“UCI Ends the Tour of Beijing”

A misleading headline but reports seem to be running with a similar title. What’s misleading? The Beijing authorities pulled the plug as opposed to the UCI deciding to call time. Does the causality matter? Yes, substantially so because the sport loses a top race in a key market and the World Tour calendar shrinks, something the UCI probably wouldn’t want if it had the choice. So much for globalisation.

But if it’s a setback for the UCI it could be better for everyone in the long term. No more conflict of interests between promoting events and designing a calendar and if China is going to have a big race, there are some case studies on how to build a sustainable event.

Is it news? Loyal readers will have read on here in August that the race was ending but what’s new this week is that it’s confirmed by the UCI and today L’Equipe newspaper seems have some more info on the background. L’Equipe report the Beijing Sports Bureau didn’t like the change of regime at the UCI and felt it lost its contacts within the governing body (ie Hein Verbruggen has been ousted). Instead the city is putting its efforts and money behind a bid for the 2022 Winter Olympics.

Many riders and teams will be relieved. By this time of year everyone’s looking forward to time off. Nobody’s stupid enough to say it publicly on Twitter but avoiding a long haul flight, the health risks from polluted air and contaminated meat is a bonus for 2015. But the relief of a few riders is small, there are more fundamental issues at stake.

First up is globalisation. Losing a big race in a big country is never good. China has some stage races on the Asia tour but this was a different event with some of the top riders attending. However in the absence of local stars – even when the UCI bent its own rules to allow a Chinese national team to ride – it felt out of place. You feel for the Chinese cycling fans who lose out on a chance to see the stars visit but no race can be run for the privilege of fans only.

The Tour of Beijing did claim a large TV audience but it never had much of a following. A contradiction? Not necessarily, a snippet on a TV news bulletin counts as an audience under some metrics so getting on the evening news bulletin in China means reaching hundreds of millions in one go. But a 90 second clip isn’t enough to showcase the sport nor satisfy its commercial demands. On the ground there seemed to be more police goons on the course than spectators although races from Switzerland to Utah show this can be universal.

The dash for globalisation sounds good, after all who wants a parochial sport? But one race in China doesn’t equate to globalisation, a truly worldwide calendar would see events spread evenly around the globe, each commanding reciprocal TV audiences. We’re far from that and whether the sport can spread itself so far is a big question. Today the top teams in pro cycling are backed by a lot of sponsors with a domestic or European reach at best; you can’t buy a Belisol window in Spain. One of the reasons Belkin are pulling out is because the sport is so Euro-centric for TV audiences. But even Euro-centric is a shorthand label because the sport’s reach varies, there’s excellent reach into France, Belgium or Italy but less so into Britain or Germany, two key markets for any pan-European brand.

German Case Study: Germany is an interesting example because while the sport’s been trying to crowbar intself into China it’s almost ignored a giant market of 80 million wealthy consumers on its doorstep. This is all changing with talk of German TV returning to the Tour de France (ZDF will return but only with race reports and no live airtime “because of costs”), the Giant-Alpecin team which will be registered in Germany and Team Bora plus talk of a Tour de France grand départ in Germany. Note the comprehensive approach with TV coverage, teams, sponsors and races all appearing together.

Brian Cookson’s alternative take on globalisation

The UCI’s role

We don’t think we should be a major organiser of bike races
– Brian Cookson (L’Equipe, 24 September)

After globalisation the second issue is the UCI, money and its race organising entity Global Cycling Promotions. GCP’s been controversial, relying on money from various sources to stay afloat and even allegations of the UCI threatening teams and their sponsors if they didn’t ride. In the latest annual report from 2013 GCP had stopped being loss making but the accounts report a CHF 77,000 annual profit…but only after billing the UCI 85,000 in consultancy fees, a curious transaction.

Stopping now means no potential for income just as the finances were beginning to turn. But it should be a more sensible decision as going by the translated quote above from President Cookson the UCI won’t try to promote races. This makes sense because GCP was a significant conflict of interest, for example the UCI fast-tracked its own races onto the World Tour calendar when anyone else wanting to get their event there didn’t have it so easy.

If it’s exiting the race promo business the UCI seems keen to find a replacement event. L’Equipe also reports UCI President Brian Cookson saying “we’ll have to find another event to end the road season“. What to do? The Worlds could be pushed back to October but the risk is many riders have already stopped and October could mean dismal weather across a lot of Europe; besides the national team format is at odds with the World Tour. So do we have a new race or use Il Lombardia as the final event?

2015 Calendar
The UCI unveiled the 2015 calendar yesterday. Beijing is the change, all the other races are the same including the classic Paris-Nice/Tirreno-Adriatico and Dauphiné/Tour de Suisse overlaps. This will all change in future years with the proposed calendar reform.

The World Tour loses a race for 2015. Events come and go but add this to the fact that 17 teams are chasing 18 spots for 2015 and the sport’s top calendar isn’t yet the premium circuit it should be.

Some might cheer the Tour of Beijing’s demise but unless you’re a rider forced to go when tired after a long season that’s mean-spirited. Once a race vanishes it’s twice as hard to resurrect. China should be encouraged to bid for a new race but it’ll have to present a plan that excites the local media rather than being reliant on relationships between a few top officials in Beijing and Aigle. There’s a good lesson here in how to build up a race as opposed to dropping it onto the calendar via a committee meeting.

Lastly the UCI’s getting out of the race promotion business, a good idea and just in time. It can focus on its core duties which become more important with the proposed calendar reforms.

Photo credits: main image by Flickr’s marthaenpiet ; Cookson by Dan Craven

53 thoughts on ““UCI Ends the Tour of Beijing””

  1. Pity to see any race go but if one has to drop off it had to be this. Fans weren’t excited and you didn’t mention the two positive tests which surely finished any enthusiasm for athletes.

  2. Any chance of a Japanese race making it onto the world calendar some day you think? The sport seems more popular over there and in good news for the riders Japanese food hygiene standards are very high.

    • I did put this in but chopped it out to keep the piece short… my thoughts were Japan could, you only have to see the crowds in Japan and importantly they have local stars like Fumy Beppu and Yukiya Arashiro to sustain things. Maybe just a good HC-rated race first?

      • I live in Japan and am well placed to comment directly on this.

        Cycling in Japan is enormous – everyone (yes, everyone) does it for local transportation but the sport is also far more popular per capita than in the US or Britain for example. It strikes me as a hugely open market for road cycling to be more present in – the fans are amazing, the consumers have money, and the scenery is jaw-dropping. A race held during the cherry-blossom season would be incredibly beautiful, I’d almost think the Japanese government would be interested in the exposure too?

        It’s kind of hard to believe there are only 2 top-tier riders right now, some people say it’s because Japan produces many high level riders but they tend to become track stars because that’s where the money is here (keirin racing).

        And…. letranger, please, conspiracy theories dont belong here and you’re clearly speaking from ignorance.

        • My comment was directed to Augie March who stated, in absolute terms, that “in good news for the riders Japanese food hygiene standards are very high “. The issue of both pollution and positive tests related to the race in China, and therefore the risk to the riders, was raised. I was asking how the poster knew the standards are very high. They did not put it in relative terms, saying, for instance, the standards are higher than in China. It is also known that as the nuclear accident continued, the government and TEPCO withheld information, and was slow to widen the areas of evacuation. I was suggesting that given the fact of the core meltdowns at the Fukushima Daiichi plants, and yes, the misinformation to put it politely, regarding the seriousness of the situation, that a blind faith in the current food hygiene standards might not be reasonable and as a professional rider one might want to take that into consideration before going there. Inhalation of a(n) hot particle will certainly do more damage to a person that a week or two inhaling Chinese air pollution.
          So rather than attempt to answer anything, you give a condescending response with a little ad hominem thrown in.
          My similar response then would be something like, keep drinking the kool-aid, since you are either willfully ignorant or naive.
          Considering where you live, I wish you all the best given the current situation there.

    • Seriously ? How do you know the food hygiene standards are very high ? Are they something like the radiation exposure standards that they kept increasing as the readings kept increasing ? You do know of Fukushima Daiichi right ? Are you eating Japanese seafood now ? Let me guess, you also believe the 2020 Olympics will go ahead there, right ? The Japanese government, like all governments, lie when necessary.

  3. GCP needs to go away, Why have this conflict-of-interest? As to Chinese cycling fans, no offense to them, but China’s a country with real problems having crowds of people in public doing anything not officially sanctioned…and even then it’s tough. My wife tried to watch the cycling road races at the Olympic Games but was thwarted at every attempt by various officials. Throughout the Games crowds were broken up. How can a spectator sport like cycling have any success under such a regime?

  4. “no race can be run for the privilege of fans only”

    Surely it’s all for the fans? All the money thrown at sport comes out the fact that sport is entertainment. That fans are perfect targets for marketing while they’re sat enjoying themselves. And fans will go out and buy a bora cooker after seeing their logo on lycra, or book a holiday in Qinghai Lake, or whatever.

    Don’t know. Just throwing it out there.

    • Marc Coucke, CEO of Omega Pharma, which has promoted various brands over the years (previously as co-sponsor with Lotto: Davitamon, Silence, Predictor, Omega Pharma), said in a Sporza interview that the only value of sponsorship in cycling was name exposure and nothing more. Of course, he speaks for himself, and perhaps other sponsors expect a certain return to be reflected in their bottom line. Maybe that is why some sponsors disappear after just a year – then again, the contracts are usually short-term to begin with, so perhaps when they feel sufficient name exposure has been achieved, it’s time to change (which Coucke also did and continues to do, while providing financial backing).

      So after a few years of promoting the Omega Pharma brand (a chain of drugstores/chemists), he wants to more heavily promote his Etixx sports nutrition products: next year the WT team will be known as Etixx-Quickstep. Etixx currently appears as a minor sponsor on the OPQS shorts, gives its name to the Etixx Development Team, and appears on the shirts of Lille in France’s Ligue 1 (Coucke also recently took an ownership stake in the football club).

      • I’m sure you’d agree that a sports nutrition brand is better for pro cycling than a home pregnancy testing one like Predictor.

        As INRNG has mentioned before guys who really invest in cycling teams long term are all mad fans of the sport like Andy Rhiis/Oleg Tinkov/Gerry Ryan/James Packer etc.

        • I agree it *seems* odd, but “better for pro cycling” is totally subjective. As INRNG also points out (above), the target audience is unlikely to even ride a bike, so it is not given that promoting a sports-related brand through the sport is “better” than using the sport to promote other brands. And when your home market (Belgium) and other major cycling countries (Italy, Spain, and to a lesser extent in this case, France) have largely Catholic traditions…perhaps home pregnancy test kits aren’t such a wild thing to promote. I don’t know, just surmising, and my original point was to refute the suggestion of direct correlation between sponsorship and fan/consumer behaviour: a major, longtime sponsor says it simply isn’t so.

          Coucke, of course, also falls into the category of mega-rich superfan.

  5. Not sad to see this race go. As per the problems mentioned above. It has to be tough for a smaller budget team like Europcar have to come up with the money to go to China.

    October should stay the way it is in the calendar. Lots of Fall Classics for the sprinters and Lombardia as the official end to the elite racing calendar.

  6. On the subject of sponsoring, I think the move by Alpecin to sponsor Giant-Alpecin seems to be quite shrewd and well thought out. It’s certainly a product that could profit from global reach (unlike Belisol windows perhaps?) and in terms of their home audiences, having a star rider like Marcel Kittel (and his famous hair!) on the team, must have good potential for increasing home sales and the image of cycling in Germany as a whole?

    • Alpecin has it’s infamous “Doping for the hair” adverts while cycling coverage in Germany for years. Nobody buys one more bottle of their ugly smelling product because of this ads. And nobody will do that cause they sponsor a cycling team.
      They want to reach markets outside Schland.

    • Someone with a deeper knowledge of cycling history than me can probably expand on this, but the sponsorship isn’t so strange. In fact, it has quite deep roots 😉 One of the parent companies, Dr. Kurt Wolff, was a co-sponsor of a Dutch cycling team in the late 1960s. Another co-sponsor was Dutch bike manufacturer, Batavus. Batavus was also a co-sponsor of Batavus-Bankgirolotterij-Big Star…the team that is today Giant-Shimano, and to become Giant-Alpecin.

      Alpecin also used Jan Ullrich as a PR man. According to manager Iwan Spekenbrink, it is agreed that taglines with reference to “Doping for the hair” won’t be used around the cycling team.

  7. The general consensus seems to be that the death of the Beijing Tour will be welcomed by, the UCI, the teams and fans alike. It was never an event which was going to capture the imagination. Its financial base and the organiser always gave cause for concern. If cycling is to expand out of its European environment, then the expansion needs to be organic rather than forced. Football (soccer) aside, most major sports survive in certain traditional centres.

    Maybe the whole concept of Globalization was/is somewhat misplaced, illustrated by the way the McQuaid/Verbruggen model was developed.

  8. On the causality, even if it was the UCI who wanted to pull the plug (and Cookson’s earlier noises about GCP would have indicated that to Beijing), there is value in ‘allowing’ the Beijing authorities to do so first. They get to save face, and that makes it much easier if you want to start up again in the future.

  9. a truly worldwide calendar would see events spread evenly around the globe, each commanding reciprocal TV audiences.

    Except, the UCI’s own roadmap is not working toward this kind of goal. The UCI seems obsessed with having One Race To Rule Them All on any given weekend. If the UCI wants to be pedantic, then run multiple broadcasted events in different time zones so they don’t overlap.

    Meanwhile, every other sport with a large audience is running multiple events. Their strange One Race policy is just one of many reasons why I don’t think cycling will ever grow beyond a minor sport.

    • Are you sure about that last claim?

      How many other international football tournaments does FIFA run during the World Cup? How many different F1 races run every weekend? How many ATP Masters tournaments, or PGA tour championships run simultaneously?

      • Football has just one match on at a time all the time? What are all those matches on the tele then?

        F1 is an excellent comparison as it is often used as the sport the UCI would like to emulate and it suffers the same problems as cycling. Get too close to the sport and it’s a mess. Like cycling, there’s a core fan base that is loyal and the rest come and go. More money in F1 though and that’s all that matters to the UCI.

          • Imagine a scenario where you don’t like watching Man Utd. You have other matches on the tele from which to choose. That is good for viewers and good for the teams with ticket and broadcast revenue.

            What if you prefer watching Cav’s race and not Contador’s race? Only one would be broadcast if the UCI fully implements their published media strategy.

            Otherwise, I’m not seeing your point as there is only one Man Utd squad. Cycling is different in that way.

          • I must have misunderstood the proposals. My understanding was that there could be multiple races on any given day, but there would only one WT race on at a time. But that wouldn’t prevent, eg., the WT Giro running at the same time as the non-WT California, or the WT TdU running at the same time as the non-WT San Luis. People could then choose to watch whichever was being broadcast by a channel they had access to.

  10. A sentimental comment: it would be nice to see some prestige restored to Paris-Tours. A great race, which usually has an exciting finale (sprint or not?), was (still is?) in trouble long-term I think.

    If we must be global, bringing Japan Cup forward a bit is another possibility as someone mentioned above, although I think it perhaps makes more sense to couple some prestigious Asia-Pacific races together (eg. with the Australian races) during the depths of European winter in Jan/Feb. Then those pros that want the big block of training and racing in good weather can plan to spend a bit of time in one hemisphere; those that don’t, can stay at home in Europe and race CX….

    • Dubai is a keeper. Why? Royalty has declared that Dubai is to fashion itself to be the site of premier international sporting events and is paying the UCI and ASO production handsomely for their services.

      Quatar is another keeper. Another country with a “national sports strategy” and lots of money to execute it. It also helps the owners of Bein sports is/are the Qatari royals.

  11. I feel that with an opening in the WT schedule during the October/November time, a possibility could be to try and stage a WT event in Africa (as it will be warmer kinder conditions during that time). The rise of the MTN-Qhubeka team as well as other other African teams and events shows that people are willing to invest in cycling in Africa. This could also play into the hands of the UCI’s globalization mindset. There are already a few good African events such as the Mzanzi tour in South Africa which would have to change date but has beautiful scenery and is very crowd friendly and there is the Tour of Rwanda which also hosts a stunning event through the highlands and gorilla filled tropical forests of Central Africa with a large support base already in place. Do you think this could be a possibility in the future?

    • A WT event isn’t going to get introduced in Nov. The off-season for riders has got shorter and shorter as it is, with riders being expected by their teams to be ready to race – not roll around, but race – by the time TDU and Tour de San Luis come around. The days of riders making their first appearances of the season at P-N etc are long gone.

      The season wont be extended.

      • I agree. I did wonder if we could have a permanent season a bit like tennis does but with the UCI moving to smaller teams in the future this would be impossible. The number of race days and by extension, races, is set to fall. At least for the World Tour or whatever the replacement top tier is called.

  12. i would bring the course de la paix onto he prime calendar as a major event. With so many upcoming eastern european cycling stars, multinational a stage race around their home grounds czech rep, slovakia and poland woule be nice. germany included as well of course. i know its still europe, but eastern europe isnt so far really that much into cycling, but they already have some good riders and are easier to “conquer” for the sport than far east asia (why start with the most difficult?)

  13. Tour de San Luis? and see if timing can be adjusted slightly to augment Tour Down Under perhaps.

    South America & Australia covered, clearly big suppliers of cycling talent and interest.

    And why is there no world tour event in the USA? Surely that’s a world tour hole that should have priority to fill.

  14. The downgrade of teams, and the lack of sustainability in hosting major races outside of the main reach nations…make Cycling very traditional. In case UCI want to make a premium calendar that has no overlapping races, they should concentrate on the biggest races in Europe and ignore the temporary opportunity in other continents.

    Does the UEFA Champions League invite teams from South America to play because it would generate more tv audience/revenue/sponsorship opportunity? No.
    Do South American footballers play in the UEFA Champions League – Yes – they move across to Europe if they are talented enough to hold down a contract in a major team.

    Cycling is not F1. A calendar cannot be created by auctioning the 20-odd weekends out to various major cities/countries around the whole world.

  15. It is interesting to look at the calendar.

    A good question is to think if you were just starting the sport of professional cycling today, how would you structure the calendar? I think for sure there would be less focus on European cycling than there is now.

    But the sport has a debt of history to European events, the Grand Tours (especially Giro and Tour), the classics e.g. Roubaix and Flanders (not so much Vattenfall Cyclassics -just because you put classic in the name doesn’t make it a classic!).

    I think globalisation is good, but expansion should start with one day races as they are more sustainable, see the new Canadian races GP Montreal and Quebec or the Japan Cup.

    Timing in the season is important also, the middle east, Australian and Argentinian tours are all early season as this is when riders are building form, and looking for good weather. At the end of the season, riders just want to go home and put their feet up, before they have to start training again.

  16. Watching the Tour of Bejing makes me wish for a reincarnation of the Pélissiers to give the UCI their thoughts of racing in that “event”

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