More pain in Spain

Having predicted trouble ahead for Spain, I didn’t think it would come to this. The Tour of Basque Country, Volta a Catalunya and the Clasica San Sebastián are all under threat because of financial woes. This story has been in the Spanish media and now relays the news.

There are many races in Europe, arguably there are too many races. But I’m talking about the smaller events and the trio of Spanish races named above are three of the biggest ones in Spain, they are loaded with tradition and prestige. If these events are in trouble, Spanish cycling is in trouble.

There’s a cacophony of competing interests. The Basque organisers have said “we will wait until next week to see if any solution can be found. If none is forthcoming we will call a press conference in which we will announce the disbanding of our organization and the disappearance of the two races” which is regrettable. Not just because we’re suddenly so close to the deadline but because anyone considering working with the race organisers probably doesn’t want to deal with such hotheads.

For all the worrying headlines I hope things will be fixed. In order to run the Tour of Basque Country and the Clasica San Sebastián organisers need to make up a shortfall of €150,000. That’s manageable, even if it is probably a chunky percentage of the total race budget.

Vamos a la quiebra, oh oh oh oh no

There are solutions out there. Tour de France organisers ASO own half of Unipublic, the company that runs the Tour de France and it has been trying to add the Basque races to its portfolio. ASO seems ready to step in here.

In addition, the UCI is also now involved. In a press release issued earlier today, the governing body is ready to help too:

UCI is also in the process of collecting all the information necessary in order to come up with an intervention strategy that can deal with the urgency of the situation and at the same time the principals of solidarity that govern the UCI WorldTour.

The UCI reiterated that in 2011 a contribution from the UCI WorldTour reserve Fund was deployed in favour of the GP Ouest France de Plouay, a French UCI WorldTour event.

The French race got €30,000 in 2010 and based on the quote above, this was repeated again for 2011. Indeed the UCI’s “ProTour Reserve Fund” is sitting on €2.1 million:

€2.1 million just sitting in a Swiss bank

Still the UCI’s press release is courageously optimistic because it cites the precedent of UCI actions saving races. Yes the UCI is able to get people together and it could help with some money. But the sport’s governing body cannot plug holes in every race organiser’s budget, the cash can only appear in certain circumstances. For example I think the two World Tour races in Canada are run at a loss but the organisers absorb this hoping to turn a profit in the years to come. If the Spanish get money, maybe other race organisers will beat a path to Switzerland and ask for help. I hope the UCI doesn’t get hopes up too high in Spain.

One thing to note is the politics of this. Not the politics of regional government in Spain where various tiers can complicate the funding of a race but instead the politics of pro cycling. We have the UCI and ASO both lurking and ready to dangle serious amounts of money here. The money doesn’t come for free and both the UCI and ASO have an agenda when it comes to controlling the calendar of events. ASO already runs many of the sports leading races in France and beyond; the UCI is now expanding into race promotion via its Global Cycling Promotions business and has a vested interest in promoting its own World Tour that is now amplified by its GCP involvement. Hopefully the races can be saved for noble reasons of sport and heritage but let’s at least recognise additional motivations.

There are probably too many races on the calendar and if some disappear it will be sad but part of the sport’s evolution. But the three races here are significant events that merit a place on the calendar.

The Basque and Catalonian regions are two of Spain’s wealthiest areas and the Basque country is a real hotbed of cycling. Even if Spain is caught in a downturn the money and passion must be there to save these events. The San Sebastian race is a giant promotional tool for the city’s twin beaches; the Catalonian race allows us to explore the inland area less frequented by tourists who flock to the coast and Barcelona, Europe’s party city.

Nevertheless keep an eye on the outsiders circling with money. The likes of ASO and the UCI can help but they have an agenda.

14 thoughts on “More pain in Spain”

  1. When you refer to the competing poltics of ASO and the UCI, are you implying that by taking over more races ASO is at the least putting itself in a position to have more influence over the governing body, and possibly setting up a breakaway? I read that right?

  2. Simon: that’s an extrapolation but it is possible, yes. I see it more as ASO extending its interests outside France and coveting some of the top races in Spain. Done right these races could be profitable for ASO. Longer term controlling even more races can only help give ASO more bargaining chips for the sport’s evolution or revolution.

  3. How long before ASO and other race organizers cry foul over UCI’s conflict of interest viz-a-viz GCP?

    How long before UCI and other race organziers cry foul over ASO’s monopoly of big races?

    If this doesn’t feel like a 3-way battle between two giants squishing the little guys, I don’t know what is …

  4. I know the Basque Country, (Euskal Herria) very well, and have many friends there who are
    involved in amateur clubs, and racing. The general feeling is that the TBC and the Clasica will disappear, hopefully only for a couple of years, or until a major Basque benefactor bails them out.

    Sad to hear of any race dropping off the calendar…..

  5. The first thing I think of is Spain reaping what they’ve been sowing for years – dope-fueled sport eventually turns off the fan interest and organizers’ funding. Add in the world-wide economic crisis, felt especially heavily in Spain at present and you have the current mess. I really don’t like to see ASO extend their tentacles much more into the sport but if the choice is between that and losing the events, I’d say let ASO have ’em. Interestingly this comes out just after the UCI’s pronouncement that pro cycling is weathering the world-wide economic slowdown very well. Score another one for Pat “Foot securely in mouth” McQuaid and Co.

  6. “Interestingly this comes out just after the UCI’s pronouncement that pro cycling is weathering the world-wide economic slowdown very well.”

    Good point, Larry…. Very much a case of, ‘Crisis? What crisis?’

  7. Chris: my thoughts too. The Basque and Catalan tours are only weeks away, it looks very bad to shout now. Presumably politicians commit to financing these things in annual budget processes.

    Julius Kusuma/Larry T: together you make the obvious point. Sponsors queue to ride the Tour de France but a big share of the races on the calendar have only marginal interest to the sponsors… even if it is important to riders, locals and fans.

    Lauaxeta: once a race falls off the calendar it can be much harder to put it back on again.

  8. Don’t worry, Pat’s got it covered…instead of races that have decades of history and tradition, in Europe(not to mention someone actually watching!), we can look foward more to the likes of Quatar and Beijing!!…..wohoo!….the sooner anyone in the governing bodies of this sport actually stands up and is honest to the fact that no-one actually gives a flying F..k about these bullshit events, then the sooner we might see less interest in trying to $’s into MCQuaids retirement fund and more interest into where the heart of the sport really lies.

  9. To add a little context, I live and work in Spain as part of a bike coop – for a while it has been common that public Spain – simply do not pay their bills to private companies (banks excluded) things are complicated.
    The Basque Country & Catalunya being the most affluent regions and at the same time the regions with a high degree of independence makes goodwill(read cash) from the central government unlikely.
    as this link indicates the basque tour is a private project financed on 80% public cash – that is not a sustainable business model at present.

    As several has expressed it is disturbing how exotic races are being included in the world tour and the peloton is looking good cash-wise while part of the fundament of cycling seem to be shaken..

  10. How about a bit of crowd funding among cycle fans ? All enthousiast fans donate one euro and the race is ours. And all additional sponsors are assured of a solid crowd of cycle fans. In the same way we can support such fantastic races like the Vuelta of Colombia, some fierce female races, other illustrous obscure racing spectacles on the calender which deserve a broad cast and a crowd of fans ? How such can be organised, I don’t know. Important is that the system of supportive cycle fans cannot be hijacked by major parties. It must be something like vote rigging proof. In this way, we, cycle fans can support historic classic races. National heritages will survive thanks to a solid crowd of cycle fans.

  11. To piggyback off of Arnout’s idea, I do wonder if some races re going to have to start legitimately charging for the races or at least request fans donate to help support the race. you see this with music where fans can take the album for free, but the artist asks for a donation, and you would be surprised at the benevolence of most people in those situations.

  12. @Bundle Why do you think races shouldn’t be so expensive? What constitutes expensive to you?

    There are a lot of associated costs with organizing professional races. Equipment rental, vehicle rental, staff, sanctioning fees, insurance, municipal permits & services, officials, prize money, road closures/police services, medical support, publicity, TV coverage, hotels, stipends paid to teams, medical services, anti-doping controls, etc.

    At least many of the Europeans have subsidized police and municipal services. In the US it is almost impossible to put on even a low level 1 day UCI race for less than $150k.

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