Enjoy Milan-Sanremo? In France only 20,000 people watched the race according to audience measurement data, compared to over one million one year ago. This could be a problem for the sport as what happens in France today risks happening in other countries too.
To explain more, US company Discovery has bought the rights to RCS’s portfolio of races like Milan-Sanremo, the Giro and more for this year and beyond. It has Discovery+ which is an online streaming platform and plans to launch this in Europe soon, where it’ll be similar Eurosport Player and GCN, the two twin subscription services part of Discovery’s media empire only instead of general sport and cycling, it’ll offer a range of channels but Eurosport’s portfolio of sport, including cycling, will be an asset. So far so good only until now Eurosport in France, like many other countries, meant Eurosport 1, a channel often available via cable or satellite packages for which people subscribe; or free to air in Germany. But Milan-Sanremo wasn’t shown on this channel in France and many Giro stages won’t be either. Instead as part of the push for Discovery+, the plan is to get people to subscribe online for Eurosport Player or GCN, a subscription on top of Eurosport’s TV service that many pay for. Now you might be thinking “no problem, I’m a Player/GCN subscriber” but the problem is you’re a niche fan – it’s why you’re reading a cycling blog now – and means that just 20,000 subscribers watched Sanremo last Saturday when a million had watched it on free-to-air L’Equipe TV last year, it’s this mass audience at stake. RCS might be earning more in rights income, presumably, but at the risk of broadcasting to the already converted rather than the mass market which is what sponsors like, say, Jumbo, Segafredo or Hansgrohe want so there’s a change to the sport’s market equilibrium. It’s not an urgent story because frankly the French market is saturated by the Tour de France coverage but one to watch as if more races go this way – and Discovery has deep pockets – then a part of cycling’s calendar risks vanishing from the public consciousness in large, established markets. You’ll still be able to watch the races, but colleagues, friends, neighbours and the general mass market on which pro cycling’s model is based may not notice.
One thing the mass audience may wonder about is Chris Froome’s form as he’s been spotted sipping the dreaded Cola de Peloton at the Volta a Catalunya. Everyone can see things are hard right now and several pieces online are asking if he can recover some form of old. Only the Tour de France counts. Catalunya today, Romandie tomorrow or even the Dauphiné in June are still training and just returning to the Tour de France aiming for a stage and top-10 would be solid. But it’s difficult because if there’s little progress neither he nor the team will want to say it out loud for now. So all sides have to talk of patience and progress, while hoping for the best.
Another rider hoping for stage race success has been Bob Jungels who switched to Ag2r Citroën over the winter and talked about targetting stage races instead of the classics, only he finished 27th in Paris-Nice and is 107th in the Volta a Catalunya at the moment. Another “leaves Quickstep, struggles” story? Maybe but word from Luxembourg newspaper Wort says he’s suffering with back problems so a real injury rather than a dip.
It’s Liar’s Week. Surely there’s no more deceitful slot on the calendar of pro cycling than this week. In Italy there’s the Settimana Coppi e Bartali, literally the Coppi and Bartali Week only it’s not a week, just five days. On Friday we’ve got the E3 Saxo Bank Classic, named after the E3 express road which was renamed the E17 many years ago. On Sunday we’ve got Gent-Wevelgem which doesn’t start in Gent but Ieper (Ypres) instead. It’s more charming than outrageous and many races have quirks like this, this week seems to lump several together. At least the two “Three Days of De Panne” one day races have been rebranded.
Talking of a race that doesn’t start where it pretends to, the question for Paris-Roubaix is not where it starts but whether it starts.The normally well-connected Le Parisien newspaper says it’ll be postponed, the even better-connected L’Equipe says organisers ASO are still trying to explore ways to ensure the races happen, particularly to ban people from gathering by the road. It’s a complicated political and administrative matrix with the prefet, a civil servant appointed by central government to oversee the region, sounding like he wants to say non to the race but some local politicians are calling for the race to happen and there will be discussions between the health ministry, the sports ministry and so on. A postponement to October sounds possible but it’s just not the same. While racing happens just over the border in Belgium, this is only a handful of pro races – the amateur calendar is scrapped – and crucially in a country with different laws, different case counts, different hospital occupancy rates.