A few off-season loose ends and thoughts…
The campaign to get cyclo-cross into the Olympics isn’t stopping anytime soon and got an airing again this week. A reminder that the Winter Olympics can only have sports held on ice or snow. Now you can have a CX race on snow but the second hurdle is geographic reach, CX is only popular in a handful of countries to put it generously so the IOC isn’t going to tap new markets. Yes the Netherlands isn’t an Alpine nation but speedskating is already part of the games so that angle’s taken care of.
Keeping with the Olympics, an opinion poll in Japan suggested many don’t want the Olympics or want them postponed, the idea being that hosting hundreds of thousands of foreign travellers who will mingle will make the public health scenario worse. Now it’s not a popularity contest and the IOC and Japanese government are set on it happening. It matters though, it’s not just two weeks after the Tour de France when you suddenly take an interest in archery or gymnastics, the UCI and many other governing bodies rely on the income generated by the IOC which is shared out among other federations.
The 2024 Paris Olympics will see an equal medal count for cycling for men and women. The gap has been narrowed in recent editions but finally it’s been equalised. The price is reducing the size of the road race peloton, down to just 90 riders for men and women alike and so a small field and small teams. Unfair? Perhaps but when people say “the Olympics are too big”, presumably they mean other sports? Road cycling can cope as the Olympics aren’t central to the sport.
Staying in France the B&B Hotels-Vital Concept team is going to be named B&B Hotels in 2021 after the French farm supplies company Vital Concept pulled out of sponsorship, citing the coronavirus pandemic… …Only Vital Concept, an online retailer of farming supplies, is doing well and its parent company is preparing a stockmarket flotation.
It’s a tough time for B&B Hotels and several other teams. They’re second tier “Pro Teams” whose existence is predicated on riding their home grand tour. Only there are few wildcard invitations left. Normally the UCI would have announced which teams are in the World Tour for 2021 at the start of this month but it’s not a normal year and the UCI is likely to partially announce the results of the licence before Christmas and there could be more going into 2021. We should have 19 World Tour teams because if CCC as a sponsor has gone, Wanty has bought the existing licence. Alpecin-Fenix get an automatic invite to the World Tour races which leaves two places left for the grand tours. So who to invite” B&B manager Jérôme Pineau broke down in tears when he got an invite to the Tour at the start of the year: it meant that much. The team were decent in the Tour de France but haven’t recruited any stars to make them a must-have; but Arkéa-Samsic ought to be a solid invite only Nairo Quintana’s still under investigation in France – the case seems to be going nowhere but the wheels of justice turn very slow in France. Total Direct Energie have beefed up the team with a raft of signings. Meanwhile in Italy there are two wildcards left between Androni-Sidermec, Bardiani-CSF, Eolo-Kometa and Vini Zabù-KTM, assuming Alpecin-Fenix want to ride and RCS reward domestic teams rather than invite, say, Gazprom. Ditto Spain for Burgos-BH, Caja Rural, Kern Pharma and Euskaltel. Put simply having multiple Pro Teams in France, Italy and Spain looks unsustainable…
…but can Qhubeka-Assos keep going? It’s hoping to stay in the World Tour and has been signing a raft of riders on one year deals and apparently often on minimum wage terms. It’ll be fascinating to see how this team performs in 2021, does it chase wins in lower races or focus on the World Tour at the risk of having sand kicked in its face. For example do they take Giacomo Nizzolo and Victor Campenaerts with the hope they’ll place in a World Tour race or use them to win lower rated sprints and time trials? The team appears weak but neither Cofidis nor Intermarché-Wanty look too promising either.
One other observation is the managerial merry-go-round this year. The Manuela Fundación farce started things with a managerial clear-out chez Greenedge and in came Brent Copeland from Bahrain. Now Rod Ellingworth is leaving Bahrain for Ineos, while in comes Neil Stephens from UAE Emirates and he’ll be joined by Fabrizio Guidi from EF Pro Cycling. This doesn’t mean much, it’s just a curiosity to see several of the top squads swapping managerial staff.
Another way to recruit is from outside of the World Tour. The most notable hire is Cherie Pridham at Israel Cycling, the first woman to be a DS in the men’s World Tour. She’ll have a tough time to start but not because of gender, just because she’s an outsider. You can count only a handful of DSs at World Tour teams who are not ex-pros – note Ellingworth and Copeland mentioned just above – but the number is going up.
One thing to make life easier for a DS is the increasing homogeneity of the spring classics in Flanders. The route for the next year’s E3 Saxobank Classic was unveiled and it’s got more climbs. Yay, the more bergs the better, right? It sounds good but all the Belgian cobbled classics seem to be merging into the same format, their visual identity fading. The title sponsorship has changed because Saxo Bank bought BinckBank but the E3 label remains, it was named after a local express road that was renamed long ago but the E3 label lives on for the race… even if they’ve now dropped the name of Harelbeke from the race. Confusing. If you’re still stuck, remember the E3 isn’t run by Flanders Classics. It’s the one that launches those lame posters to get attention.
Name an early season race that is based in one place for a week and has five stages in the surrounding area? Normally the Tour Down Under comes to mind but that’s not happening so take the Etoile de Bessèges in early February instead. It’s submerged with requests from World Tour teams reports local newspaper Midi Libre. As a 2.1 status race only half the field can come from World Tour teams so they can’t all ride. It’s not going to have the same vibe, nobody posing with local wildlife, no four star hotel, no BBQ weather. Still it’s going ahead with five stages as planned, of which four should be on TV.
A long collection of shorts and to end, the news that Belgian wunderkind Cian Uijtdebroeks is joining Bora-Hansgrohe. The 17 year old with become part of a junior team run by them with a view to turning pro on a three year deal in 2022. His name is a curiosity, literally “Out of the pants” but through a quirk of history many in Flanders and the Netherlands have unusual names.