Ineos looks like the likely replacement sponsor for Sky. Touted in the British press two weeks ago as a possibility, tipped yesterday in The Cycling Podcast as a probability, things are firming up fast.
The company isn’t a household name. It’s a privately held British petrochemicals company – it has been HQ’d in Switzerland but moved back to the UK in 2017 – and started from a buyout of the chemicals business of oil major BP and it’s made owner Jim Ratcliffe a billionaire who has recently quit the UK for Monaco. The company recently bought Lausanne FC, a football club in Switzerland, and Belstaff, a brand of motorcycle clothing – that’s the leisure wear sorted – and sponsors a team in the Americas Cup sailing race. Unless you’re in the market for a tanker of vinyl acetate you’re unlikely to be a consumer of Ineos products, unlike, say Soudal adhesives, a Sky subscription or Groupama home insurance but the company can sponsor to get public goodwill much like Orica tried, and it’s also for internal management reasons, the firm can have offsite management lectures from Dave Brailsford, staff can attend pro races and… well if you were a billionaire you might just fancy owning a bike team.
Now from big budgets to sudden shortfalls. L’Equipe has a full article on Ag2r La Mondiale’s bike problems behind the paywall. You might remember the switch from Factor to Merckx, the paper says Factor couldn’t meet it’s “financial commitments” (my translation) and so the contract was broken. This left the team looking for a bike supplier late last year and they only did the deal with Merckx in November. Only this didn’t solve things, it set off a chain reaction, first the Merckx frames proved too flexible so they’re really riding Ridley frames (NB: Ridley owns Merckx). Originally they had Campagnolo parts in a deal with Merckx but the team also has Rotor and Mavic as sponsors and the Italian shifters didn’t work with the Rotor chainrings… so they’re on Shimano. They’re also sponsored by Vredestein but as L’Equipe reports the riders don’t like them in the wet so they’re using Continental tires.
Tramadol is banned in competition now which is good news, Paris-Nice marked the first race where the new tests happened. Corticosteroid abuse is next on the list but it’s proving harder. The UCI wants to take a cue from the MPCC’s cortisol health checks but the MPCC is a voluntary, self-regulating body where teams can leave, and some have withdrawn in the Saint Augustine “give me chastity, just not today” manner. The UCI however needs to have a more watertight system which is not elective and controlling for cortisol levels is harder so it’s going to take more time.
Staying with anti-doping for a moment, the Operation Aderlass hasn’t caught any more cyclists beyond Stefan Denifl and Georg Preidler. The two skiers caught have spoken to the Austrian media and knowing their time in sport is up, one says he wants to become a doctor and the other a policeman. Perhaps not. More fundamentally it also emerged that the blood samples stored included some in a deep freeze, kept at -82°C which means the pouches could be held in reserve for years. The police are now checking the codenames and will do DNA checks against the bags seized in Erfurt Germany. Awkwardly the final stage of the Deutschland Tour this year will finish in Erfurt.
Looking further ahead than this summer, the 2024 Worlds have gone to Zürich, Switzerland. Here’s the list of venues selected already:
- 2019 Yorkshire, Great Britain
- 2020 Aigle-Martigny, Switzerland
- 2021 Flanders, Belgium
- 2022 Wollongong, Australia
- 2023 Glasgow, Great Britain
- 2024 Zürich, Switzerland
2025 hasn’t been decided with UCI likely to chose later this year between Rwanda and Morocco and Gabon as the outsider. The UK and Switzerland each get two Worlds but it’s not quite a story of each country having two bites of the cake. Aigle only happened after the Italian bid to host the Worlds fell through so it was encouraged to bid and the stated hosting fee of CHF 6.3 million is below the going rate in the past. Glasgow is the special worlds that’ll host track, MTB and more all together and in both cases they’re not really national bids but local, regional ones. It’s a long way out but the Zürich course has already been unveiled, it looks like a punchy course with over 4,000m of vertical gain.
Lastly Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico clash and it can look odd that two World Tour races overlap, a problem the sport ought to solve. But the prime audience for each race is domestic so they can exist in their own bubbles without disturbing the other which explains why the pressure isn’t that big, ASO and RCS could change the calendar with an email or two if they wanted. Also each race has a field of 161 riders so 322 riders in total but there are over 500 World Tour riders alone and more from the Pro Conti invitees as well. Put this way we need two races as they offer a contest in themselves and also preparation ahead of the classics. But it’s too much to do daily previews for both…