The ISSUL Performance Criteria

Astana team

What’s the good news of this week? One improvement is the new audit of the Astana team by the Institute of Sport Sciences of the University of Lausanne (ISSUL) imposed by the UCI as a condition of its licence. As well as the investigation audit which will be finished by February, the team has to sign up for a wide-ranging set of “operational requirements” for the whole year.

The ISSUL guidelines imposed on Astana aren’t just a mechanism to save the team’s licence. Instead they’re set to become a core part of the proposed UCI cycling reforms, compulsory for all teams in a few years. They cover a lot of territory from job insecurity to coaching with the twin themes of doping and money. An article in L’Equipe does a great job in explaining some of these changes and here are some of the highlights.

The team asked us to pay for the training camp. I didn’t go because the air fare alone was going to be one third of my [monthly] salary… It’s like an employee in a business being asked to go on a course, ‘by the way, you’re paying for it’. It’s not normal in my view. We’re a professional team. Already our wages aren’t that big and if on top we have to pay…

The hardest thing is when you get back to your hotel and the TV doesn’t work. There’s nothing to occupy your mind so you start to think. You ask why you’re doing this job, earning €2,400 a month to throw yourself downhill at 110km/h, especially when it’s cold in the Giro. You do everything to avoid thinking about this.

Two anonymous accounts from pro cyclists gathered by researches from the University of Lausanne in Switzerland and relayed in L’Equipe. The job isn’t always as glamorous as it can be portrayed, after all most of the work done by a domestique in a race is never seen so all the other tasks like training, travelling, dieting and updating whereabouts are almost invisible. The subtext that some riders feel ignored, they don’t value their jobs or rate their employer. At least one squad hadn’t even got the money to spend on a training camp.

L’Equipe says the genesis of the ISSUL audit started when the UCI learned that the “True Cheat or Champion” course was being mocked by riders. I’ve heard of riders “delegating” the online course to team staff, making them click through the course on their behalf. You can see why, clicking online it was almost meaningless as someone refrigerating their blood goes to enough lengths already, a few clicks wasn’t going to change attitudes.

The essence of the ISSUL audit is that all teams need to function more professionally with stronger support structures for riders. Sometimes a team will hire a rider, make 12 monthly salary payments a year and expect them to turn up healthy and fit to race and there’s little else on top; as the quote above suggests some are even expected to pay for a team training camp. This is far from universal but it shows the attitude that can occur. Certainly the practice of riders being trained by external coaches rather than their team is widespread. It can be fine but the fear is that left to themselves riders are more likely to turn to doping. Or more fatalistically, if a rider does resort to doping then the UCI can pin some of the blame on team management for its failure to provide adequate coaching support and its inability to detect the sudden jump in performance.

10 point plan
Astana are being audited on their compliance to follow new standards. The UCI and Lausanne University have drawn up these standards and as a pilot project eight World Tour teams have signed up for a trial: Ag2r La Mondiale, Cannondale-Garmin, Etixx-Quick Step, Giant-Alpecin, FDJ, IAM, Orica-Greenedge and Trek Factory Racing. Astana are now being forced to participate too.

  1. Take control of training, have a full time coach for every eight riders and ensure riders coached by someone outside the team submit their regime to the team’s performance manager
  2. Give every rider a training plan with their race programme, training blocks and recovery periods
  3. One directeur sportif for every eight riders and ensure the DS doesn’t have other roles like coach or a rider agent that could cause a conflict of interest*
  4. Ensure a team doctor is responsible for care and first aid and that no team doctor is tasked with coaching
  5. An internal charter for the team to explain the dos and dont’s of medical care, when to use who and what
  6. Know every rider’s home doctor
  7. Team managers are responsible for ensuring no rider races for more than 85 days a year*
  8. No more than 22 riders in a team*
  9. Have an internal secure communication system so managers and riders can communicate, a team must get in touch with a rider at least twice a week
  10. Team managers, coaches and team doctors must all be UCI-certified *

The asterisks signal ideas still up for debate between the teams and the UCI. I know the final point annoys teams who feel aggrieved having to get UCI certificates, after all if a doctor has trained for, say, seven years and practised for more is highly qualified, some UCI paperwork doesn’t add much more, all while adding extra costs. Still this will all become obligatory in 2016 and in 2017 teams that don’t comply will be fined or even lose their licence.


  • Lausanne Uni has stats showing 58% of doping cases from from riders aged 30 or more while this age cohort represents 25% of the pro peloton. This suggests, but doesn’t prove, that older riders turn to doping as a means to keep going and get results to land new contracts
  • Some teams spend 80% of of their budgets on wages with the remaining 20% reserved for everything else. ISSUL says the better teams spend 60-40% of their budget on wages. By implication a larger share of the budget goes on coaching staff, training camps, wind-tunnel sessions

Old school, new school
As part of their interview process with riders and teams, the Lausanne researchers spoke to a World Tour in 2012 who is also tasked with training 10 of his riders (my translation from here):

I keep an eye on the number of hours in the saddle and the intensity too. More, I can’t do that with precision because I don’t have the skills. For example I don’t know what doing 10 minutes at 420 watts with a break at 400 watts. I don’t have the knowledge to analyse these kind of data. That’s why I don’t use them and I think the most important thing is the number of hours spend in the saddle.”

At least the manager is counting hours rather than distance. But this attitude to training is outdated and many low category amateurs get sophisticated coaching. One of the world’s elite pro teams is supposed to be leading the way.

It seems self-evident that teams should coach their own riders but theory and reality are different. Encouraging teams to invest is a difficult business. We’ve seen some teams stop racing riders because they know they’re leaving for another squad, teams will think twice about spending money on a rider if their contract is up. Put another way money spent training a rider sees the costs incurred by the team while many of the benefits are enjoyed by the rider who can jump to a new team on a big contract thanks to improved results; of course the team doing the coaching can get publicity from the initial successes. It means with short term sponsorship deals it’s hard to create this long term culture. In other words good practice has a big cost and introducing these rules is only a component part of a wider overhaul of the system.

patrick lefevere
“Waiter, my glass of Chateau Yquem is half-empty””

Patrick Lefevere is not happy
The OPQS boss rarely seems the cheerful sort and L’Equipe discovers the UCI’s adoption of the ISSUL programme is another source of misery for the manager. He’s got some valid points though, saying just because a French team leaves a rider to himself – his words – shouldn’t mean a whole set of regulations are imposed on teams which already make the effort to supervise their riders. Also the starting point was that a team should have one coach for every five riders, now this is for every eight but that’s still a large expense especially if the UCI is considering making the coaching role unique, excluding directeur sportifs from the role when he says some of his staff like Tom Steels can do both jobs well.

All teams will be wary of these rules and fans might be too. After all the rules say “don’t dope” but it happens, adding more rules alone won’t change things. The danger with this is creating a compliance culture where teams see meeting the rules, and being seen to meet the rules, as the goal. Instead the rules are supposed to encourage a more supportive environment for athletes and this ought to be the goal.

Wider Approach
Anti-doping is primarily approached by governing bodies as matter of toxicology, the search for banned substances in blood and urine samples. But the incentives to dope are not chemical, they are often financial and cultural. The wider idea behind the ISSUL operational ideas is to explore the sociological factors behind the decision to start doping and address these. They’re soft ideas and alone won’t fix matters but are worth exploring in the upcoming trials.

Team training rides are often the exception

Sometimes pro cycling isn’t all that professional and one example is training where riders can be left to their own devices. The ISSUL plan is to change this with guidelines to encourage all World Tour teams to become as responsible for a rider’s training and preparation as they are for their racing. Several teams are trialling this and now Astana have been compelled to adhere. If it goes to plan the UCI wants to impose it by 2017 as a condition for a World Tour licence.

Being surrounded by supportive coaching staff should help a rider make the right choices, entourage matters. These ideas seem to be good and the academic research behind it is a fascinating read if you like that sort of thing. Translating it into practice is the harder part. It should be good for business to have a team environment that supports riders, even on a cynical level a rider is an asset and and a weekly stock-take makes sense. Ideally teams would adopt the same ideas out of enlightened self-interest. Some do because and the danger is making them compulsory just forces reluctant teams to comply without believing them, hiring the cheapest coach possible to email a group of riders once a week rather than establishing a genuine performance culture. But if teams do the bare minimum to comply then they could still find themselves on the hook should a doping case arise, the UCI will ask teams what they did to provide a healthy environment.

The scheme will impose extra costs so it’s normal some teams are sceptical. As an academic project it has merit but transforming it into a practical scheme will be interesting to watch.

Sources: much of the above is from L’Equipe today, a article by Dominique Issartel. I’d link but at pixel time it’s print-only. The underlying material and academic work can be found online. If you can access certain academic journals search for Oliver Aubel’s work, in particular “Doping as a result of the professional rider’s ecosystem : a survey for reforming ICU doping prevention policy”. Or see if you have a log-in. If not this free PDF in French includes a good summary of the work, interviews and hypotheses.

46 thoughts on “The ISSUL Performance Criteria”

  1. Seems to me some of this relates to the issue that teams simply don’t develop riders. There’s no point developing a rider with top class coaching if the rider is just going to leave for a bigger pay check elsewhere. Not sure what the solution for this would be…..

    • Some kind of transfer fee system, like soccer and other sports use. But that requires longer term contracts, there’s only value in selling a rider on if they’re tied to a long term deal. This can be awkward too as athletes become goods traded by teams.

      • That is part of it, but I think it’s a problem that the question is even asked. Why develop a rider? So that your team is better! The fact that some of the teams don’t feel this is important had to be a concern.

        I think this comes back to something mentioned several teams on this blog – the lack of meaningful team competition, with 17 teams competing for 18 licenses, and no competition for sponsors.

        There are other, wildly successful, sports which do not have transfer fees, and yet manage to train and develop the athletes (NFL, F1). The key difference, in this regard, seems to be that no-one in those organisations questions why making the team better is a good thing.

        Does this also tie back to the oft-debated nature of cycling as an individual sport for teams (or is it a team sport for individuals)

        Regardless, these changes could improve things for the sport – it is to be hoped that they will, and this is an excellent precis

    • I’m subtly unsettled by which are the teams that volunteered, but that’s just me, I guess.
      And as I myself showed elsewhere, it would be pretty hard to sort out a convincing selection of pro teams, whatever the context, so let’s just cross our fingers.

  2. I find it more surprising that there are teams not doing all this stuff already – it shows how stuck in the dark ages some of them must be. When you’re spending several million Euros on riders, surely most of this stuff is just common sense in looking after your assets?

    To be fair to the teams, they’d be entitled to ask the UCI to sort out their own affairs first. For example, perhaps awarding team licenses *before* riders start signing contracts might make a little more sense and encourage a little more stability and forward planning in the sport.

  3. I’m skeptical that more older riders dope simply to keep results up. Maybe older riders are positive more because younger riders are cleaner. Maybe older riders have more money for doping. Maybe older riders are more likely to be team leaders, get results, and then get tested (+ or -). With some fairly simple data on the tests conducted, who and why (e.g., random vs. targeted vs. podium), and the results of tests, some inferential statistics could examine if there really is a lower positive rate between the groups and even tease out why. There’s lots of talk about the clean new generation. Is it? or is it like the last new “clean” generation?

    Anyone have a dataset? Maybe the UCI or WADA could crowd source some analysis.

    • The most radical problem while gathering the kind of conclusions you indicate would be the possibility of a significant difference in age distribution between doping positive tests and doping practices.

      In general circumstances, there would be no need to conjecture such a difference (but *not* because the two phenomena should be considered to necessarily show a strong positive covariance: quite the contrary, since we have proofs that they can be loosely related, at least during given periods of time; the motive is that age, as such, wouldn’t be a differentiating factor).

      Although, the existence of a narrative defending a generational shift, enhanced for obvious marketing (or educational) reasons by the same institutions which manage the testing programs, could make age a factor in generating said difference.
      What is more, age presently has an interesting relation with nationality, and nationality could undoubtedly be another factor inducing the above mentioned difference…

      • (P.s.: NOT that this kind of questions takes away any interest to the kind of studies you suggest, even if they would be based “only” or “mainly” on positive tests; but statistics could be applied, for example, to compare the results of “positive tests” and sanctions based on other types of investigation… Still it wouldn’t be enough, but it would be interesting)

    • Older riders also have less to lose. Getting banned on your way out isn’t as scary as missing out mid-career. But the available money and team leadership points are probably quite valid.

    • If we assume that dopers start doping at some point in time and then keep on doping, I guess statistically you will always have more older dopers than younger dopers at any point in time. If at some point the younger generations start containing less riders willing to dope, the difference will be even bigger for a while, until that “wave” goes through the age curve.

    • I’ve read only the abstract, for now, and it really looks a very promising work… I feel quite enthusiastic about it, indeed 🙂
      But I suspect that’s because I widely agree with the premises: besides, I’ve found myself defending those same results and conclusions as mere personal opinions, without a scientific frame to support and validate them. Thus, I would be incredibly happy to have a reliable source to quote 😉

      That said, I think that we all know that so much really depends on the “methods” part, which would require an attentive scrutiny of the full text in order to express any sensible opinion about the work, since the abstract doesn’t offer great detail.

      However… congratulations!

  4. It was worrying to see that some teams spend 80% of their budget on rider salary. I would assume that with teams that have superstar riders the distribution of salary is very uneven; one or two riders on big bucks while the remainder get minimum wage. That’s worrying for me as it means that cycling is becoming like football (soccer). In the UK I think the majority of Premier League teams have big debts and that the biggest outlay is player wages. Obviously football has a wider income stream and many fans are upset at being milked for more cash at the turnstiles.

    The 60:40 split of wages to running costs seems far more sustainable for the long term health of the sport. It would be interesting to know whether the riders on over, say, 200,000 Euros a year would accept a wage cap with the caveat that the remainder of their previous salary was diverted into team personnel, support and logistics activities.

    • Steve, this has been the pattern for a while now. Back end-2011 Gilbert moved to BMC for a rumoured circa 3m – which I think was also the figure Evans renegotiated for himself following his Tour win. There are other riders in the 2.5-4m range – just using these 2 guys as example.

      Some really well paid domestiques are in the 1m range.

      All that wage caps of any figure will do is see majority of the riders’ salaries paid in other ways to avoid the caps.

      So no, I don’t think riders would go with caps that see them getting paid a tiny percentage of what they get paid now.

    • A salary cap is unrealistic given the way cycling is currently set up. As far as I’m aware, there are very few sports which actually have a salary cap, and it is linked to revenue sharing. Velon is a first step to revenue sharing, but very much in its early days.

      • NFL and NHL both have salary caps and it seems to work just fine. I would even argue it has helped because it has allowed all teams in the league to be competitive and helped smaller teams in emerging markets boost their coverage.

        It’s right that a cap shouldn’t be imposed by the UCI because teams will find ways to bypass it, it needs to be negociated by the teams themselves as a way to stabilize their expense in wages. I hope Velon will adress this instead of just looking in the direction of ASO for money.

  5. I think the UCI’s online module on ethics is called “True Champion or Cheat?” Rather than “True Cheat or Champion”.

    The logical Freudian conclusion of course being “True, Champions Cheat”.

    • 85 is max, not the number required.

      But when all this first emerged a few months ago, I did point out that unless the race calendar is drastically reduced, then for all the flak Team Sky got for turning up at races short-handed with riders out injured and sick, fans and media ready to throw tomatoes had better prepare themselves that this will become de facto across the WT teams at races.

  6. OK, now Astana’s on double-not-at-all-secret probation. When (I think we can skip the if) they one-way-or-another run afoul of all these new requirements, what does the UCI do then? I can already read the “Yes, this is a bad result, but we must wait for X, Y and Z before we can consider sanctions.” which can easily drag on and on, meanwhile the team goes on its merry way, possibly to end up retroactively suspended with the newly proclaimed winners eventually getting those A. Schleck style trophy presentations. Maybe ASO should suggest Astana find something else to do in July 2015, even if they eventually lose at CAS. Are they bound by a rule that requires them to take all the World Tour teams at present? Perhaps they wait until the end of June to give ’em the boot? Then, if Astana ends up cleared to race by CAS, but Le Beeg Shew is already “done and dusted” (as the Brits like to say) it would be a rare instance where the cheaters will have been the ones treated “unfairly” rather than the other way round?

    • Found my answer here
      Looks like ASO can do nothing. I’m with The Badger…sporting interests are being pushed aside by monetary interests. Maybe we DO need a breakaway league, but one where ASO and some others create their own program and tell UCI to take their World Tour and shove it? I’ve always said Heinie’s folly added nothing to the sport while jacking up the costs to field a team, but in this case it’s subtracting something when promoters are now helpless to exclude a team they feel does not respect their event.

      • ASO are just top level hypocrits, deeply responsible (with others) of the present cycling situation about doping. Don’t expect from then anything really similar to an antidoping fight. Though, yes, if you like theatre, they’re notoriously good at it. But in the long run that’s going to create more problems, not to solve them.

        • I never claimed ASO was some saintly organization – I’ve followed the sport closely since the early 80’s and have done a fair amount of reading of the sport’s history. But SOMEONE has to stop being part of the problem and be part of the solution! Care to nominate anyone? I don’t think all the fans (plenty of them Italians) who tell me they no longer care about cycling, with plenty more joining them after each new revelation of just how rotten the sport is, will be coming back after the next “OK folks, we have it all cleaned up now!” line of crap. I look at it like the patient’s bleeding…while the UCI docs keep promising a tourniquet…and by the time they find it and then get around to putting it on the patient, it will be just in time for the last rights and funeral. Meanwhile Velon thinks it all can be fixed with some on-bike video.

          • I think you’re right, Larry. There seems to have been a tipping point we crossed a while back. I think a couple huge changes need to occur for cycling to continue and grow.
            1: The riders need to form a stronger union. Minimum wage needs to be increased for riders, perhaps a revenue cap is needed? Teams should be required to have coaching staff to support all their riders. You need to put the riders first before anything else. You can’t have a race if the riders finally get fed up with the BS.
            2: The teams need to form an owners association, like Velon to help revamp revenue streams and marketability. On bike cameras; New rider kits, with training jerseys, home jerseys, jerseys that they wear for the Monuments, a year long race number on the riders backs, names too; merchandising, Perhaps a team owned website that films and streams the race?! Something nicely designed with video ads to generate revenue.
            4: Said teams need to be extremely strict about Anti-Doping. A rider should be immediately fired if they are convicted of doping, and banned from ever competing on a member team of the league. To ensure no one gets wrongly banned, there needs to be more frequent, systematic testing for all riders. Bio passport and everything. If an expert sports an anomaly in a rider profile, or he pisses hot: it is immediately sent to a panel of 7 independent doctors and statisticians to determine the rider’s guilt. If he appeals, it’s sent to a different 5 person panel. To ensure bribery is curtailed, their should be a randomness to assigning experts to cases, so that people won’t know who works what case and therefore can’t bribe them as easily.
            3: Race Organizers need to form a breakaway league. ASO wields huge power. The own so many big races. Imagine if the Tour leaves, the Vuelta’s gone, Paris-Nice. Already that’s huge. And if RCS joins with them and the organizers of say, the American tours, and a couple of the classics…well, that’s a huge chunk from the WorldTour gone. There does need to be something done about ASO’s dominance as well. It’s unhealthy for the sport. There needs to be an objective valuation of races to determine their rank and place. If an organizer can produce a quality parcours, accomodations, safety measures, and publicity, there is no reason to have all this politicking about race status. Give them a shot and if the riders and teams say it doesn’t deserve it after 2 years, demote them again. Make everything a meritocracy. Invest in races in Africa. There absolutely have to be stunning, challenging places to ride there. In safe places too. American races deserve to be included at the highest level as well. The ToC , ToU, and USAPC are phenomenal races that have incredible fields and worthy champions. South America as well.
            5: Teams at the highest level should be required to have a feeder team(s). There needs to be a push to popularize cycling globally, as noted just above. Developing pools of homegrown talent only serves to broaden your revenue, consumer, talent bases. Who in cycling wouldn’t want to bring greater notoriety to the sport? Who wouldn’t want more successful races? Who wouldn’t want a stronger industry and league? Growing support from the ground up is cyclings only hope at this point.
            6: Promote women’s races. Don’t baby them. Ever notice how women’s races are half as long as men’s? That seems a bit sexist and demeaning to me? I imagine the athletes in womens cycling feel a bit insulted that organizers think they aren’t capable of a 50km time trial or a 200km race. Longer parcours and more stages for women’s races are something that need to happen. Why is there not at least a week long Women’s TdF yet?
            7: Various other things that i’m too tired to expound on right now

          • Larry, I partly share your worries, but I can’t avoid to quote inrng: calls for “something must be done” don’t equate to “do anything”!

            The same reasons that apparently prevent you to believe that the UCI can be “part of the solution” apply to ASO. I’m no UCI fan, as you might have observed here and there in my commentaries, but I don’t think ASO should be believed to do any better: they do prioritise money, totally; maybe more rightly so than the UCI, being a profit-driven organisation: anyway, what they’ve shown during the last 15 years (to start with) doesn’t make them credible in terms of *managing ethics*. If the surgeon is working with dirty hands, septicaemia can be a worse problem than blood loss…

            There are lots of fans who lost interest in pro cycling, but it looks like others are coming in, at least in Italy and Spain (and I suspect that elsewhere thing may be going even better). The numbers have been growing steadily during the last four or five years: maybe pro cycling is losing its appeal in our social context, but it may not be the case in society as a whole. There’s huge room for improvement, but doping dramatisation is not the right path. I shared plenty of my view before, so I won’t bore everyone repeating it all again. Doping must be tackled as a problem of social and economic context, changing the frame, not going on with the same good old errors “crime and punishment” style.
            Fans should learn that cycling has impressive technical components (I’m not speaking of bike tech ^____^) which aren’t affected by doping: when you focus on that, surprises and delusions become much more relative.
            Nowadays it looks like that doping changes everything and if a rider doped (however & whenever), that’s the worst tragedy because ALL you’ve being seeing is just a lie.
            But that kind of prevalence of the doping effect is true in very few cases, and more often than not it just makes no sense, thus fans shouldn’t be that shocked. Sadly they are, indeed, and we can’t overlook that, but maybe part of the problem is there, and not only in “riders doping”.

          • Will, I agree with you on some of your points, but I’d like to observe a couple of things…

            At point (5), it may be worth considering that today a good number of the top teams are struggling with their finances, and one of them has just been kicked off the top level because it couldn’t respect financial criteria. Many of the top teams can’t set up their roster as they wished to because they just don’t have the money. Or don’t comply with basic principle of good management because of the same economic reasons. Cycling has a problem of lack of competition at the top level, we just can’t make it even worse with expensive compulsory requisites.

            About point (6), I can inform you that the “Women’s Tour” is, presently, the “Giro d’Italia Femminile” (Giro Donne, Giro Rosa) who already was more important than Women’s TdF when both existed. It’s in July, during the Tour, so it would be enough if TVs bought broadcasting rights and pasted some image before-during-after the Tour’s stage. RAI does. Anyone else? It’s a beautiful race, but it’s struggling with – guess what? – economic problems. Italian Federation had to sacrifice the youngster “Giro Bio” to save the women’s Giro last year (to put it – too – simple). Maybe it’s time to take action from an international point of view to lend a hand? I suppose that everyone is very fond of women’s cycling until you really need to put some money in, isn’t it like that Mr. Cookson? Fans, too, should do their part, and pay some sincere attention to what the *reality* of women’s cycling has got to offer: people shouldn’t pretend to satisfy their supposed gender-equality urges just labelling things “Le Tour”, without any further effort.

            Point (3) or (4), dunno, you switched them. About the races. Races must grow up themselves, more or less, with some help, sure, but they can’t be promoted by the UCI if the grassroots part isn’t there. The problem with USA races is that they usually survive as long as a big sponsor is putting its money in, but they tend to fall down in level and participation as fast as they’ve come up. A race must survive at least a couple of decades at a good level, and endure changing sponsors, too, if you want to consider that it has own strength and identity. The problem with Africa is that… well, impressive grassroots, there, but big money must be thrown in to see a shift. And UCI just hasn’t got it.

  7. “There are lots of fans who lost interest in pro cycling, but it looks like others are coming in, at least in Italy and Spain (and I suspect that elsewhere thing may be going even better). The numbers have been growing steadily during the last four or five years: maybe pro cycling is losing its appeal in our social context, but it may not be the case in society as a whole”
    Really? Seems odd for this to be the case while the sport struggles to find anyone to bankroll teams and races. I’m trying to look at this from a more casual fan standpoint rather than someone who will watch, both TV and on the roadside, whether they clean up the sport or not. But for a sporting value, doped sports have pretty much zero, so the folks who claim to want to save cycling need to be seen as doing SOMETHING to fix it. It’s kind of like a political campaign – the voters (fans) are voting in a sort of referendum on cycling’s past and current situation more than the slow, long-term (and up to this point, rather ineffective) reforms suggested by Cookson.

    • “Really? Seems odd for this to be the case while the sport struggles to find anyone to bankroll teams and races”.
      Really. The figures are out there. I previously commented on TV numbers (paying special attention to “casual fans”), but there are other statistics, too.

      Hence, yes, it’s “odd” or, better said, a big part of the problem lies in the gearbox, along the money chain, not in the fans’ end. Which could be better, no doubt, but which is not so bad and – what’s maybe even more important – shows a growing trend.

      In Italy, cycling is an “overall podium sport”, audience-wise. But in the last fifteen years its main competitor for the second place, the F1, has fallen quite spectacularly (-70%). It’s still bigger, but while it managed to remain a 5m sport until 2013 (average audience of a Sunday GP; about 18 of them along the whole season), this year it was more of a 3-4m sport, at its most. Cycling is no more so far back, while in the Armstrong era it could be weighed as a 10% of F1.

      Football (soccer), we usually say, is a world apart, with a 10m total fan base. It’s hard to draw a comparison because of the league format with its several matches every week, distributed in different days. All the same, let’s give a look to the Serie A (the figures of the lesser leagues aren’t even significant). In the 2013 season only 48 matches out of 760 exceeded 2m total spectators. Only five of those 48 rounded the 4m, the others stretching up to 3m at most. Most of them in prime time. Many matches every year can’t even gather an audience of 50k… But the real problem is that 7 teams account for ALL the top-audience matches and 80% of the total audience. Stadium spectators hardly arrive to a total of 400k every week. A big sport? Yes. An healthy sport (audience-wise, not to speak of other matters)? Not as much. The National Team gets impressive numbers, the rest has been slighlty faltering in recent years, including the Champions League which can go big when it’s on the main open-air channels prime time (averaging about 5-6m) but which settles around 3m when they pass it to second-line channels, or well under 2m in ppv.

      Other sports can arrive at 3-4m only in special occasions, once in a decade or so, usually if a National Team is involved. Olympics or World Finals. Rugby is a 500k sport, with a historic record of 1.7m in 2009 but no other occasion in which the 1m threshold was broken (National Team only: the league goes around 40k). Tennis arrived at 300k thanks to the recent successes of the women.

      • OK, the cycling numbers are great = top level pro cycling teams in Italy and Spain are – one each. I would consider this a problem though perhaps you don’t? I’ve claimed that a) the economic crisis b) the ridiculously high costs of fielding a top level team because of the World Tour requirements c) continuous doping scandals are what plagues cycling. Two of those are not that tough to solve if the will is there. You seem to imply we should not worry so much about doping or am I missing something? And please don’t bother explaining how bad the other sports are with cheating…I’m really tired of this excuse, one that’s been going on far too long.

    • Another thing.
      I don’t like to insist on d****g 🙂 but you should have an idea of the huge scandals involving football, swimming, winter sports and athletics in Italy (not to mention other details like the fixed leagues; nor all the doping which just didn’t surface). It wasn’t any better than cycling. Possibly worst. Way worst, in football’s case – worst than Lance, imagine that.

      I can’t see the sponsors running away (Mr. Mapei going on without batting an eyelid with its sponsorship of a team with both doping suspects AND a betting scandal). I can’t see politics withdrawing their support (Rome & swimming, anyone?). Football is stagnating, as I said, but swimming is growing. Don’t their fans vote in that “sort of a referendum”? Don’t these sports have a past? Sponsors didn’t always run away from cycling because of doping, in the past.

      And, I reiterate, how are cycling fans voting, if they are back watching races both on the roadside and on TV?
      I see media campaigns, and I see a general public attitude (crazily incoherent and unfair) towards cycling and doping, but I fail to see most of the stringent logical relations between those phenomena which people take for granted, e.g. doping and a good deal of the sponsorship crisis (remember that, besides the general economic crisis and the general public funding fall, in Italy and Spain what we see is a process of sponsorship concentration, that is, abandoning the weaker parts of the sport to support those who guarantee best peaks, regardless of the fact that the sport needs to survive as a whole; but maybe that’s not a problem of the sponsors as much as of sporting institutions which should take care of redistribution?).

      • I don’t always agree with you, Gabriele (to say the least), but by god you make some really sound points.

        As you indicate, cycling fans can huff and puff, but they – we – are still watching and we are still at the roadside.

        You can and do speak about Italy in your final post. If the powers that be have to teeth and balls to tackle Russia, yes, we know there’s a subsequent list of countries they need to move on to that includes Belarus, Kazakhstan, Spain, Italy, Azerbaijan, Uzbekhistan…

    • “But for a sporting value, doped sports have pretty much zero”

      I’m not convinced that’s true. Or, perhaps, I’m not convinced that, even if it is true, it makes that much difference to audience interest. The NFL is massively popular, the men’s 100m is still the biggest event in the Olympics, people do seem more interested in great performances than the pharmaceutical means by which they were obtained.

      • It makes sod all difference, if we look around as sports such as baseball, NFL etc. A player gets popped, gets slammed with a ban (laughably so-called) for a few games, and the fan just grumbles because he’ll be out for a bit.

        Makes not a jot of difference to the fans, or to the sponsors.

        • You’re 100% right. They way that cycling has dealt with the doping crisis gets an gigantic F. Bocciato. The singular public obsession with eradicating doping has practically killed the financial bass of the sport. Furthermore, I would argue, it has only increased the perception to casual fan that cyclists are a bunch of chemically driven machines. Doping needed to be delt with, but it could have happened in a way that did not destroy the public image of the sport. All the suggestions presented here are reasonable solutions, but unless big sponsors are willing to foot the bill for teams to ride, it will not matter what reforms take hold.

      • Nick,
        It’s called ARETE
        The reason people care about watching sports. If it was just about money and success each Sunday afternoon’s TV schedule would be full of programs showing hedge fund managers at work. Doping is no different than having a secret electric motor on your bike providing an advantage over your competitors. Might be a clever trick, but demonstrates ZERO sporting value.

          • You’re correct, but I’m far from alone. That’s why the fans held up signs at the Giro, “Pirata, farci sognare”
            For me the belief that these performances are human rather than pharmaceutical is what makes sport just that….SPORT. Everyone agrees not to dope just like they agree not to use a motorcycle instead of a bicycle. If you don’t play by the rules, it may be entertaining just like pro wrestling…but sport…. it ain’t.
            One final (I promise) note. I think the stick-and-ball fans delude themselves with the idea that no dope can replace skill. Catching the pass, kicking the ball into the goal or hitting the baseball are skills that you can’t get out of a bottle. Those fans don’t bother thinking about the strength or endurance the cheaters might have that lets them use that skill while their non-doped competitors are too weak or too tired. Sadly, when one watches a guy like Chris Froome race a bicycle, it’s very easy to conclude skill doesn’t much matter and that it’s all about power vs weight and chemically aided endurance.

  8. To quote the ring:
    “Put another way money spent training a rider sees the costs incurred by the team while many of the benefits are enjoyed by the rider who can jump to a new team on a big contract thanks to improved results…”

    I have said it before and I will say it again, transfer fees.
    When a ride moves to a new team, that new team has to pay a transfer fee, this fee is then distributed down the line from the last team said rider rode for to the amateur club who started the rider on their career. Consider it as a “thank you payment for training this rider to this level.”
    It works in football so it can work in cycling.

    • It works in football *if* the player still has time left on his contract when he moves. Otherwise, if your contract has ended, why should your previous employer be able to insist on a payment before you’re allowed to start a new job?

    • Are transfer fees in cycling workable?

      In football, a transfer fee is paid only if the player is still under contract. In the UK at least, compensation for development is paid when a player under 24 changes clubs at the end of a contract. As far as I know it isn’t spread down the chain of previous clubs, unless specified in previous transfer agreements.

      Transfer fees for riders out of contract are not permitted under EU law (see the Bosman case). I believe a fee is sometimes paid already, in the rare cases where a rider under contract moves to another team (e.g. Wiggins to Sky). Teams could offer longer contracts to valuable riders, if they were confident of their own existence and the rider’s longevity; form is probably more transient in cycling than football, barring injuries against which clubs are insured. But the evidence in football is that top players very often let their contracts expire and/or clubs sell them near the end of the contract for a (relatively) small fee.

      There are “selling” clubs that try to buy cheap, develop and sell at a profit – but the majority of clubs across Europe and beyond run at a loss, reliant on benefactors or speculators. I don’t think cycling should look to football for models of financial stability or sustainability!

  9. Hello

    From the beginning, the 1t4i, (Argos-Shimano, Giant-Shimano, Giant-Alpecin) team has required their riders to use team coaching and doctors. They have made a success of developing young riders to the very top of the ProTour Kittel, Degenkolb, Mezgec, Dumoulin, and Barguil.

    Their recent move to a German sponsor only goes to show that clean teams can generate success yet still create confidence in a disillusioned fan base.

    There may be teams that take a low cost route to meeting the UCI’s criteria for coaches, but there will be others, like 1t4i, that focus money on coaching, data systems and testing that generate results.

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