Tour Down Under vs Tour de San Luis

Imagine holding a party, you invite lots of people only to discover someone else in your social circle is holding their own party on the very same day. Some friends and locals show up but most of your friends are partying on the other side of town. Awkward.

Only the Tour Down Under isn’t a social occasion, it’s the first event on the UCI World Tour. It might have the top-18 teams but it looks like the star riders are to be found in Argentina at the Tour de San Luis.

First, a contrary word because despite the title of the piece races are not in opposition. Fans get to enjoy two races a day so you don’t have to come down on either side. It’s more an observation that some riders are choosing between the two races and a some fans are confused by the calendar clash. As I’ll explain, these two race aren’t necessarily in direct comparison.

The Tour Down Under (TDU) has plenty of star riders with André Greipel, Marcel Kittel and the cream of Australia cycling. But San Luis has Peter Sagan, Mark Cavendish, Vincenzo Nibali, Joaquim Rodriguez and more. But instead of names, here’s some analysis from the essential

ProCyclingStats compares the ten best riders in each race and the chart shows that in 2013 and again in 2014 the better ranked riders have gone to Argentina ahead of Australia. What’s San Luis got that the Tour Down Under lacks?

Money could be the answer, it’s an open secret that ex-pro Giovanni Lombardi’s paying out handsome appearance fees in his role as “European co-ordinator” for San Luis and this explains plenty. The journey is long for Euro-based pros although there’s less of a time gap but and I can’t see the Argentinian market being any more attractive than the Australian one for sponsors, especially given the TV coverage of San Luis is modest. In fact this modesty is part of the attraction because riders can start their season away from intense coverage and racing. Indeed the Tour de San Luis today what the Tour Down Under used to be, a small race in the sunshine without riders risking everything for a UCI point. The San Luis peloton is more varied because for every OPQS or Astana there’s a team from Buenos Aires province and another from Cuba. Note the paradox, the TDU has more UCI points but it’s the concentration of teams and the tough racing that can put off some of the riders with the most points as they prefer a more gentle introduction to the new season.

Who loses?
Both the Tour Down Under race organiser and the TV companies have bid for this rights to run and broadcast this event and its label as a UCI World Tour event, supposedly the biggest and best is part of the package. Having fewer stars makes the race less marketable and the audience is left wondering where the other riders are. Imagine a Formula 1 race where Sebastian Vettel is too busy doing a rally in Latin America.

Structural problem
This begs a question on the structure of the sport and the calendar: should the best riders be allowed to race elsewhere when a UCI WorldTour event is on? For now the answer is emphatically yes given the UCI awards simultaneous races a World Tour licence, think Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico, the Dauphiné and the Tour de Suisse or the Vuelta and the two one day races in Montréal and Québec. This is a subject being addressed by the UCI with its 2020 reform programme. Similarly just because a race is on the WorldTour calendar doesn’t mean everyone is obliged to ride. You won’t find Mark Cavendish doing Liège-Bastogne-Liège or Philippe Gilbert at Paris-Roubaix and so a calendar clash alone isn’t always a problem.

Calendar Slot
The Tour Down Under is the first event on the calendar and gains plenty from this. Everything is new, all the bikes, jerseys and more are on display in the bright Aussie sun and the race attracts the kind of interest that other events later on the calendar won’t get. But is it too early? There are 42 days between the end of the TDU and the next race on the World Tour calendar Paris-Nice, the longest gap between World Tour races in the year. This isn’t arithmetic, it affects planning and form. Riders in top shape today fear being stale by the time racing resumes.

In theory you’d shunt the TDU into February, ideally timed to allow returning riders to stop off in the Gulf for the Tours of Qatar, Oman and Dubai and then pick up with the first Belgian races and Paris-Nice. But it’s not as easy as that, the TDU is embedded into its slot for a variety of local reasons. Perhaps some simple face-saving could see the UCI push San Luis back by a week so that in 2015 it’s not appearing to be in opposition?

Tour Down Under Kittel Greipel sprint

The calendar clash is a fact so can the TDU organisers and broadcasters be annoyed that another race has siphoned off the best riders? If it looks that way on paper, it’s wrong to imagine the TDU in direct competition with San Luis. It’s a matter of degree, there are plenty of A-listers in Adelaide even if San Luis has some stellar starters. But any comparison between these two races should include the third cohort of star names who are not racing anywhere like Chris Froome, Alberto Contador, Rui Costa, Philippe Gilbert et al.

Perhaps San Luis could happen one week later next year but these are different races catering to different fields and if you’re worried about simultaneous duplication, why is Paris-Nice in competition with Tirreno-Adriatico? But the story shouldn’t be one of opposition, each race is a chapter in the story leading to the classics and grand tours. Providing you can juggle time zones and video feeds then cycling fans are spoilt for choice. With the TDU and San Luis we see two races busy establishing themselves on the calendar. Other races should take note.

52 thoughts on “Tour Down Under vs Tour de San Luis”

  1. TDU is an established World Tour event and Tour de San Luis (TdSL) is picking up. I don’t think TdSL’s “model” is sustainable and with more interesting parcours (like this year), TDU will regain it’s spot of top race in January. Else, as you suggested, TdSL be moved by a week.

    Do we know for certain that TdSL isn’t planning to upgrade to World Tour?

    • Agreed, it’s just a suggestion to avoid the awkward question of why the TDU pays for an exclusive World Tour race only to see so many riders line up elsewhere. Put another way, why not save the money and run it as a 2.HC or 2.1?

    • Agree. Especially the Paris-Nice/Tirreno-Adriatico or as both are WT. Right now the organizers are competing for the best riders with their parcours designs, but they could also attract them with appearance fees, better accomodation, etc.
      Also I couldn’t care less that the casual watcher doesn’t understand the WT concept, if someone is interested in cycling can read the info what is available and would understand how it works. It is not that complicated.

  2. Different things for different riders – TdU has sprints and the occasional hill so it’s less of a sprinterfest than it used to be, TdSL has a TT and mountains – I can see the attraction of the latter to climbers and the former to sprinters/all rounders.

    • +1

      These are two different races, with differing parcourses, that attract different styles of riders.

      But, why are these events in January ? The TDU conflicts with Australian Open. Y not run these races in Feb, then the sprint and medium mountain teams/riders can continue in thew Arabian peninsula or in the early Belgian races.

      Does not make sense to have a break after these races.

  3. If last year is anything to go by, fans in terms of fans watching feeds…there’s no competition. TdSL’s coverage last year was shocking and I havent had promising responses when I’ve asked if its going to be better this year.

  4. I enjoy watching both when I can. At least NBC Sports has on TV (taped) so I can DVR it and watch it on a TV instead of a feed. Either way both great races, different strokes for different folks I suppose.

  5. Would the clash seem as significant if the TDU wasn’t a world tour race? They both strike me as excellent regional choices for riders to start their seasons. European riders can choose btwn them or wait (as many do). Given their different parcours and their distinct regional appeals, they don’t really seem to clash. The TDU wouldn’t draw more big named riders from Europe or the Americas if it had an exclusive calendar spot. I think b/c it’s labelled world tour people assume it should have the cream of the crop but it is of limited appeal to riders due to the parcours and great travel distance.

  6. It’s too damn early for either of these things. What was so wrong about the way it used to be, with riders showing up at Paris-Nice with some winter weight still showing around the middle? The season’s too long, it’s the old quality vs quantity argument with the latter way-too-often getting the nod.

    • Ok, then, which early season European races are you prepared to ditch to make way for a later TDU? because I’m frankly getting a bit sick of the complaining from northern hemisphere types about a wildly successful event that, if you’re ever inclined to hop on the plane, is one of the most spectator friendly races on the calendar.

      • Robert, at the risk of winding you up, back-in-the-day there was no TDU and I’m fine with that, same as there was no Tour of CA, etc. But plenty of Aussies and a few Yanks still made their way to Europe. I’m about SPORT rather than the business claptrap about selling more overpriced bicycles or being “spectator friendly”… whatever that means.

        • @Larry T you only just stopped short of saying “back in my day…”

          I’ll admit to being a biased Aussie, but the TDU is getting real momentum here and is a fantastic race for true fans. Maybe you just need to turn off Larry T?

          The TDU now gets national morning TV coverage (to housewives, non cyclists, etc. with positive coverage meaning obvious safety benefits for cyclists on the road as well as possible generating support for the professionals), but the main newspapers and TV still treat it poorly (even with local hero Gerro winning a stage the best Murdoch’s papers could do is have the TDU 10 pages in from the sports backpage). Silly, because it’s very slow news days here without any football to report and not much cricket.

          Radelaide is a smaller city, so attracts lots of tourists from interstate like the bigger cities of Melbourne and Sydney. Hotels and local restaurants have a boom week as the mamils spend up. For the thousands of mamils attending, it’s a daily dose of star spotting (my mate last year talks of standing next to Phil Gil in the rainbow jersey as they crossed the lights outside the Hilton), visiting the Hilton to see the mechanics working on the team bikes, cafe stopping ride out to the stage, watch the race with a beer and lunch, then ride home in a pack with pros amongst you still wearing race numbers. Then it’s a late afternoon beer, dinner and another star spot, then do it all again tomorrow. Oh, and it’s a comfortable 30 degrees and sunny every day.

          The 2nd channel of one of the bigger free-to-air channels broadcasts the race live during the day too now so it’s still tracking well post-Lance.

          The TDU does clash with the Australian Open, but most Aussies are back from holiday by the time TDU starts and kids don’t go back to school until next week, so general roadside attendance would suffer if held later. Not sure it would be disastrous if held in Feb though.

          From a pro’s perspective, they’re all on training programmes now anyway so it’s a choice of doing them in the warm sun at the TDU vs. the cold in Europe. Even without the TDU, the pro teams would be testing and training its riders somewhere, and only Eddy Bohag has winter fat right now, even the English riders are lean. Larry T’s argument is yelling into the wind of progress, if it wasn’t the TDU they’d have something else. Maybe we could bring back compulsory steel bikes and ban powermeters for you?

          • Guilty as charged. As someone who likes the slogan “ciclismo come una volta” (cycling as it once was) I’m not a fan of these so-called improvements, which was clearly indicated with my “what was so wrong…?” question. Cycling, just like civilization in general is not on a clear-cut line of constant improvement and evolution. Otherwise there would never have been that period known as the Dark Age, right? I’d rather they skip all this hoo-ha about what are just glorified training camps and wait to start the season with Paris-Nice like they did in the golden age of cycling – when there was a LOT more fan interest than there is these days. Nostalgic? Certainly. Yelling into the wind? Yes, but I’m not so sure I’d call that wind PROGRESS. We heard lots about that from the likes of Verbruggen and McQuaid…and look where that led the sport.

          • Good response Larry, apologies if my tone was antagonistic. I guess if you’d been in charge I might actually watch the Winter Olympics to see intresting things (like ) rather than it looking like a corporate X games as it is now. Change aint always good.

            Any discussion about the economics and growth of a sport should require the reading of the book Soccernomics first. I highly recommend it, and it has many parallels with cycling.

        • “Spectator friendly” means that:

          * You can stay in the one hotel for a week and see the entire event.
          * There is a huge variety of decent food available both in the city and around the stages, all the way to fine dining. As our host and I think you yourself have agreed, despite the reputation of French food the stuff you can actually get in stage towns in the boondocks is often very average.
          * It’s quite practical to ride to and from most of the stages from the city.
          * The parcours is mostly circuits, so you see the riders multiple times and can watch the stage develop.
          * There’s plenty for non-cycling partners or kids to do – see above, also note that there are beaches that can be reached by public transport from the CBD.

          Like I said, “spectator friendly”.

          • Clearly there is some Anti-Aussie attitude, judging by just some of the posts below. These types don’t attend much anyway, they usually just sit online whining that it’s too cold to ride, so it’s a waste suggesting they get down to Adelaide. Maybe the Poms are just upset at the 5-0 Ashes pasting?

            Paying big wads of cash to the ‘stars’ was started by the TDU with Lance, but is a silly idea without everything else to grow the event. The TdSL will fold pretty quickly if that is their only idea. Be honest though, if Cav, etc. weren’t getting the cash would they be as happy and involved? I’ve travelled in Argentina and can’t recall much of a cycling culture, so I’d suggest the attendances are due to lack of anything else. In Radelaide it may also be tha case, but lots of people are also on summer holiday and there is a strong/growing cycling culture there.

            The time zone of the TDU can’t be helped, so I’m not sure why people are whingeing about it. Aussies make up 1/4 of the peloton these days, and us fans stay up all night watching the Tour without whining.

            The importance of a home race like the Giro is ok for the Italians, so what is the problem with the Aussies treating it the same way? I don’t whine about the ToB, even though that race is invariably dreary and a real dirge.

            Used properly, the TDU is a very good springboard for many riders into a good year. I have no doubt a good result in the Giro for Cadel will be based on the quality of his block of work here in Aus. Also, teams often ‘blood’ their young riders into a stage race scenario.

            The TDU doesn’t need to be the Tour, or a cobble classic, and it’s not pretending to be. Some people just don’t seem to understand that.

            The TDU and TdSL can co-exist, good luck to the Argies (fantastic country btw). Not sure what the big deal is about if they both seem to be growing & getting better. Isn’t that good for the sport?

            Brian Cookson is in town, I reckon he’ll enjoy it.

  7. This is all just (southern) summer stock. Most riders are just doing their base. Perhaps San Luis’ (slightly) more demanding parcours, coupled with less intensive riding, gives us a clue.

  8. Some mention should probably be made of the fact that San Luis is one of the most passionate and best supported races on the planet. It takes place in a region that doesn’t see any major sporting events (unlike Adelaide well this really will be just another week of the sporting year) so the locals truly appreciate the race.

    They had massive crowds just for the team presentation last year, the governor gets involved in the commentary, the radio commentators go absolutely nuts, the cyclists get treated like royalty, I’m sure that’s part of the reason why many keep coming back.

    • I’ve never watched any of San Luis so I can only suppose that what you say about the hoopla and royal treatment there is true. Looking at a photo of Boonen and mates post-race today, though, I noted that they were sitting/sprawled on the ground propped up against a doorway while taking on fluid, and I imagined they might be enjoying the simplicity/lack of fuss of all that and recalling days when they raced their bikes primarily for fun.

  9. Living in Europe it is nice to know that if I were to watch San Luis on a pirate stream it is available to view at a decent time of the day even if the coverage is sketchy.
    As for flat fest down under I suppose I could pay a PPV sports channel for a years’ worth of football (Zzzzzz) coverage so I can record the 30 minutes daily highlights of the only race they show…I think not.
    If I were a sponsor I know which event I would be sending my big name riders to.

  10. I think a key point has been missed on the discussion of these two races, which is opening up cycling to wider markets. Cycling has been Europe-centred for over a century, but as it starts to broaden it’s horizons it creates calendar issues.

    These races are perfect for the early season, with good weather, and help grow the interest in cycling in countries outside of Europe and the US.

    Australia deserves a World Tour race on the basis of it’s peloton participation alone.

    Also the parcours has been changed, with this year being the least sprinter friendly I can remember.

    In saying all of that, pushing the TDU back a couple of weeks to avoid the Australian Open clash, would be a good idea.

  11. South Americans buy bikes too.
    Pro teams, and pro athletes with cycling oriented sponsors/owners who want to get products into new markets. SA seem under developed compared to EU or Australia in terms of bike markets.

    And realistically how many WT races are there in the New World? 6?

  12. Not sure going for the heat of the TDU & Oman/Dubai, etc. is the best prep for the the euro spring campaign. If the weather is mild it might work out but I don’t think 60-80 degree swings in temperature like last year is good for the form.

  13. I think if I was Adelaide and a sponsor I would be applying pressure to the UCI because for all of the money invested they are not seeing the best riders at WT events. Where is the dollar value.

    To me it doesn’t seem like a very good situation, you have ever a WT event and yet half the best riders are racing a 2.2 race or whatever.

    Cycling needs more sponsors to the sport yet when a company gets interested they are met with this strange world where they pay top dollar to sponsor a WT Race, yet the perceived best riders are not present. It doesn’t look like a very appealing business case to me.

    • That’s the concern. A wisened cycling fan who understands the calendar and how each race has its subtleties can grasp how it works and that two races are not necessarily clashing. But can a casual fan or the Adelaide authorities and a typical taxpayer understand this? Probably not.

      • If you want to increase the dollar value of this event, then event to my mind the organiser should consider selling its commercial viewing rights to European, US and other broadcasters who think of cycling as more than just a filler on the schedule.
        Selling rights to PPV stations that only show one (max two) races a year does not bring any real return on investment.
        Remember the majority viewing figures for the PPV stations revolve around football games shown in public places such as pubs and clubs, events like the TdU are just fillers for these stations.
        To my mind any licenced pro tour race must come with a contractual clause to ensure viewing rights are sold to the broadcasters who will guarantee the largest audience for the benefit of the sport and financial penalties applied when viewing figures fail to live up to figures for the average of other pro tour events.

        To try an widen the point; sports lacking the clout of Football, need to have a long hard look at their commercial viewing rights, many sports have suffered exposure when they took the PPV money, look at the money mess in ruby!
        There could be an argument that says as cycling is now the largest participation sport in the UK could be down to the fact that the majority of cycling events are FTA.
        The TdU and the TSL could benefit from wider exposure to the key cycling market, Europe. I am sure sponsors, tourism authorities and teams would like to see more people watching these races.
        Let’s not forget even the most commercial world of F1 is free to air.

        I also do not see a problem with the dates of the races, the courses are different, thereby suiting different riders early season needs, and the time difference between the events allows fans the opportunity to see both.
        In fact the level of the race 1:1 1:2 etc. should be down to the amount of viewers they pull in!

        • “There could be an argument that says as cycling is now the largest participation sport in the UK could be down to the fact that the majority of cycling events are FTA.”

          Until maybe the last year the only cycling shown on FTA TV was the TdF and the Tour of Britain. Nothing else got a look in unless it was part of a multipsort event.

          That is where the growth in cycling in the UK comes from, the sucess in the Olympics, from Chris Boardmand in 1992 and really building from Sydney though Athens to the breakthough in Beijing with superstars such as Wiggins, Hoy and Pendleton capturing the imagination.

          Its only since Cav’s green jersery and Sir Wiggo’s TdF sucess that the public has become interesting in road racing at all and even then races are only FTA if there is a specific british interest i.e. with the Vuelta being shown when Froome was going for it against the Spainish in 2012, the Giro last year when Brad failed or when the race is in the UK, such as the London classic. Everything else is spread between Eurosport, Sky and now BT sport.

          I’m not saying that FTA TV isn’t a great catalyst for sporting interest and participation (just look at F1 for this being a sucessful policy (until recently)) but its not the model for sucess in the UK where FTA TV coverage of cycling is still very limited and only follows where there is already British sucess and therefore interest in the sport.

      • This would be an issue except we had The Australian National Racing Champion (can’t remember his name), that bloke whose mate did alright at the Tour de France last year, I think he might have worn yellow even and our team which is named after a mining company (is it BHP Billiton?) Anyway those blokes must be world champions by now if they are true Aussies but none of that matters because Cadel Evans is here and probably going to drown us in his tears. Besides when I get sick of Azarenka’s shrieking, Sharapova’s wooping and England’s abysmal cricketing performance there is more sport on the box.

        That above is the casual Australian’s attitude towards cycling. They do not know who is missing. As soon as a sportsman or woman utters the word “it’s such a great place” they may as well have won the tour de france or be wearing the rainbow jersey for all we care.

        My point is don’t get too beat up at the lack of superstars because as long as successful Australians are ridng alongside individuals who can be marketed as the world’s best the Australian public will lap up the action.

  14. Let’s not forget, regardless of the San Louis, in the three years from 2007 to 2010 the TDU doubled the number of points for the Top 10 riders. I can’t remember, but I assume this is when it because a WT event?

    Looking at that chart, things have plateaued since then. They’ve altered the course, but the best riders haven’t come? Maybe. But the best Australian riders now are. For the race that is a big deal.

    I guess the real question is what are the goals of the TDU (ie marketting for South Australia)? Will moving it or the TdSL help it achieve it’s goals. Probably not. I don’t see the overseas market as a big goal for them.

  15. Cycling’s too diverse for a one-size-fits-all approach. It makes no sense to force all top riders to ride all top races. What sense does it make for e.g. Froome or Quintana to race the TdU? Being WT guarantees teams will come. If you want individuals, you’ll have to pay them individually.
    The F1 comparison misses the point. If every bike race was a 1hr flat crit it would fit.

  16. Is there even a stream, pirate or legitimate, for the TDSL stages? All I can find is video of the start and finish lines. That can’t possibly be all the TV coverage there is? If so, an awful lot of marketing value going to waste.

    Note that Argentina is a struggling economy with stiff currency controls and a severely depreciating peso. More questionable marketing value.

  17. Nobody cares for the Tour Down Under except the Australians. It will never be more than a training ride for everybody else. It’s really absurd that a race like that (in January!) is part of the World Tour. The World Tour should start with Paris-Nice, period.

    • Full ACK.
      And I can only laugh at the illusion, that even if there were no TdSL, the TdU would have a significant amount of big guns more on the startline.
      The fact that they buyed TdU into a WT race doesn’t guarantee the stars of the sport showing up.
      Wake me up at Omloop.

  18. It’s a shame that the TV coverage is so bad for the TDSL, yesterday was a joke as comments on twitter were saying there were only 2-3kms to go and it took the riders 15mins, while all we got was a screenshot of cars arriving and people crossing the road.

    Would like to have seen today’s stage, looks like it could be a cracking finish. I’ve done my preview of it and the Tour Down Under, landed the 1-2 yesterday at odds of 7/1 and 14/1 each-way..

  19. Please reserve your comments on the TDU until you have attended it. There were 95,000 people watching the criterium on Sunday night and I have never seen so many bikes as there were yesterday in Adelaide, riding to and from the race start/finish. The TDU is growing every year (even post-Lance) and cycling is now almost a mainstream sport in Australia. Local training bunches are massive and take over cafes on Saturday and Sunday mornings. The public TDU ride has 6500 registrations even though it’s held on a working day. The race front page news yesterday, had 90,000 people on the roadside, and we now have Porte, Gerrans and Evans all going for the win. How many other countries can boast a TdF winner, classics winner and favourite for the Giro vying for a win in their national tour? Remember too that Australia a small country, roughly 20 million, and Adelaide is a city of just over 1 million- so almost 10% of the population were watching the race. Not bad for a ‘nothing’ race held at the ‘wrong’ time of the year.

  20. The food poisoning for several riders at TdSL also would be a worry. It’s a fact that food handling standards are not great in South America, plus the staple diet in Argentina is beef and more beef. Team Sky Chef would really earn his stripes at that race.

    In Adelaide you run the risk of having too much good red wine, so…

  21. After that Ullisi win, all the crowds this year, how fit all the riders are, Kittel v Greipel, Porte, Gerro and Evans, Im not too sure the Tour Down Under has anything to really worry about. The boys are here to RACE! and it’s exciting. It’s really grown up and only done so because of its WT status.

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