The Right Race, The Wrong Time?

Tour Down Under

It’s testimony to the Tour Down Under’s improved status that we’re no longer debating whether it’s a bike race or a glorified training camp. It’s a race and if you don’t find it compelling, no worries, it’s not compulsory to love the Tour Down Under any more that you should get excited by the GP de Montréal or the Tour of the Basque Country. But there’s a problem with this new found status as a serious race: it’s too early. The World Tour starts in January but vanishes in February.

“Everyone’s so lean” was an observation the other day. In times past riders could show up overweight and out of shape and pedal around the sunshine and have more fun still once the sun had gone done. Yes some would contest the stage finish but others were more interested in the bar. Today’s race is like any other event, teams show up with plans to win and score points.

Mind the gap
Too early? Yes because if a rider wants to hit peak form then they face waiting more than the biblical 40 days and nights until the next race on the World Tour. Peak now and you’ve got a one shot chance at winning rather than trying to go for a few more races. As risks and rewards go, the Tour Down Under is a Game Theory contest: do you bank on the others not yet being on form and therefore you can bag some “easy” points; or do you go easy now knowing that timing a peak of form later in the season will bring more chances to get results and score points? If you want the numbers it’s 42 days between the TDU and Paris-Nice, double the second longest wait on the calendar of 21 days between the end of the Vuelta and Il Lombardia, although this is interspersed by the World Championships.

The premature slot is visible in other ways. It’s as if the sport wakes up from hibernation only to fall asleep again a week later. Of course there are many other races, things are about to start in Europe and there’s the Gulf state triptych in Dubai, Qatar and Oman too. But these aren’t on the World Tour. Do other sports start their top leagues and then shut down for weeks? Imagine the NFL starting for a week only to stop and leaving college football to watch. Conceptually the World Tour needs to plug the gap and deliver a calendar with semi-regular fixtures.

Move the TDU?
Changing the TDU’s spot on the calendar isn’t easy. The UCI has made enquiries and tried to nudge the race into February but got a firm “no”. Right now the race happens during the school holidays which helps with the traffic and transportation as well as allowing families to make a trip out to see the race. Race boss Mike Turtur has a settled formula and it works, giving South Australia a premium sports event. But it has to contend with the Australian Open tennis tournament which surely sucks a lot of the media’s attention, you wonder if Turtur would prefer his race not to clash with the tennis?

Dubai Tour

If the TDU is fixed then and we have a World Tour opener in January then the sport needs to find find a filler for February. Of course there are existing races in February, just none on the World Tour. So if the UCI wanted to do something it could wave its magic wand and promote an event in February. Perhaps the Dubai Tour will go this way soon? Australia could have other races too, if the Cadel Evans race goes well could be promoted and perhaps the Herald Sun Tour too? It might sound too much but remember Australia is the sixth biggest supplier of professional cyclists to the World Tour, with 28 in the peloton this year.

Meanwhile in Argentina
Talking of timing the ongoing clash with the Tour de San Luis remains awkward. If you’ve made it to a dedicated cycling blog then you’ll know the South Australian roads don’t suit Nairo Quintana or Vincenzo Nibali so much; that riders like Peter Sagan and Michał Kwiatkowski are aiming to peak in April and the San Luis government pays mucho dinero appearance fees. In short San Luis is an expenses-paid training camp for some, occupying a role the TDU once provided. But for the newcomer it’s confusing to see two races clash and a “World Tour” race start while many of the best riders are doing an inferior status race in Argentina. Whether the TDU moves or not, at least avoiding a clash between these two races is desirable as a face-saving exercise, so the TDU’s sponsors don’t wonder why they’re backing a race on the UCI’s premium calendar only to see so many stars elsewhere.

Tour Down Under Adelaide

The TDU is now a proper season-opening race now but sits awkwardly on the calendar. It’s a risk to peak for this race and as a marketing and sporting concept the World Tour look strange with this early event and then nothing for 40 days. If it was a simple as copy-pasting then the TDU could be dropped into February. But traffic, school holidays and the race’s place on Australia’s sporting calendar means that’s almost impossible. Already promoted from .1 to .HC for this year, Dubai seems the obvious choice to join the World Tour. Purists might rail but it’s just a status change to help the calendar look more coherent.

81 thoughts on “The Right Race, The Wrong Time?”

  1. Surely one solution would be to bump the TdSL to a week later if possible? Mind you I suppose Holidays play a part in Argentina too. Maybe the TdSL will eventually grow in to a Tour de Argentina?

  2. Hmm, bump the Tour of Southland in NZ up from 2.2 and hold it in February rather than November. It’s been going since the 1950s. Queenstown, Milford Sound, Catlins, Crown Range, the Rail Trail and Skipper’s Canyon make the TDU look like… well, sh!t.

    • Mike Turtur and the South Australian government would throw a fit if the Herald Sun Tour was given WT status. The TDU draws thousands of well-heeled MAMILs and MAWILs from Victoria (home of the Herald Sun Tour) who stay for a few days and spend up pretty big.

      He might grudgingly accept the Cadel Evans race going WT, but not a stage race.

        • Yes, his influence on such decisions has been less since he was turfed from the UCI management committee / Oceania post in late 2012. Prior to that he was both promoting a race and on the UCI committee deciding which races to approve. There is significant race organisational rivalry in Australia. Feb is the least friendly weather month for road racing in Australia – exceptionally hot with significant bushfire risk.

          • Gaudry doesn’t organise any UCI races though? (unless you count Amy’s Gran Fondo?)

            From what I’ve read (as typical I can’t find the links in question, sigh) it does sound like Turtur grabbed the best spot possible and pulled a lot of strings to keep it. Maybe Anonymous will come back and prove me wrong, but I wouldn’t assume their suspicion is just state rivalry. (Which, as someone from the state only represented in TDU coverage by ads for House of #%@#%ng Hancock, I have not much interest in hearing about)

    • Hell, I’m a massive NZ fan, nothing but good things to say about the roads and phenomenal scenery.

      But…2.2 to World Tour = BIG additional costs for the race organisers that Tour of Southland may struggle to find sponsorship to fund

      Being 2.2 / 2.1 / 1.2 / 1.1 suits the pockets of a lot of race organisers

  3. The TDU should stay where it is.

    No one cares for the World Tour label anyway. So why put another WT race into February? Just for the sake of having a “coherent World Tour calendar”? My guess is that this is not very high up in anyone’s priority list. The February races are fine like they are. And then Paris-Nice is an important landmark not for being the next WT race, but for being the famous “Course au soleil” – the first traditional European week-long stage race.

    This article seems to overestimate the importance of the WT label for the cycling world.

    • hmm, yeah – the world tour label would be more important if teams were actually fighting for points to stay in the world tour and not get relegated.

      Also though, the world tour label should be important to the UCI who have a confusing branding / naming strategy of their divisions and race categories, that INRNG has picked up on before. You would think the UCI would like to tighten things up, even if riders / fans don’t care too much.

      As INRNG says, you can’t imagine the NFL confusing their calendar like the UCI does. Because the ‘brand’ is important to the NFL. It should be for the UCI too.

      • To some extent. although the NFL is a smaller group of geographical areas. Maybe a better comparison is the FIFA World Cup, where they can’t yet decide what season to have the 2018 version!

    • Agree world tour is a waste of time everybody knows the season starts with Omloop Het Nieuwsblad and finishes with the Giro di Lombardia.,

      • Frank, thanks for saying the obvious! Agree on the Omloop Het Volk/Nieuwsblad, although I must add that to me the season ends after the autumn double (Il Lombardia and Paris-Tours, although I doubt someone will win that double soon again and P.Gilbert will hold that title for some time) and Paris-Bourges (I love these races!). I like the sense of spring of the Omloop, the weather is chilly, the belgian light is still pale from the winter, the whole year lies before us and sensational things can (and surely will) happen and I adore the slightly melancholic feelings of the autumn races. The year is over, the sensational things weren’t so sensational, the air is humid and quiet, nature is slowly slowing down and the fast moving races in it are one last human rebellion against nature and the coming winter. To me it feels exactly right to begin and to end the season with these races.

        • Yeah autumn should be changed back to the note traditional Paris tours one weekend and the giro di lombatdia the weekend after as the last race of the season

    • As a journalist who covers the early season pro team presentations having these races in January really screws things up. It is very difficult to get all the riders in one place at one time, espcially with the time differences between Europe, the Americas(Tour de San Luis and Australia(Tour Down Under) not to mention that they actually need to be training. It used to be that all members of the team were present. Now we are lucky if we get 50% of the squad. Sometimes it is only 25%.

  4. Once, I read the comments of Tour of Turkey Director, saying that “UCI offered to move the race into February and make it a World Tour race”. It was an awkward offer, since the weather is not as good as it is at the end of April. Now, it is clear that UCI wanted to fill the gap between two WT races.

  5. A shame that Oman seems to be on it’s last legs, for me it’s the best of the three Gulf races. I wouldn’t have a massive problem with Dubai getting WT, but if it were up to me I prefer the backdrop of Oman’s natural splendour to Dubai’s plate-glass crassness.

    Now, I’ve banged on about this for ages, but having a WT race in Africa would be a great publicity coup for the UCI, particularly with the continuing emergence of riders from Eritrea, South Africa & Rwanda (oh yeah, there’s this bloke from Kenya too). A one-day race mid-Feb somewhere around Cape Town would fit the bill nicely, no? It could be tied in with that big sportive they do.

  6. To be honest (which must be allowed): I haven’t watched one pixel of the TDU, haven’t looked who won the stages,haven’t read a preview. I understand that the race is a nice market for bike manufacterers etc. But it is winter where I am, it is time for other sports and things. At the end of february “my season” will begin and I will follow races and riders again and will probably and hopefully travel to some races to see some live racing.

      • Australia has a lot of cycling fans (and as INRNG points out, more riders than most countries). It’s good that those fans can watch at least one WT race during their daylight hours.

        Finding the weather and screening-times inconvenient in Europe? That’s how people in the Southern Hemisphere watch the TDF. And every other race we all love.

      • Your loss, mate. As we would say, your humility is underwhelming. I don’t know where you live, but I hope your level of arrogant ignorance is not par for the course. You sound like a Frill-Neck lining up to a Goanna.

    • California in February can be rainy.

      If they want to use mountain-like roads in suburban/exurban parts of California while it rains is risky in the sense there are lots of safety reasons why local authorities would demand re-route.

      The guy that owns the event, Anschutz, is rumored to lose some money on his event already. I doubt he would pay for the WT classification.

  7. Keep San Luis where it is for the ones who wants just a beer after the race; keep TDU where it is for the given reasons, put the three Gulf races together in a awesome “Tour de Gulf” World Tour race!!!

  8. The Tour of Tasmania is by far the best location for racing in Australia in my opinion. I wish this could be moved to February. Many riders have made the trip across the world escaping winter, it’s a shame there is not more ‘training’ opportunities . At present it is held in October when the weather is marginal.

  9. My question is why the hell this race is in the WT, or even more important why the hell there IS a WT? The idea that this race gives the winner the same number of WT points as one of the five monuments of cycling is laughable if it wasn’t so sad. I watched a bit on TV and couldn’t help but think of another race that is a bit of a joke, the Tour of California. But there were probably LESS people at the roadside at TDU vs ToC. Someone should have suggested to Mr. Mars back-in-the-day….”Heinie, if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it!” I’m still trying to think of a real benefit from “Heinie’s Folly” Anyone?

  10. Right race – right time. For all those having a whinge, can I remind you that there’s this whole other side of the world called the Southern Hemisphere and we ride bikes too. Pontificating that “the real season starts with french race x and ends with italian race y” only further reinforces the stereotype that bike racing is western european-centric which is precisely what the UCI is trying to get rid of – and rightly so if they are to expand to become a truly world sport.

    Perhaps those races in Europe that are struggling could look at the TDU and learn from it’s successes. 1 single hotel and centralized courses mean that teams and promoters can save a lot of cash and fans can stay longer om the same area and therefore spend more money.

    • I think we’re on the same page.

      Sure the racing on rural roads in other parts of the country (or NZ) could be amazing, but who is going to spectate? Who’s going to sponsor it? How is transport and accommodation going to be managed (teams/riders, staff, spectators etc)? It seems like all of these issues are taken care of quite well at the TDU.

    • Right race, wrong time, in lots of ways. There’s always going to be a load of Aussies and the odd Kiwi on a tear at this time of year, but it’s too early in the year for too many – I think that’s what some see as devaluing it. If there were a couple more races down here that riders and teams could do as part of he same block of racing, that’d be good for everyone. You could shorten Southland to 3 days and slot it in the next week at 1.1, another race or two somewhere in the hemisphere with good points and exposure on offer and you could have a great block of racing that everyone’d be up for. But to get the smaller events to work, that’d only work if there was a rethink of the points system, and that at least isn’t happening this year. Why does this sport have to make everything so difficult?

  11. This race is like 0% beer as opposed to Duvel. Not poisonous, but tasteless and devoid of substance. Nervous, bubbly racing and all that, but zero pathos.

  12. A lot of critics of this race, including some in this very thread, seem to be having trouble hiding their disdain for events that are not exclusively European. This is a strange sort of cultural xenophobia whereby all anglo riders are disliked and any event in a non-European country is sneered at. This insular worldview does no one any favours and smacks of elitism in a sport that was once noted for its working class and egalitarian ethos.

    This Tour Down Under has been a thrilling contest, as it was last year. I know it sticks in the craw of certain reactionary types, but most fans would rather see tight races being decided by seconds wherever they happen to be than than endure unrepentent ex-dopers like Alejandro Valverde clocking up yet another by the numbers victory at a European race that seems to be more valued for its long history than its thrilling parcours or competitive field. If you don’t want to watch, fine, but it’s your loss and certainly nothing to brag about.

    • Well said!

      As a South African living in Europe (Netherlands/Belgium) the past 15 yrs I have constantly run into a Europe that has stopped evolving, holding onto an out-dated theory that they do not need to evolve anymore as they have ‘arrived’, not realising that evolution/change/growth is a constant. And so the ones they thought were beneath them have actually surpassed them…and they still have not noticed.

      The UCI is painfully aware that they need to bring the sport into the 21st century, but is not easy when so many traditionalists get all queasy (anal-retentive) about touching their hallowed events. I expect many of these mommy’s boys to turn their back on the sport when changes are made to their sacred rituals.

      As for the two races from last week; TDU has consistently grown, and is a quality event, perfect as a season-warm-up, while TDSL seems more like a training session for riders who do not yet have form (with so many stages won by local Continental riders!)!

      A big change/shift can be initially painful, but in the long run serves to revitalise!

  13. Australia is a cycling market too and one of the more successful nations in the sport, so it deserves its big stage race like every other cycling nation. As an Aussie I love having this one top-class race a year that I can watch at a reasonable hour. I agree that the timing isn’t great and would be better at a similar time to Qatar and serve as a tune-up for the big classics. Then perhaps other cyclists would be almost as motivated as the locals. The problem is is January is the best time of year for tourism in Australia so the organisers are loathe to shift dates.

  14. January-shpamuary! The World Tour or the Mystery Tour! It just makes me happy and grateful that the top level pros are racing again, and that we all have something to talk about! Just bring it on, baby!

  15. There is not one single reason why I have to love and support every single race, just because it is a WT-race. I don’t critisize the TDU, I just don’t care so much. Maybe it would be the other way around, if I wouldn’t live in Europe and had no long history with some races here. Aside from that it is a fact nobody can change, however hard one tries, that the professional cycling we currently talk about is a sport grown and happening in Europe. Therefore the races and the season of course mirror that and have grown in and around european history, seasons, landscapes etc.. If that really bothers you, there surely is racing going on one can watch and support where you live, even if the WT isn’t around. Cycling isn’t only the World-Tour.

    Not everything has to be worldwide. The NFL doesn’t fly over to Europe to play their league-games here. The only reason they would do that is, when it would be lucrative. The moment that wouldn’t be the case anymore, the teams would come out with: ” It is to straining for our players…”. If I want to watch the NFL then I can do that only through TV and there is nothing wrong with that (I think the NBA-title still though is called “World-Champion”? At least it was called that a few years ago). NBA and NFL do/did their worldwide-promotion of their brand outside of their season.

    To be honest, it is a bit funny that you do exactly the same thing you accuse others of: You prefer the race you can connect with best and have a history with. The difference is that others have simply said their opinion without lecturing and offending others.

    • I’m not the one comparing cycling to the NFL, that was Mr Ring and then only in the context of the calendar. And if anything you’ve made the opposite point to the one you were aiming for, cycling is a truly global sport and isn’t the European boys club it was 30 years ago, and many Europeans didn’t like Greg LeMond winning “their” races then either. This “not everything has to be worldwide” talk might have some substance to it but for the reality of the World Tour peloton. There are something like 30 Australians in the WT (plus a team which also has cyclists of many other nationalities) and other countries like the US and Colombia are also very well represented.

      This last Roman attitude has also caused you to miss my point completely. I love watching the biggest races (and it would be highly unlikely I’d be commenting on a niche pro cycling blog if I didn’t) and enjoy the history of the sport. However the sport, unlike some of its fans, is not frozen in time, and to me, complaining about the globalisation of the sport is a pointless endeavour, with or without a toga.

    • Nina,

      There are many cycling fans in Australia. There are more Australian professional cyclists than most European countries (perhaps even yours?).

      Your comparison of the NBA and NFL is a bit silly (and the NBA does play regular-season games in London). The Tour and Giro travel to other countries within their own races. The Giro is discussing a start in the Middle East!

      Cycling is a global sport now, but the calendar can be organised better. It just looks petty to complain about the one WT race that the Southern Hemisphere can watch during daylight hours.

    • In a way I agree with Nina and at the same time share Augie March’s suspicions. Cycling could have been to continental EU what hockey and la crosse are to Canada: the national sport because the constitution says so, and because it symbolised certain social (christian-socialist) values that were prevalent when the EU was created and cycling was in its heyday.
      On the other hand, I wouldn’t mind globalised cycling or sharing it with the anglo world, if it didn’t coincide with an unwelcome shift in racing. Shorter courses, higher speeds, more emphasis on equipment and calculation and drafting, less feelings and gutsy attitudes, just a no-nonsense businesslike professionalism that is certainly less inspiring. I’d love it if anglos who share our passion also demanded the TdU or California to average 300km every day and ban power-meters. It would mean globalisation doesn’t damage the ideal.

    • The NFL actually does fly over to Europe to play games, they’ve played at least one game in London ever since the 2007 season and the number of London games increased to 2 in 2013 and 3 in 2014. The teams don’t really like doing it but the NFL does it anyway because they’re very interested in building a following in Europe.

      That said, American football is also very different from cycling in term of how worldwide the sport is. Practically all NFL players are Americans, whereas there are many World Tour cyclists from the Americas and Australia, with 3 World Tour teams based in the US and one in Australia. Each of the last four years has seen a Grand Tour won by a non-European rider. While still primarily European, cycling is already very much a worldwide sport; to act like it’s purely European would be living in the past.

  16. I didn’t watch Tour de San Luis because I didn’t have enough interest to spend the time watching a low-quality stream with everything else I’m doing at the moment. But I don’t comment on every post mentioning San Luis with, ‘I’d actually CARE if they had more cameras!’ Maybe once (and less dismissively) but every time I see the words ‘San Luis’ after? What’s the point?

    And I personally don’t find the hour record at all interesting (beyond taking note of who’s attempting it). That doesn’t mean I have to tell people ‘Watching someone ride in circles by themselves for an hour is so boring, who thinks anyone cares?’ every time the subject comes up, because I can tell at least a few others clearly find it interesting.

    Soooo yeah, it gets obnoxious seeing people say, ‘Oh, TDU, how droll, I’ll be waiting until the /real/ season starts’ almost every time the acronym comes up. And even then, it would only be mildly annoying in a repetitive way if it was followed by reasons like ‘Turtur is a jerk’ or ‘2012 put me off’ or ‘I have no interest in the contenders’ or ‘it’s too flat’ or ‘it’s boring’ or ‘it’s at an awkward time’ or ‘I just don’t like it’. But a lot of the time, the rationale does really seem to be ‘It’s not like the European races I prefer, so not only is it crap, it’s not even a real race.’

    And that puts the wind up me for so many reasons I don’t even know where to start, but I also don’t have much interest in fighting in blog comments right now 😀 so I’ll just say this: You’re not obligated to share your opinions on every subject every time it comes up on the internet, and if all you’re going to say about it is essentially ‘I don’t care and it sucks’ over and over, maybe you could use your time more effectively elsewhere. Compliment somebody’s photo on Facebook or something.

    • Great post. I’m originally from the Northern hemisphere but have lived in Australia for a while now. I visited the TdU for the first time this year. I can tell you the atmosphere on the stages has been electric and knocks most races in the “old world” out of the park. The riding is fantastic, the weather superb and the riders love the support and how many other races do you get to smash it back to the hotel, swapping turns with the pros?

      If you don’t want to watch, that’s fine. The Tour of Britain also gets this kind of dismissive reaction. Personally, I think the racing in these types of stage races have been great. To those who claim that 300km+ races are somehow “better” and “authentic”, I call absolute BS. Recent years have shown many of the best races in recent times have been short, sharp, aggressive affairs. There’s room for lots of types of cycling in lots of different places. Just choose what you want to watch …..

  17. Will you provide the proper cycling calendar for us to critique? Just write down the order in which you’d like to see all 300 plus race days per year and we’ll tell you if you got it right! If you’ve already done that, please reply with a link to your post so I can tell you if it’s correct. Thanks Inrng!

  18. My viewing interest starts in March. Taking nothing away from the TDU etc. but I am simply not that interested in watching much before Paris Nice, call me old school but I feel I need the winter break from it all. I need toy get some miles in of my own without gawping at the telly.

  19. I think the crowds on the sides of the roads speak for themselves
    Australia is a fast growing nation in the world of this beautiful sport and deserves its recognition as such

  20. Right race, wrong time? Wrong time – for me – in the sense of cycling’s near-obsession with bonus seconds.

    I can understand their use, possibly, in small stageraces where the parcours is unlikely to be sufficiently selective. Though, even there, it would be easy enough to use countback (wins, podiums, points).
    But if the parcours is selective and creates time splits, then why reward stage placings with extra seconds for GC? The points jersey is for stage placings.

    And bonus seconds for sprintermediates? Definitely not.

  21. Seriously? They’re professional athletes so surely can handle a break between events no matter how long.

    I can’t see any of the cyclists complaining and all I hear is positives about coming to Adelaide. Some even don’t want to return to the cold European winter which is why Cadel’s new event is going to compliment it so well.

    It is summer, holidays & the best time of the year to ensure maximum visitors especially from interstate where they are all on holidays. too. The BUPA challenge is a great event for everyone to get involved and if it were later then people may struggle to take time off work. Even Greg Lemond is talking about coming here to participate next year!

    Have you even come to the Tour Down Under? Come once & then you’ll understand & not want to change a thing.

  22. One thing that wasn’t mentioned is that it’s placed just after the Australian Nationals. By running it after the nationals, the Aussie Champ gets to show off it’s colours (assuming that the winner is in a WorldTour team or gets selected for the UniSA squad). This leads to plenty of in form Aussies for TdU which is what locals are keen to see. Admittedly, not great for WorldTour teams which don’t have an Aussie or Kiwi representative.
    For Aussie locals there are plenty of crit series run during the summer that helps them get fit too.

  23. Let’s ask what the sponsors think about cycling world wide.
    Many sponsors are still local ( regional) focused. Whats the point for National Lotteries or Supermakets and Europcar to have global exposure ?

    • Europcar is in Australia. Great exposure. Not so much for the lotteries or supermarkets. Another thought could be that the sponsors actually get their name mentioned in the sporting news much earlier and later than a Euro centric race calender allows, bringing them greater all year exposure and better value for money. That is unless the cycling public in Western Europe is so closed off to the rest of the world of cycling that they close their eyes and stick their fingers in their ears when it is mentioned. If this is the case I guess there are people in Europe still waiting to find out who actually won the 2011, 2012, 2013 TDF and are confused about some random spectator/tourist being on the to step of the podium. At least there was finally a winner in 2014 again to end those years of uncertainty.

  24. Sorry to note that only buisness is on your thoughts. I think international calendar (wt) should harmonyse with national/regional races programs resecting the traditional happenings (if not historical or legendar). Think about paris-nice and tirreno. they matches but also they get importance as races for the march clash (you imagine tirreno the week after sanremo?), sure then for the teams could be less expensive

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