12, 2012 at 8:05 am

+1

Alex Simmons December 12, 2012 at 8:17 am

Want novel?

Run a circuit race series on F1 tracks as a support event for F1 (or some other motor race events).

Innovative rules, such as rider eliminations every couple of laps, points on other laps etc to spice up the racing.

TV infrastructure is already in place to enable packaging for international audience – live and/or can turn it into a 1 hour TV highlights package with 35-40 min of racing coverage plus rider profiles, interviews, tech talk, obligatory 2-min tourism promo for local region.

Make it snappy, bring in a new audience. Emphasise the racing characters. Post race interviews. Make the events fun for competitors and audience. Motor race tracks are safe – have great infrastructure for cycle races and there are hundreds of them available all around the world. Sponsors can set up VIP venues or other promotional activities.

Encourage some fun “controversy” like bike tech pushing the rules – but managed in a way to generate publicity, not screw the sport. Have Cannondale v Cervelo v Pinarello “wars” etc

On board race cameras for key riders + rider comments. Race radio. Rider telemetry (power, speed, GPS track position etc).

Mark Webber could be a guest entry to lead out the neutral zone.

Have a rider participation event.

Mens + Women’s series, can add local warm up race(s).

Add a one day “classic style”road race on previous/next day nearby.

Grand Prix Series Racing ^TM

Guity December 12, 2012 at 11:00 am

As said above, it sounds like this would lead to teams purely targeting this series and others sticking to the more traditional calendar with the odd star rider crossing over occasionally for publicity. Long term, I would expect it to go more like A1 GP (I think that’s what it’s called) with a big fanfare and media interest in the first year but not capturing the interest of the fans because of the lack of big names (teams or riders) involved. I think it would be great if it was aimed at pro-conti level and gave exposure further down the ranks. It would be a good springboard for young talent. Unfortunately, this probably wouldn’t capture the imagination of the media so much.

The only thing I can think of to improve the calendar is to have races in the winter so I have something to watch while I’m on the turbo in the garage when it’s too cold to go outside! Obviously this isn’t a possibility because the riders need an off season too!

Ian December 12, 2012 at 11:03 am

Your point about there being no races in India or Brazil struck a cord with me. I just recently returned from India after competing in the Tour de India, India’s first international stage race (although it was more like a series of three one day races), India has allot of potential when it comes to hosting cycling events, although their lack of knowledge in the sport caused allot of bumps along the way, but ran mostly smoothly. A bit more experience behind the execution of this event and a bit more imagination in the courses could make the Tour de India a very exciting race in the future. The final stage was particularly memorable as it covered 25 laps of the new formula one track in Delhi, we had well over 1000 spectators but a UCI event could draw an even bigger crowd.

Blacky December 12, 2012 at 11:31 am

I am a supporter of this idea. Some teams will target this serie, because they dont have a rooster to compete for podium on the hardest of races (both one day or stages) on calendar. Big teams introduce B-team roosters. Overall more riders will be given a chance to go for a result and this is good in many ways.
Some small races anyway are struggling every year to secure funding, WCS on the other hand wont have this problem.
A welcome a selection of new venues in more cycling exotic countries. Cycling has a strong tradition in Europe, but there is no reason, why it shouldnt go more international .

Last but not least. WCS will make cycling more apealling to sponsors. At the end of the day, this is the most important fact. No racing on pro level without sponsors…

Stephen_M December 12, 2012 at 11:53 am

It’s hard to like the new proposal – it looks more like a revolution within the sport we all love, rather than its evolution?

From a commercial perspective, you can see the appeal of re-building the cycling calendar – structure it like other sports (football, cricket, etc) and have a series of league tables, qualifiers and championship matches. (New) Fans can they get behind ‘their’ team, watching structured racing with excitement aplenty and the best team should usually win and top the overall tables. TV revenues flow in as the whole world is hooked on the drama.

The troublesome part seems to be the total lack of a formula that has seen the growth and success of the sport we know today. It’s not got a structure of any sort. It’s a series of individual events – even trying to agree who the number 1 rider/team is at the end of the season is a fairly arbitrary argument.

I guess it’s almost shaping up to be a battle between the romantics and the money-men? Or those stuck in their ways, versus the reformers (dependent upon your point of view?)?

Personally, I love the chaotic nature of individual events with individual organisers, but I do fear that money probably talks the loudest when it comes to feeding the cash demands of ever-hungry teams and riders…

Don December 12, 2012 at 3:23 pm

Some random thoughts that may or not be helpful …

Terminology: Cycling as a “sport” and cycling as a “business” are used in the discussion interchangeably when perhaps they are not. The business may not survive financially but the sport may continue at least in some local areas. In North America, professional hockey has ground to a halt this season while the sport of hockey continues to be played. There is speculation now as to the number of customers who will return to professional hockey when it recommences.

Business Model/Plan: It is presented in a top down view. From the bottom up, it is unclear who are the customers … sponsors … media providers …are they the customer? The business plan creators may simply be assuming that there is a market … assumptions can be misleading. I am not an expert but do believe that it is becoming very difficult to reach out to the (paying) public as the broader media is becoming more fragmented.

Customer: We (in this blog) may not be who the business plan targets. It may be a new market yet undefined or unknown to us.

Cycling’s Public Image: As enthusiasts, we are familiar with the poorly formed perception the public has of cycling. In this respect, the business plan/model creators may be out of touch with the community. Simply throwing more money at (dope) testing does not resolve the image problem. In my opinion, professional cycling has tainted the entire sport.

haps December 12, 2012 at 3:28 pm

supose it can be possitive with things being shaken a bit up –
just read this one:
http://www.cyclingnews.com/news/how-world-series-cycling-plans-to-reinvent-the-sport

neither his face(dont judge son, sorry mum:() nor his market decides-logic convinces me one bit that – these cats are in this for anything else that bizznizz – I dont buy in to the logic that the tour was set off to sell newspapers – teams are companies on wheels and therefore the sport is obliged to listen and adapt to the market – there is so much more to this like muddy roads of a prs-roubaix a bold mountian-attack that goes beyond product-logic – & return-on investment – cycling is raced with the heart (and the brain) – sorry if I bring negative vibes – I really hope this thing will not work out -

Larry T. December 12, 2012 at 4:07 pm

I look back to the last big “improvement” in the world of pro cycling – Verbruggen’s grand globalization project..what was it called when it debuted? How has THAT improved things? This latest scheme sounds like just another fiasco in the making, designed to enrich those who will control it in the same way Mr. Mars’ scheme was designed to do. Anti-doping needs to be totally independent (outside of funding) of the organizers or promoters, so this raises a huge red flag for me. If cycling truly needs something like this, why not create the WSC using already existing, proven events that could certainly use the extra revenue instead of formulaic 4-day “TV dinner” events? I hope this entire scheme fades away quickly. My reply to those who say bicycle racing was created simply to sell newspapers is…OK, but since then it’s become a SPORT as opposed to a publicity stunt…there’s no going back now.

Michael December 12, 2012 at 4:37 pm

Inrng writes
The WSC want their calendar of the existing races like the grand tours and major classics plus the 10 new rounds to occupy 28 weekends (and weekdays of course) meaning there would only be 11 weekends for other races throughout the year

I think the whole idea is to more or less the same as the European Tour in golf did years ago. They spread the tournaments all over the world and brought in a lot of new sponsors and talent to the tour.

The idea that there would only be 11 weekends left for the traditionel races are wrong. If you bring cycling to new countries you also have to extend the season to be all year around. We have already seen it with the introduktion of Tour Down Under.

Not very many years ago, there was absolutly no races in january. The season started with the french Etoile de Bessèges and in the north the Het Niewsbladt. Tour of Mallorca was a training race where you could drop out of a stages and still start the next day.

So with 10 4 day races you could start by downsizing the Tour Down Under and have the first race in January. The next race could be the Tour de San Louis in Argentina to be held i february. Put a race in Brazil/Venezuela/Columbia in march. The April race could be The Criterium International with an ekstra stage. The may race could be the Tour de Gila in the US. That could be a warm up for the Tour of California. 2 big races in US within a month. Nice

Now it time for a break. No races in june and juli. August and september should be in Europe. Oktober could be the new race in China, November could be Thailand/Malyasia and finaly the big final in South Africa in december.

That way we make room for 10 4 day races, and only use af few of the european racedays

will December 12, 2012 at 9:57 pm

I suspect Tiger Woods can play top-level golf all year round. The limitation on cyclists racing at the top level is not the weather but what the human body can take. Many star cyclists only peak for a few weeks for the events that matter to them. So, yes, you could do your plan but you won’t get the top names at all the events.

channel_zero December 13, 2012 at 9:11 pm

Het Niewsbladt was called Het Volk, or officially Omloop Het Volk. The first running was 1945???

Most of the traditional races that were run in more fair weather Southern Europe have been demoted off the elite calendar. Tour Down Under was another Pat and Hein deal, like Tour of China.

The cycling season has always been year-round. Check out Pat McQuaid racing in Aparthied-era South Africa despite the IOC “banning” him after discovering it happened. Being banned from the IOC didn’t seem to slow him working for the IOC one bit.

T-Ha December 12, 2012 at 5:40 pm

New World Series Tour 2013 (I wish!)
Jan 21-27 Tour Down Under
Feb 3-9 Qatar
Feb 10-16 South Africa
Feb 17-23 Argentina
Mar 3-9 Paris Nice
Mar 3, 7-13, 17 Strade Bianchi, Tirreno, San Remo
Mar 22, 24 E3 Prijs, Gent-Wevelgem
Mar 31 Ronde
Apr 1-6 Britain (Ardennes warm up) Replace Basque Country Money Pit
Apr 7 Roubaix
Apr 14, 17, 21 Ardennes Classics
Apr 28-May 4 California (Replace Romandie)
May 11- June 2 Giro
June 9-15 Dauphine
June 16-22 Suisse
July 6-28 Tour
August 4-10 Canada
August 11 San Sebastian
August 17- Sep 8 Vuelta
Sep 14-22 Worlds
Sep 29 Lombardia
Oct 6-12 China

Hopefully hitting new markets and keeping classics. Romandy, Pais Vasco, Catalunya, Poland, ENECO, Vattenfall, Plouay, would all move down to HC status if they survived at all.

Just a thought!

shark December 12, 2012 at 6:35 pm

WSC are greedy people who just want to exploit the opportunity of the moment and make a business out of pro cycling. They completely ignore women’s pro cycling but even worse, they have no soul for cycling. They don’t understand that this beautiful sport, is so substantially built on heritage, history and traditions. This would be a terrible destruction, how can you even consider abandonning a Dauphiné, Paris-Nice, Tirreno or Tour de Suisse (etc.)? Outrageous. But how many beautiful traditions, events and things have already been destroyed just for business purposes and the greed of money? Lastly, how can the UCI once again in its desperate condition again get involved in considerable conflicts of interest by letting team owners design and influence and possible also own and profit from races? awful.

Julie @julesmpg December 12, 2012 at 6:56 pm

Thank you for explaining the concept in terms that I can understand. I appreciated the insight into this and my opinion is similar. Change is needed within the UCI which is greatly broken, bypassing the UCI does nothing to fix the problem.

Doubter December 12, 2012 at 8:37 pm

Eeehhhhhh…………..it’ll never happen…..

will December 12, 2012 at 10:18 pm

First thought that came to my mind was whether ASO, RCS or Flanders Classics are onboard with this. If not I don’t really see it going anywhere.

Second I fear the proposals will actual reduce the quality of the product they are trying to sell. This is because it will up the stakes for the relatively smaller number of races that will be part of the WCS, there would be fewer teams, and their won’t be the definition of the specialist seasons in the calendar (cobbles, Ardennes, GTs etc.). If people thought this year’s Tour was boring wait until you have 10 GP races each year with a few super teams riding tempo at the front Sky-style to reduce the risk of something going wrong for their one key guy. It’s also to see how they guys fans love like Voigt or Voeckler will fit into this mould. In such a single-minded world it’s hard to teams wanting to chance it on a lucky break or a guy can one round of a GP but can’t climb or TT.

The Inner Ring December 12, 2012 at 10:37 pm

From what I gather ASO are not yet involved, RCS are watching and the man behind Flanders Classics has been part of the “breakaway league” ideas for some time:
http://inrng.com/2012/04/flanders-classics-business-flemish-races/

cthulhu December 13, 2012 at 3:02 pm

My five pennies on this….

This smells like Formula 1. The persons behind this try to become the Ecclestone of cycling. Building a TV friendly format and cashing in on that. And I am very skeptical about that.

I think it is fine if somebody wants to make money (for personal gains) with cycling but my fear is it will sell the soul of the sport. This has written things like paid viewpoints, rules discussions (OK, we already have them, but that is more about bad leadership I guess) and exerting of influence through the TV stations. Imagine this years Tour, and imagine they decide it is too boring and change the rules during the race. I don’t follow F1 at all, but through the general news I quite often hear of such things, too often the races are decided in some back room and by some committee. OK, we have that in cycling thanks to doping too, but do we even need more of that? And I really dislike the idea of paid viewing spots, that is a bit problematic in financial terms but one of the great aspects of cycling everybody can go to a race and watch it for free. And I think that also adds to the attraction of this sport.
Also I fear the locations are chosen by highest bidder, which I too think is a bit problematic. Instead of developing the sport organically going there (outside of Europe) where the demand is and starting with smaller races in regions with less popularity. Else we will have stuff the the F1 with their race in Bahrain. Outside are the people beaten and gunned down by police and military and inside the wealthy rulers/upper class are having a PR party. Or there are no local spectators only tourists. I think it is a shame that for example there is still no Top Level race in the US while Canada has two. And China was supposed to have two.
Cycling has and will be more globalised but this is not the way, this in no way will enhance or produce a cycling culture in the countries/locations it will go. No my fear is, it will even separate professional cycling from amateur cycling even more, and in my opinion amateur cycling is the foundation and without a solid one one cannot build anything on top of that.
I also believe there is a clash of cultures. Especially in the English speaking countries where cycling has become really popular during the last years, it is a rich peoples’ sport. While in continental Europe it is still a poor mens’ one. And this series is definitely targeting the former audience undermining it’s own heritage, maybe sawing off the branch on which it is sitting with this.
I am strongly averse to this kind of series. Although it has many interesting ideas I fear this is more like the death of cycling.

As for the format of the races I think that is not so bad. With a bit of tweaking one might get really interesting races out of it. Even if it sound formulaic on paper thanks to different terrain the races could be very versatile. BUT if it should help cycling in anyway it should be combined with women, youth and amateur races, no grand fondos please. Although the people organising these races would probably prefer to cash in on grand fondos.

And I like to add, I really like the ENECO tour. The stages are so dense locally that many people can visit several ones with very little traveling. Also it gives off a bit of classics feeling even if the weather is much better.

Mendip 5000 December 14, 2012 at 6:44 am

It may be my lack of imagination, but I can’t ever see cycle races appealing to a “broadcast” audience in the same way that F1 and Golf do, irrespective of how simplified the format becomes. It is essentially boring TV viewing and I can see broadcasters wanting a 4 day race being boiled into a 1 hour TV program; how much is that going to be worth to he organisers? Not enough is my guess.

Pretty much everyone drives a car; pretty much everyone doesn’t ride a bike – change that first and you might get an F1 sized audience.

Golf at least has lots of “intermediate sprints” to keep people watching. It’s an aspirational pastime with green fees and bars attached. It gets more than its fair share of audience too as a result of its image.

Cycling is hard work, is carried out on open roads and has no entry fees. All of the “new” cyclists I know are into doing sportives not watching ProCycling on their smartphones. They are also already fans of other sports. they may have time for the TDF, but how much for a 10 week commitment to a series alongside their other sporting passions?

I understand why teams are involved already though. Born out of frustration with ASO/RCS monopoly of the big bucks and UCI’s inability to help spread the cash around you have to set yourself up in biz and make like you are going to work with them as it at least gives you a chance of a second income stream away from the uncertainty of sponsors. I think that is probably the biggest problem with where the Pro-Tour is today. “Show me the money”

The Inner Ring December 14, 2012 at 8:46 am

Market research shows the single biggest draw of the Tour de France for TV audiences… is the landscape. Not the racing but the fields, castles, mountains and more. Also the second one is the perceived difficulty, the “inhuman” idea of climbing the Galibier or Tourmalet.

As you say everyone can drive and maybe imagine driving fast. But many watch cycle races because they can’t imagine doing 200km across the mountains. Cycling exploits this toughness, it’s history is full of legends about riders emerging from blizzards, going solo or crashing off a mountain. Disconnect the sport from this with hygienic races in semi-urban formats and corporate formats and, believe the market research, and the audience could even shrink.

We’ll see, Gifted Group aren’t planning to lose money by shrinking the market. But based on the little we know it is risky.

Mendip5000 December 14, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Interesting point about the Market Research. I’d love to know the appeal of the landscape as key factor varied as you went further away from France…

…but then I’d also love to know how much ASO make out of their bike races!

AndyL December 14, 2012 at 9:24 am

The phrase that worries me is “commercial rights”. WSC intend to keep this for all ‘new’ events.
It is as commercial rights holder that Ecclestone controls and extracts huge amounts of money from F1.
As commercial rights holder, they will want WSC to be the brand, not the individual events. That way they will have the power to move events at will, to the highest bidder or most obliging organiser. Whatever format or calender comes out in future, we should resist the concept of a commercial rights holder taking over cycling.

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