Boycotts and Breakdowns

It takes something special to unite all the World Tour teams. Normally they’re in competition but also have opposite views, or at least their owners and managers can often clash on a range of issues. Now all 18 teams have decided to boycott the upcoming team time trial event at the World Championships in Qatar during October. You might not care too much for this event but the boycott is about a lot more than this one event.

The team time trial is a new event dating from 2012 and takes place on a Sunday as the opening event of a week of races. Like many novelties in cycling it takes time to become accepted. It stands out because the trade teams compete during a week otherwise reserved for national squads. It’s not been accepted from the start, many teams – especially those with no chance of winning – have resented having to pay money to fund the logistics of sending riders, staff, bikes and excess baggage just for a race that doesn’t get much media return.

As loyal readers will remember the annual road World Championships are a moneyspinner for the UCI. Here’s a slide from the UCI’s report and accounts for 2015:

The annual road Worlds bring in the host city fee, TV rights and sponsorship income, all with a very tasty margin. It’s the UCI’s the single largest income item.

The teams know this and so boycotting a race isn’t just a no-show for a race, it’s a hit to the concept of the Worlds as week of high level racing. The UCI won’t enjoy explaining to a Qatari Emir why the top teams have not showed up and if this boycott continues then the week’s racing is devalued.

Why the Boycott?
As mentioned at the top there’s the headline reason and there’s a deeper, structural issue. The headline problem is that the teams don’t want to pay to take part in an event that isn’t part of the World Tour. Here’s an excerpt of the AIGCP, the team’s body:

“This situation is highly irregular in the context of professional road cycling

  • insofar as the WorldTour licence should only compel the teams that are granted one to take part in the events which are granted a WorldTour licence by an independent Licence Commission;
  • and even when required to take part in a WorldTour event, WorldTeams are always granted a participation allowance to cover some of their costs;
  • insofar as it evidences the fact that the governing body has passed exceptional legislation which solely favors the one road competition it owns and commercially exploits.”

The second bullet point is a reminder that all World Tour races pay teams a fee to take part, an often forgotten item when people call for revenues to be shared. Team Sky collected £3.8 million or 16% of their prodigious budget from these payments. Only this isn’t paid for the Worlds TTT race.

Simple solution…
Given the way the UCI literally makes millions from the Worlds the simplest way to kill the issue is to pay the teams and perhaps make the Worlds TTT a item on the World Tour calendar. Therefore there can be no claims of exceptionalism.

…complicated outcome
Only to add the race to the calendar is going to annoy teams even more. The recent addition of new events to the World Tour calendar has frustrated many teams facing compulsory attendance at these new races, all with a fixed roster and the same budget. There’s been talk of letting off some teams from taking part in the new events on the calendar but so far it’s just that, there’s nothing in the rulebook for 2017 yet and teams are recruiting for next year not knowing what is coming.

The fact that it’s gone public rather than something that got settled in a conference room in a Swiss hotel brings us to the wider point. The teams want some more money and they’re not happy with the calendar so there’s a breakdown in communications and things go messy in public. Once again it’s a reminder that the UCI holds a weak hand. As written here before, it can only govern by consensus which means it can only pass rules and reforms if all the parties involved are willing. If not then things breakdown. See how the UCI had to scrap its original World Tour reforms after ASO wouldn’t accept them. Now the 2017 World Tour doesn’t please the teams.

What will happen?
The UCI told Cycling Weekly that they still expect the 18 teams to attend and expect “excellent participation”, adding they money generated by the teams is reinvested in developing the sport. That’s not very conciliatory but if the teams don’t show it’ll be hard to sanction them, the governing body is hardly going to refuse them all a licence for 2017.

One regrettable incident here will be a hit to the women’s race. The women’s pro teams will take part and it’s one of the rare events that attracts parity in TV coverage, it’s valuable to them and their sponsors. Only if the men’s teams are staying away then the event loses some it it’s lustre and some of the talk will be about the missing teams rather than the remaining ones.

The wider point is that the sport is stuck. We might hope UCI, the teams, the race organisers and others would operate in close formation just like team mates in a team time trial. They don’t have to be best friends, they just have to pull together. Only the World Tour reforms reveal they’re not so much riding in a paceline as pulling in different directions and going public with moves to sabotage each others chances. When this happens things get messy.

The team time trial at the Worlds has looked odd and confused people, a regular FAQ (answer here) is why are there no rainbow jerseys and why the pro teams showed up instead of national ones. It was created to promote the pro teams but they don’t want to take part in the show if it just costs them. However this is about more than travel expenses, if things were this simple they’d have been settled in private. Instead once again we get a public spat that makes the sport’s governance look dysfunctional. There’s no vision or leadership for the sport, just competing interests and structural stalemates.

55 thoughts on “Boycotts and Breakdowns”

  1. Once again it’s a reminder that the UCI holds a weak hand

    Within the context of the regular calendar, yes, we agree. Within the context of the annual world championships? No.

    There are lots of ways around the problem, one of them could be to use road equipment and a skeleton crew and revise the team time trial rules according. Though, I don’t think that would make equipment sponsors happy.

  2. There’s no vision or leadership for the sport, just competing interests and structural stalemates.

    The UCI that has major governance issues with the resulting scarcity of big-money sponsors and now only three race promoters. Hein being back in charge, things should be back to normal.

  3. Once again the UCI’s missed the chance to work productively with a stakeholder. First they completely ignored the fact that ASO had zero comments when the proposed reforms were revealed, only to realise that ASO’s silence meant they were boycotting the reforms, NOT supporting them, as the UCI announced.

    Now, AIGCP gave the UCI 6-weeks (apparently AIGCP voted on this in early July) to pay attention to their complaints, only to go ahead with the UCI’s plan anyways….

    Honestly, is the UCI that thick or what? They don’t realise how replaceable they are.

    • Honestly, is the UCI that thick or what? They don’t realise how replaceable they are.

      But, they aren’t. They have no competitors who can match them and permanent income that trickles down to the national federations as long as they are an Olympic sport.

  4. By the looks of it the teams, especially the ones with no chance of winning, were a bit miffed at having to take part in the race for no fee. This alone might not have caused too much of a rumpus but now the UCI is throwing in all these extra races in far flung places and they have snapped. The World Tour reforms are a joke and I think the teams should boycott it full stop (whilst still attending the major races off invites from the organiser) until a more sensible calendar appears.

    • Yup, the WT is an utter shambles – like everything else the UCI does, it seems.
      The only downside to getting rid of the UCI (sod the Olympics, they can have it) is that its replacement would probably be dominated by Velon-style money-grabbers with even worse ideas.
      I don’t follow other sports – are they this calamitously organised?
      No-one will watch the inferior WT races just because they’re WT, because it means nothing. And very few are interested in the TTTTT (thanks Larry).

      • I wouldn’t normally support a monopoly, but I honestly can’t see a better solution for cycling than ASO, RCS and Flanders Classics getting together and saying ‘Right, our races are going to be like this. There’s no World Tour/Cup/Anything, they’re just individual races and other races can join us if we/they want’.
        The present situation and likely alternatives just seem worse.
        When is the next presidential election (and is cycling’s likely to be even worse than the USA’s)?

        • Personally I think the old “World Cup” consisting of 10 super hard 1-day races, the big monuments and some others, was quite okay. I reckon most classics riders liked the competition too, there was also a jersey for the leader that had vertical rainbow stripes, it seemed to work. Riders like Bettini, Musseew, Bartoli really made an objective of it (okay we know now how they got to win all those super hard races but that doesn’t detract from the concept does it?) I never really understood why they’ve ditched that in favour of the WT.
          Besides there’s the coupe de France, the Napoleon Cup in Belgium and I don’t know what else. It seems quite logical to regard the GT’s and other important stage races as ‘stand alone’ competitions and try to group together some of the more distinctive one day races too. It generates narrative and that is what attracts people being it sponsors, riders, journalists or spectators.

          • Yes, I have no complaint about that. My problem with the WorldTour is the possibility of teams being forced to ride inferior races to the detriment of other races.
            Many of these other races are superior – e.g. Paris-Tours.
            Many of these other races are essential in providing experience for young riders – these races hugely benefit from big riders (usually of the same nationality) being in the starting line-ups.
            This bedrock of cycling – and the history – is being thrown away in the name of ‘globalisation’.
            Let’s imagine for a moment that the motive is globalisation (and not money), why is this – quite unthinkingly – regarded as a positive thing? Why is it good that Abu Dhabi has a bike race? Who benefits? The locals have little interest.
            Other than money, there is no reason to try to force uninterested people to watch cycling. If the sport is only popular in certain countries, that’s not a problem (and is true of almost all sports).
            Let the people of those countries who are interested in the sport ride and watch their races and others can join if they’re actually interested (as some countries have over the past few decades).
            The sporting aspect of a race should be what it is judged on – not what country it’s in or how much money everyone makes from it.
            The fallacy of ‘just being against change’ is used to denigrate those who are against changes that are detrimental to the sport. This argument is also used by those who are desperately trying to make cash out of a sport, which will never be that much of an earner anyway.

          • I totally, the calendar would basically be the big one day races that are on Sunday’s. So the monuments, Gent-Wevlegem, Amstel Gold.. Omloop and Strade Bianche could go in, though my preference would be for races of around 250km or more, HEW cyclassics and Paris-Tours.
            As you say the grand tours are basically competitions in themselves and the smaller stage races are used as warm ups, whether for the grand tours or the spring classics.

          • Totally agree – that’s a very solid solution.

            A solution where random races are invented that leap-frog to the top level without building a strong pedigree is ridiculous. It completely waters down the notion of the “World Tour”.

            For example, 3 World Tour races on the same weekend in 2017 that the Post-Tour crits are in. So all the top GC racers will be at the Post-Tour crits, the second best level of gc/one-day racers will be at san sebastian, then you have TWO more World Tour races to fill on the SAME WEEKEND?!? Will Inner Ring’s loyal followers be called to fill-in the peloton?

            Or, do the better racers split and go to the other World Tour races, which will damage the field at San Sabastian, a traditionally very strong race.

    • On the 2015 racing calendar I counted 128 x HC / .1 races on the European Tour alone.
      So this argument about congestion doesn’t stick when the WT teams are sending riders to mop up in these competitions.

      • It’s not a question of congestion, it’s a question of choice.
        A team like, say, FDJ might prefer to do a smaller French race (with all the benefits for cycling that myself and others have explained here that this produces) rather than be forced to ride a race they have no interest in and that is of low quality anyway, purely because it’s a WT race.
        When the WT forces teams to partake in Paris-Roubaix, it’s not a problem. When the WT forced teams to partake in the Tour of Beijing, it was a problem. Then, it was just one sub-standard race in a country that had little interest in the sport – now there are many more. That’s not being parochial.

        • It makes the Cofidis model look like a pretty good one. Sign a big name local star, do the major races you have an interest in and fill the rest of the season doing races in your own country relavant to your sponsor.

  5. First, let me again say the entire World Tour (Heinie’s Folly) is/was a dumb idea. The teams should have boycotted this silliness when it was first implemented. The entire sport looks dysfunctional to me.
    As to the trade team TTT (should that be TTTTT?) wasn’t this put in as a sort of commercial sop to the trade teams who whined (sometimes loudly) about the lack of sponsor visibility at the World’s due to the national team format rather than trade teams? And now they want to be paid to show up?
    I’m no fan of the UCI, but these Velon people seem interested in one thing only – MONEY, especially if they can get it out of someone else’ pocket without contributing anything themselves.

    • Very strong words about Velon there. Worth bearing in mind that Velon is the teams, and, yes, they are trying to get a cut of the action. This can only be a good thing for the economics of pro cycling in my view. The charge that they do not want to contribute anything themselves is red-hot nonsense.

      If Velon is only about the money what about the UCI and the ASO? After all we are talking about the “business of sport here” not a gathering of altruistic/charitable bodies.

      • Velon is not ‘the teams’. Velon is some of the teams.
        The likes of ASO are also only interested in the money. But what that means is that they protect their races, which in the most basic terms means the races stay good – as we’ve seen for decades.
        If the teams run cycling for their own financial interests that would most probably mean all kinds of rules that protect them and thus get rid of competition.
        When the teams have too much power things like this year’s Tirreno-Adriatico happen.

  6. It’s a race simply dreamed up by the UCI to pad out their own promotion the World Championships. The TTT brings very little return to a sponsor, as two days after the event has been run the result means little to anybody, even if they can remember which team of individuals won. Adding the women’s event simply exacerbates the problem.

    The UCI would be better advised to concentrate on running top notch premium events. If they are unable to do that, then it’s probably better to let professionals take over event organization by putting the Worlds out to tender. The governing body promoting events raises its own questions. The WT is proving in both the financial and sporting sense something of a failure to all those involved. Time for a complete rethink. We still have some fantastic small events that are completely ignored because they don’t make or want WT status, whilst newcomers, based simply on finance make the cut. There is more to life than simply more money.

    If the teams show disregard for an event, what makes the UCI think it has a large supporter base and hence sponsorship value ?

    • ‘The UCI would be better advised to concentrate on running top notch premium events.’

      Their record on that is not good: Tour of Beijing, incompetent TV production of WC RR. Then again, when it comes to road cycling what is their record good on?

      • Agreed – UCI should absolutely NOT focus on running events. It is supposed to be a legislative body only, and by running events it is clearly creating a conflict of interest. No one can rely on their objectivity if they are focusing on commercially viable races as well as oversight.

      • J Evans. Thanks. You make the point clearer than I.

        The UCI should certainly stick to the administrative aspects of the sport together with encouraging wider participation, and allow event promoters to organize races. The UCI organizational record does indeed provide a sad catalog of failure in their venture into sport sponsorship, despite being in a position to award their own races whatever status they like.

        TTT. Well I know there are some who feel this event makes a contribution to the Pro calendar, but its low profile suggests this number is reasonably small. If it disappeared few would mourn its passing.

  7. Whilst not wholly unsympathetic to some of the issues of expense etc that Inrng raises in extending the WT calendar, I can’t completely agree with the objections either. It’s not as if the teams solely compete in the WT races is it?
    During the season, you can find any number of HC and 1.1 races on the go and they’ve all invariably got a strong presence from the WT teams.
    Invariably they’re often based in the heartlands though, Belgium, France, Spain and Italy.

    So is it just a matter of compensating the teams to turn up at the WC?
    Or do the teams need shaking out of their parochial comfort zones?

    • Those parochial comfort zones are usually also their sponsors’ markets and/or home bases, so unless you attract more global sponsors to pro-cycling this isn’t going to change.

      • It’s very difficult to create a truly global series that would get big audiences around the world. It could be done but it would take years to achieve this. Until then the sponsors will reflect the audience as Richard S says below.

    • What interest do the French, Belgian and Dutch state lotteries, a Belgian laminate floor manufacturer, an Italian manufacturer of sheet steel, a British broadcaster, a Spanish phone company and a German kitchen appliance company et al have in competing in far flung corners of the globe?

      • I can see rights and wrongs on both sides of the argument (in fact, on all sides since this is more like a hexagonal-shaped dice).
        But the teams, and fans, can’t go complaining about a “cluttered calendar” when, more often than not, the teams are performing in the lower category races.
        And I presume they don’t get paid to attend such races too? So it’s not entirely about money either.

        • I presume the bigger teams actually DO get paid a fair sum to attend the smaller races. It deepens the field and attracts mores spectators. I don’t think so many top riders traveled all the way up to Norway just to enter the 500kg smoked salmon sweepstake.

        • What you call “lower category races” are races that often have a rich tradition, run for decades, often have a myriad of other race classes (like kids races) accompanying them, are tied into clubs, which are important to get people into cycling, and are one of the backbones of the survival of the sport.

          Take Paris-Tours-it may not be WT and is a victim of the power struggle, but it still is a classic race, won by the greats of the sport, having a place in cycling history. And it is a favourite race of many, many fans and makes them dream and become poetic (including me, I could – and now that I thought about it, I probably will – write a poem about that wonderful autumn race).

          WT is only a label, a managenent label, even a very young label compared to the whole of cycling. This gets clear to everybody very fast, who is a bit into cycling, races and the sport’s history.

          Of course the teams get paid by ALL races, even down to the Ncups.!!! This is in the rules. Without that teams would never ride some/so many races (on top there are the special payments to bring star riders). And the races additionally have to pay the accomodations for the riders and staff. There are reasons- beside the missing income of ticket sales-why most cycling races make no money.

          Here is the rule:
          Rule 2.2.009
          …UCI WorldTour races: the organiser must pay a participation allowance of which the amount is determined by the Professional Cycling Council…
          2. UCI Europe Tour HC, class 1 and Ncup races: the organiser must pay a participation allowance for which the minimum amount is determined by the management committee…

          • They get paid an accommodation and meal expenses allowance. Not travel, sometimes not appearance money, etc. Is that correct?
            Which is not the same as being paid to turn up to a WT race, that suggests the allowances on top?

          • You find all the numbers here

            In WT-races we talk about 7.500€, in other races between 2.000 and 3.000€. On top of that races have to pay price-money (the minimum price money they have to give away you can also find under that link), a fee to the UCI and the costs for hotels etc.. And then there are of course all the costs of actually making the race happen like security,road equipment, insurances and and and…

          • @Anonymous Thank you for the link to the fee schedule.

            However, in some cases, this really is just a minimum. Often it is what you can negotiate, which comes down to how badly an organizer wants a particular team, and how badly a team wants into a particular race.

            We’ve paid significantly higher than the prescribed fees to some Pro-Conti, Conti, and even a few elite amateur teams for some of the 1.1 and 1.2 UCI races I’ve been on staff at. This is in addition to provide room and board, and providing vehicles to foreign teams who fly in for the events (and sometimes finding them local mechanics & soigneurs).

      • Well even in far flung NZ we have Quick Step, Sky and Hans Grohe. And I think we have a subsidiary of the Spanish phone company but I am not too sure of that.

      • Correct Richard S, but the bigger question is why would a sponsor NOT one of those you listed desire to tie their brand name to a team/sport that is perceived to be full of dope cheats? To me this is at least 50% of the problem, while the world economic crisis (why promote your product/service if nobody has any money to buy it?) is the other 50%.
        Until the sport deals with the half they CAN control, I can’t see things improving much, no matter what the MBAs at Velon say or do.

          • Yes, a guy with the initials J and V went back to school to earn one and since has been a vocal advocate for what boils down to taking money from ASO and putting it into his and his fellow team owners pockets. So far Velon’s (which seems to have highjacked the AIGCP?) contribution to the sport seems to be little more than complaining….and some on-board video.

    • It’s a wider discussion but I think the main problem is that teams with a WT licence are required to ride in WT races but they can choose to races in HC and 1.1 races. Forcing them to compete in races that have little to no value to them is always going to cause problems, but at least they have some of their costs covered. Writing in exceptions and forcing them to pay to compete in a race they don’t care about when it is a race you organise yourself is, frankly, taking the piss.

      • While I do not like the TTTT, it isn’t like the teams don’t know about this obligation when they apply for their WT team license or renewal. There are some things in life that are just, “a cost of doing business”. Yes they may be out of pocket for something stupid, but it is all part of getting onto the races they want, that justify their sponsors primary investments.

        Of course the UCI could pay a travel stipend and/or provide housing like other races do to help mitigate this.

    • Those ‘parochial comfort zones’ are the places without which the sport wouldn’t exist.
      Historically, that is where the interest in cycling has lain and this largely remains the case today.
      So, why would that not be the place where the biggest races are?

      Also, let’s take – for example – the Tour of Turkey. Leaving aside ethics (as always in cycling), why would this be a WT race? It doesn’t have the history, it doesn’t have the parcours, it doesn’t have the local interest, it doesn’t have the list of top winners, it clashes with the spring classics.

      No-one’s saying new races shouldn’t exist; just that they need to develop before they become a top race – as the top races did.
      The fact is, you can’t make the Tour of Turkey a top race: even if it is WT, teams are going to be sending their least favoured riders there.

      In your own country, with the increased interest in the sport, a great one-day race could have been developed (plenty of great places to have a bike race in Britain – not in the south-east of England, though). Eventually, this might have become a WT race. As it is, the RideLondon-Surrey ‘Classic’ has been parachuted straight in to WT, even though it’s an inferior race with almost no history and has a rubbish parcours.

      I’m glad that for once the teams are taking a stand (even though I suspect their motives don’t entirely match what I wish they were).

        • The make-up of the peloton is much more multi-national than it was, say, 25 years ago with the Australians, New Zealanders and Brits being particularly to the fore. There’s also Africans, South & North Americans, Japanese, Russians, various Eastern Europeans etc.
          A new Bahrain-sponsored team appearing next season.
          Heck, a Malaysian won his country’s first ever Olympic medal in the velodrome last night.
          So, like it or not, the cycling world is slowly changing and expanding.

          It may or may not be possible to attract a large global audience, but I would hazard a guess that in 25 years hence things will look different further still.

          • I agree. And the key word you use is ‘slowly’. That doesn’t apply to the UCI attempting to put new, inferior races at the same level as genuine classics (or higher, even, in the case of Paris-Tours).
            If what you want is to attract a global audience, established fans are not going to be fooled by that. New fans, however, might be. They might turn on the Abu Dhabi Tour, think ‘This is rubbish’ and forget about cycling (or at least outside of the TdF).
            Much more importantly, most cycling fans can see the many negative consequences of this new WorldTour (and have listed these here and elsewhere).

      • The Tour of Turkey has had tv coverage for years with a mix of riders from the great to the unknown and some good racing though this year saw an overall drop in the quality of the field.

        I’ll be interested to see how much it actually changes now it’s WT. Not much if anything at all is my guess. Maybe the money will be back to bring in more big names as there was a few years ago like Kittel or Cav but I doubt there will be much more depth.

        An opportunity to see what the WT really does for a race and I think you’ll proved correct that it won’t make much difference.

  8. Since this is all about money, shouldn’t it be revealed with a bit more detail how big of an influence the sponsors’ demands are on the sporting decisions of the teams? Take the start or not take the start in any given race? hire a rider or sack him? For many teams it’s quite obvious that these decisions are made with the sponsors’ wishes in the back of the mind, that is if the sponsor isn’t even directly instructing the team manager.

  9. Surely this is a no-brainer for the UCI, add it to the World Tour with a really good set of WT team points on offer – duly reflecting the fact that it is a team world championship. That would get your ‘big player’ WT teams on board. It’s not like it costs the UCI to give away extra WT points. Doing that alone may well be enough to ‘divide and conquer’ the currently unanimous standoff.

    They might also offer very basic travelling expenses so that a team can theoretically field a team on a shoestring. The money only need be enough to fly out 5 riders, 5 bikes, 1 soigneaur/ds and fund 2/3 hotel rooms. A team can then race (albeit on a shoestring) without raiding the petit-cash.

    MotoGP uses, or at least used to use, an interesting start money philosophy of paying enough start money per rider on the grid for a team to fund flights, a 2nd hand bike, 1 rider riding for free, 1 hotel room, 1 unpaid manager and 1 unpaid mechanic. If the rider crashes, the bike needs new bits, or the rider, manager and mechanic want to eat out, get paid, or not share a hotel room, the team/rider has to find some sponsorship to top up the start money. The start money functions to fill the grid even if sponsors are hard to come by.

    • Ben E – Please, please, please don’t ever use MOTOGP again as an example of anything to be emulated. It’s trying to give F1 a run in the greedy, “who-gives-a-s__t about sport” category more and more each season. A perfect example of an industry ruining as sport in pursuit of short-term monetary gains.

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