Thursday Shorts

La Gazzetta Dello Sport reports that Ecopetrol could be the sponsor to replace Sky, that it could lead a collection of Colombian firms who would take over and turn Team Sky into a Colombian vehicle. It’s an oxymoronic name for a firm but as a Twitter correspondent explains it comes from Empresa COlombiana de PETROLeos or “Colombian Oil Company”.

It’s both a big company with profits of over $2 billion, but a relatively small oil producer with just under two billion barrels of proven reserves which is the amount by which the likes of Exxon and Saudi Aramco increased their reserves recently, the latest increase in their reserves is roughly what Ecopetrol sits on. Last week the Colombian press reported that Rigoberto Urán met with the President and the sports minister to discuss a national team but curiously there was no mention of Dave Brailsford… but he was there. Over on Strava Dave Brailsford writes about meeting El Presidente (as well as travelling to Miami, London and then going back to Colombia this weekend, perhaps not a journey you’d do for fun). Meetings are happening and it’s not every day a team manager sits down with a head of state and this is oil well and good but there’s still a clock ticking, if there’s no news by March then riders and their agents may get restless: better to secure a contract at today’s prices rather than wait until later this year when there could be a flood of Sky riders on the market so whatever the outcome the new sponsor will have to be lined up very soon.

  • Sidenote: Following on from Cipollini’s call for an Italian national team the other day, national projects rarely work well in cycling. Rather than being able to recruit from 500 World Tour riders, a team is narrowed down to domestic ones. Now some nations have a deep talent pool but it can lead to “meal tickets” with riders hired because of their nationality or even regional identities. Sky is unlikely to opt for this, just as it’s a British team but only has eight Britons on a roster of 29 today.

Doctor vs patience: Shopping far afield for sponsorsan help in other ways too with the British media reporting on the delayed medical tribunal for Doctor Freeman, the former British Cycling and Team Sky medic: a cloud hanging over the team. I spent too long reading PDF downloads of the British General Medical Council’s tribunal rules so you don’t have too and a summary is this is a civil hearing where they have to give Doctor Freeman and his representatives every opportunity to put their case because otherwise trying to rush things would leave them open to appeal and even court case. There’s no time limit and however often Freeman seems unable to attend he has to be given every courtesy to cooperate, the tribunal can’t impose a deadline to show up. What’s at stake in the first order is Freeman’s right to work as a medic in the UK but for most readers it’s the second order consequences that are worth watching, if during the process it emerges that Freeman did indeed deliberately order testosterone, a banned substance, then he is open to a doping ban himself just, for the want of a better term, on possession (WADA Rule 2.6.2). As a medic if he did treat a member of the public as part of his private practice then he’d likely have medical notes, prescriptions, correspondence and other records to back this up. If this was for a rider on Team Sky or the British track team – note the corticosteroid used by Bradley Wiggins was delivered around the same time – then things get way more serious but for now we’re struck in the procedural and pre-hearing phase, it’s a case to watch but nothing can kickstart things.

A tale of two races: Watching the Tour of Colombia you can see the passion, if little else given the rather weak TV production. The huge crowds are a contrast to the upcoming UAE Tour where teams go to practice their echelon formations and quite possibly collect appearance fees but the event feels unloved and lacks soul. Cyclingtips has a good read about awarding races to countries with questions over their human rights record but I’m not sure the UCI could ever rule this way, it is an international governing body, it can’t have member federations from all around the world one minute, then deny them races the next: doubly so because it is constitutionally tied to the Olympic movement and its principal of political neutrality. But what if we didn’t look to the UCI to act for us? If you’re not happy about the UAE Tour or think Bahrain is a dubious team sponsor then switch off, unfollow or ignore them and their sponsors.

Summer Rainbows: Staying with the UCI, it’s been announced the 2023 World Championships will go to Scotland. Two things are different here, first that the World Championships will be multi-disciplinary with BMX, track, MTB and more all together and at the same time. It was a campaign pledge by David Lappartient and made good electoral sense because if many of us see the UCI through the lense of road cycling, it does a lot more and here’s a way to get the whole “family” together and therefore it’s of big interest to lots of cycling officials… who make up the electorate in the UCI. This explains the why and how this has happened. But it’s not all Beltway dealings, it’s also mouthwatering. Why? Because the championships are going to be held in August rather than the current slot of late September and this means the potential for riders coming off the back of the Tour de France to take part, much like things used to be once upon a time (and a bit like we see in the Clásica de San Sebastián) meaning a lot of big names in contention rather than those who are still motivated come the end of the season.

2020 Worlds course: Keeping with the Worlds, the UCI has awarded the 2020 edition to… Aigle in Switzerland, the town where the governing body is based. It sounds like a bro deal but in a press conference today Aigle and co-host of Martigny, another town a short spin up the Rhone valley, mention a budget of CHF 17 million which isn’t cheap. Aigle ought to be a bigger cycling destination with the nearby mountain roads it has to offer and the route will showcase some of this. Earlier today the press conference confirmed the route with finishing laps for the road race borrowing the lower slopes of the Col de Forclaz, 3.9km at over 9% so it’s for the climbers. The TT events will be pan flat in the Rhone valley.

Down to three: talking of Bahrain-Merida earlier, they’re one of only three World Tour teams left without a win so far this season with Ag2r La Mondiale and Team Sunweb. Does it matter? Every team wants to get an early win, it’s more a problem if nobody has won by the end of April. At a guess Ag2r are likely to be the stragglers because they don’t have a great house sprinter, they have to win from breakaways which are statistically less likely to make it to the finish, and then to win from this.

Shimpagnolo: staying with Ag2r another challenge is building their bikes. The team website listed Campagnolo has an official supplier earlier this week but there’s now a blank white square and the team is switching to Shimano reports Some teams do still buy their own groupsets but it’s unusual to change during a season. The team is still without new TT bikes because their new sponsor Eddy Merckx doesn’t make them, it’s a brand owned by Ridley.

Points mean places: In an interview with Het Nieuwsblad, Israel Academy DS Eric Van Lanker explains the team wants to place riders as often as possible in order to win UCI points because this will land them invitations under the new UCI rules for 2020. Of course winning delivers more points but placing several riders in the top-10 can achieve this and is arguably easier; Wanty-Groupe Gobert executed this at the Tour de France last year during the first week, for example with  6th, 9th and 10th place on a sprint stage when if the trio had worked together in a train they’d still have almost no chance of the win. The result was they won the team prize that day and got on the podium, were named and so on and it was valuable to them. It creates a paradox though as a team like Israel Academy aiming to place for points may not enliven a race as much as the organisers want and so they could struggle for invitations if they don’t show some flair too. The problem here is the system – if teams feel they’ll be rewarded for conservative results then they’re making a rational response – which encourages this when it ought to ask lesser teams to take longshots.

51 thoughts on “Thursday Shorts”

  1. I find the megachampionship idea puzzling. How many countries can boast a worlds compatible velodrome? Certainly not Rwanda, who was encouraged to host by… UCI. Am I missing something here?

    • Indeed, it’s restrictive but it’ll only be once every four years it seems… at most. There might be a possibility to exploit the Olympics, the UCI could sell it as a test event so the velodrome, MTB, road etc can be tested but sometimes these facilities aren’t ready.

      2020 is Aigle-Martigny, 2021 is Flanders, 2024 is Zurich or Bern… which leaves 20232025 for Rwanda or Gabon at the moment for the road worlds only.

        • Looks like a lot of fun, with the variety of events on offer (list from UCI page):

          The UCI currently stages annual World Championships in each of its disciplines in different host cities around the world. The new UCI Cycling World Championships will, in a single region, bring 13 UCI World Championships together every four years starting from 2023:

          • UCI Road World Championships
          • UCI Para-cycling Road World Championships
          • UCI Track Cycling World Championships presented by Tissot
          • UCI Para-cycling Track World Championships
          • UCI Mountain Bike Cross-country World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz
          • UCI Mountain Bike Downhill World Championships presented by Mercedes-Benz
          • UCI Mountain Bike Marathon World Championships
          • UCI Mountain Bike Cross Country Eliminator World Championships
          • UCI Trials World Championships
          • UCI BMX Freestyle Park World Championships
          • UCI BMX World Championships
          • UCI Indoor Cycling World Championships
          • UCI Gran Fondo World Championships

      • It would be somewhat demeaning to use a World Championship as a test event. Class 2 is the normal level for Olympic test events.

        The road test event for Tokyo will be a Class 2 race, and will be a partial test only as there is plenty of history with using the Mt Fuji road in the Tour of Japan.

  2. Re: Worlds and “meaning a lot of big names in contention rather than those who are still motivated come the end of the season.”

    Looking at the winners from the past 15 years there’s only Rui Costa who isn’t a genuine cycling megastar. I don’t mind them moving it but doubt it’ll change too many things.

    Great news from a UK perspective that we have both Yorkshire and Scotland to look forward to in the next few years though, and Scotland in August might be a touch warmer than late Sep/Oct…

  3. Hmm, interesting link to the thoughtful CT article on human rights.
    If the Arab races, for instance, exist to promote the states and their image, don’t the respective Arab teams do likewise?
    And if they do, what does that say for the riders that *choose* to take the money and promote that team in the process?

    • I had a feeling reading this article that the author was trying to find an excuse for the riders while putting all the blame on race organizers and UCI.
      A subject we all trying to digest for the past 10-15 years.

      • I agree maximflyer. That was my one problem with the CT article, it’s UCI bashing when the issue is much more complicated than that. If there was a system, as suggested in the article, whereby the index of human rights was used, where would Bahrain, UAE, Russia etc rank?
        If the World Tour avoided such places, it couldn’t very well have their teams either?
        There’s vast amounts of Arab investment, for instance, across many sports and throughout many countries in general.

        And it’s not as if cycling itself can be held up as a paragon of virtue in any case?

  4. Based on the looks of some of the most recent offerings I can’t help but think “Shimagnolo” when I see photos. Ol’ Tullio’s got to be doing 360’s in his grave between this and seeing his greatest invention being replaced by gawdawful thru-axles 🙁
    As was pointed out elsewhere, DB might ring up Claudio Corti before he puts any belief in the Colombian government as a reliable sponsor? It would be quite a switch from saving the whales from plastics to promoting fossil-fuel production – illustrating just how dire the pro cycling situation has become.
    Regarding The Lion King and his Italian national team pipe dream – the current Italian government is already saying “We’re here to stay!” after less than one year, so they won’t be around long I’d guess? 🙂

    • “It would be quite a switch from saving the whales from plastics to promoting fossil-fuel production – illustrating just how dire the pro cycling situation has become.”

      My thoughts exactly – a remarkable turnaround. Though we have seen some Greenwashing in Formula 1 this year so who knows what guise Oil sponsorship will take. Ferrari’s main sponsor is “Mission Winnow” this season ( and Ducati in MotoGP too for good measure) but a cursory dig finds this is a caring/sharing offshoot of Philip Morris, the tobacco company that owns longstanding partners Marlboro. See also Bahrain-Merida’s partners McLaren, whose Formula 1 cars have “A Better Tomorrow” all over them this year – that’s a wheeze thought up by British American Tobacco. They’re clearly seeing tobacco on the slide so are doing all they can to look better and ensure their survival.

  5. The Giro used to be my favourite Grand Tour, but I’ll never watch it again after last year’s little trip…

    I’d have presumes Ag2r would have used Ridley Dean’s in absence of Merckx having a model. Although the old Factor ones may be faster than the Dean?

  6. Sky’s potential sponsorship deal explains a lot about why Froomey and his squad are racing in Colombia right now. Great to see a big time sponsor from Colombia, a nation with a deep talent pool–especially recently in the past five years or so. Like Australia over a decade ago, with big local sponsorship will come more national talent in the pro peloton. Cycling going global is the name of the game–keep on rolling amigos!

  7. Regarding the worlds moving to August being construed as a good thing… I’d be careful what you wished for. Weren’t the Worlds originally moved to later in the season because the season used to finish ridiculously early, with most riders winding down with a few post Tour/Worlds crits in August? Moving the Worlds to August might get you a strong field of GT contenders ling up, but it might also leave you with a thin entry at the Vuelta and Larry T winning Lombardia. Wasn’t one of the most positive side effects of moving the Worlds to later on that Lombardia got a decent field again after years of dwindling importance? Why are they moving it to August in Scotland? Are they worried that the weather in Scotland at the end of September is so bad nobody will watch at the roadside, or that it will paint the tourist industry there in a bad picture? Cop a bad day in Scotland in August and it can still seem like January, one month wont make a massive difference.

    • The Edinburgh Festival and Military Tattoo is held across August, whilst the WC will be centred in Glasgow, I understand.
      Co-working or local one upmanship, tourist board or meteorology board?
      Still cracking though.

    • “Wasn’t one of the most positive side effects of moving the Worlds to later on that Lombardia got a decent field again after years of dwindling importance? ” is an interesting argument but I wonder if there’s any truth to it? A look at the Lombardia results list over the decades doesn’t indicate much change that I can see. I’m still at a loss to understand why they moved Worlds to such a late date in the season in the first place – I just chalked it up to “Heinie’s Folly”
      BTW- I couldn’t win Lombardia unless they let me use a motorcycle!!

  8. I am very surprised AG2R do not have new TT bikes yet. Knowing that if you are going to win a GT TT”ing is essential, how can the team let this happen. If you cant sort something as simple as getting the correct bike, I have no sympathy when July rolls around and Bardet is once again not in contention due to his and the teams poor TT ability.

    They know this is his and the teams weakness yet, make absolutely no effort to improve, indeed it appears they are trying their best to become worse at the discipline.

    • They have worked hard on Bardet’s TT, with training, multiple wind tunnel sessions and he rides his TT bike a lot but his build isn’t suited to it, he’s always going to find a TT is about limiting losses.

  9. What is it with AG2R and bike sponsors that don’t make a TT bike? If I remember rightly the first year of the Factor bikes they didn’t have one either. It seems so short sighted, especially as they (OK, mostly Bardet) repeatedly suffer reduced results because of poor TT performances. How hard would it be to get a dozen TT frames from an open mould Chinese source, spray them in team colours and add a sponsor sticker?

    I wonder if the combining of the UCI Worlds will lead to a harmonisation of the prize money. I doubt it. August seems a much better time though, Tour people can try to hold their peak, Vuelta people can peak earlier. It’ll be a good summer!

    • What is the market for UCI-legal time trial machines? My guess is that it’s pretty small and just one more reason these silly things should be outlawed by the rules. While I think they should ban the entire “splayed out on the bike trying to pedal, while at the same time looking like a cat scraping its a– on the living room carpet” riding position, I’d be fine with them riding their regular roadracing bike (even if it was an “aero” road bike) with some extensions clamped on the bars and a disc wheel. The same guys win the time-trials in the flyaway races when they’re not allowed to bring the time-trial specific machines anyway – so why bother?
      Is the “primacy of man over machine” bit still in the UCI charter?

        • Great! Thanks. Now if it could become something they pay attention to I’d be really happy. Perhaps there should be a “claiming price” as in anyone in the race could buy any other rider’s machine for a set price? Of course a team with Pinarello Dogmas by the dozens wouldn’t care, so perhaps a limit on the MSRP?
          If the sponsor had to sell those Dogmas for $5K a copy (enough to field a quality bike at the weight limit) in order to supply them to the team, other teams could afford to buy them or perhaps Louis Vuitton…er….Pinarello/SKY wouldn’t be providing such fancy equipment and getting those marginal gains it supposedly provides?
          In addition it would cost less for the punters to have a bike just like the one their hero races on.

  10. When I first saw the cover photo I thought ‘Rupert Murdoch’…long-term associations rubbing off perhaps?
    If AG2R need to pass on some EPS components, I’ll be more than happy to help them out; je te remerci.

  11. re Points make places, I finally managed to work out the “technical rankings” that UCI will allegedly use to select next year’s WT teams. Assuming that trade teams benefit from their riders results for national teams (which appears to be the UCI’s approach in the current team rankings), then it’s actually quite close between:
    Dimension Data, and
    Direct Energie (in that order),
    with CCC some way behind.

    Depending on whether the UCI considers CCC to be a successor to BMC, then it looks like:
    * Cofidis and Wanty will replace Dimension Data and CCC (if it does not get BMC’s points); or
    * Cofidis will replace Dimension Data (if CCC does get BMC’s points).

    • CCC certainly is a continuation of BMC, the WT licence has been held by the same party (Continuum Sports LLC) all the way through the sponsor change.

        • The UCI’s press releases regarding the registration of teams for 2019 also made it clear that CCC was being registered under the regulation regarding a continuing team, not a new team.

          The current world ranking for CCC appears to be correct for treating them as a continuing team. Them not having the points from Porte, Dennis etc is correct, because those points transferred to Trek, Bahrain etc on January 1.

  12. I guess some riders who do track as well as road, wont like Worlds at same time in summer. Dumb idea, if you ask me.

    re: Tour Colombia
    I really like the idea, the country and the field of this race. But the coverage last year was a total mess, and they learned absolutely nothing for this year. I don’t get how production companys struggle to reach the lowest standards of a race coverage, like display of time gaps and “km to go”. This is not rocket science and Colombia is a technically innovative country. Just ask the guys from the cartels. As long as they’re not in meetings with Brailsford.

  13. Great to hear Sky might be rolling on again. I hope they plan to keep some semblance of a British core but we shall see! Fingers crossed.

    I’m quite interested to know the reasons behind moving the World Champs to August though. I wonder what sort of knock-on effect this will have with the Vuelta… Happy to have it in Scotland though. Should be great!

  14. Sky in Colombia?
    Some might say a marriage made in heaven:

    If you wonder why Quintana holds a place in many hearts, read his take on Colombia and racing:

    “’There is a lot of talent in Colombia and another biking phenomenon could emerge tomorrow,’ Quintana, 27, said at a Bogotá news conference in April. ‘But this is not due to support from our sports officials.’”

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