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Book Review: Le Fric


Le Fric Family, Power, Money: The Business of the Tour de France by Alex Duff

This is a history of the Tour de France as a business. It could be dry but it’s a rip-roaring read about war, money, politics and sport.

Much is made of cycling’s business model being broken. Only team budgets are higher than ever, rider wages have soared, contracts are longer, there’s more racing on TV, the women’s peloton and calendar are expanding fast, safety and employment rules protect more. It’s all been resilient enough to survive chronic doping scandals and pro cycling coped well with the pandemic, racing when other sports were stopped. Still, the complaints come from team managers who face the stress of having to keep sponsorship revenues flowing because they have no assets. Instead the assets are elsewhere and the Tour de France is perhaps the biggest. Who owns it? The Amaury family. How did this system arise? Le Fric is here to explain plenty.

Le fric is French slang for money and this is a “follow the money” tale of the Tour de France by Alex Duff, for many years a reporter with Bloomberg, the business news company. To tell the story of the Tour is also a history of those behind it, particularly the Amaury family and it covers publisher Emilien Amaury’s rags to richesse story, and later the inheritance battles in the family. Things are calmer today with matriarch Marie-Odile in charge, and her son Jean-Etienne at the helm of Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), the subsidiary which has become the family’s golden goose. For years the Tour de France was kept afloat because it boosted newspaper sales, now the race is far more lucrative than any of the newspapers.

Jean-Etienne Amaury and Chris Froome in Shanghai, 2017

If you want a more definitive history of the Tour de France that explores the race, route, riders and more, Christopher Thomson’s Tour de France is a thorough primer. Le Fric is more about the business angles, with the changing ownership, the publicity caravan, the influence of different race directors and the wider role of the Amaury family over the years in the French media landscape. It covers the ownership changes of the Tour de France and the journey to becoming a jewel of the Amaury media empire. Crucially the book explains outs that while there’s one legal owner, there’s moral owner in the roadside public plus a political angle with French politicians keen to cherish the race, both for their advantage but also as an asset that’s as much a part of the country’s heritage as the Eiffel tower or Bordeaux vineyards.

Le Fric’s is an easy read, a page turner with the feel of a polished magazine feature rather than a history book. In order to do this, the book can jump forward through time, skipping over quieter parts of the Tour de France’s history which means it’s not a definitive history of the Tour de France, nor the whole Amaury media empire, but it does tell plenty.

The latter part of the book explores the various efforts to challenge the Tour de France and its owners ASO this century. There have been mooted breakaway leagues that tried to displace ASO’s calendar of races; then the “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em” takeover bids. Revisiting this subject a decade one does make you wonder what on earth they were thinking, earnest proposals from serious people that wanted to cut the Giro and Vuelta down to ten days to make room for new events in Argentina, Australia, Canada, China, Qatar, South Africa, US: each with a sprint stage, mountain stage, TT and a final GC, geography permitting. Here Duff’s time at Bloomberg comes to the fore, he spent time covering the Tour but also the business behind and there are accounts from those working on the deals. It’s not a point laboured by the book, but they all failed because while they were long on finance, they were short other forms of capital, be it cultural, social and political.

Paradoxically while the sport has grown in recent years, the financial bidders have retreated. The Velon group of teams was created to unite teams in their quest to challenge ASO and grab more revenues but it has stalled, its accounts show negative equity, although it’s got a slowburn law suit with the European Commission that could prove consequential but that’s versus the UCI, so ASO is an onlooker. The book ends on this note with the Amaury family now firmly in charge and there’s a now a truce, even gradual cooperation, such as the current Netflix documentary where both ASO and Velon teams are cooperating.

The 300 pages flew by but there were a few prosaic potholes, for example when describing the initial editions of the Tour de France Duff evokes a newspaper labelling riders as forçats de la route (roughly the “slave labourers of the road”) but was this not a label given by the journalist Albert Londres later on in 1924? Or Duff writes in passing that Marc Madiot had an aluminium frame for one of his Paris-Roubaix wins but surely it was steel? Now there are some cycling books with enough mistakes that make you question the author and their work, an assemblage of third hand anecdotes harvested from Wikipedia in order to print something in time for the Tour de France. This certainly isn’t one of them, instead there are copious footmarks, an index, sources are cited and the author’s sat down for interviews with a range of sources, it’s well-researched and sheds light on the recent breakaway league plans and takeover with fresh information.

The Verdict
A very enjoyable read. Now this blog covers pro cycling in terms of both wheeling and dealing with a stage preview her and  a set of team accounts there, so the book’s subject material is bound to be of keen interest, but if you’re here you might like the subject too. It would be easy to produce something that’s as arid as Mont Ventoux in August but this book deftly covers the big stories and personalities without getting sensational, it’s a page-turner but informative and well-sourced too. Sports fans should enjoy it and anyone with an interest media history in France would do well to read it too.

  • A digital copy of the book was sent free for review

More book reviews at inrng.com/books

Comments on this entry are closed.

  • plurien Thursday, 16 June 2022, 10:19 am

    ASO must be unique among the giants of sport business in having no direct income from fans. So many of us that stand by the road.
    -Is this the admission that actually the roadside is not the greatest place to watch? And does it matter, when there’s the caravane publicitaire to get excited about?!

    • The Inner Ring Thursday, 16 June 2022, 10:58 am

      Go to the road, but treat it first as a picnic, second as a bike race.

      I remember a few years ago going to see a stage and having parked the car and started walking towards the race route, there were people going in the other direction carrying folding chairs, cool bags for food etc. Surely I hadn’t missed the race (I’d written a preview and knew the timings after all)? No, they were just going home once the caravan had passed and weren’t bothered by the race due an hour later.

      The caravan is good business. If people were in the street or a market square and some corporate marketing stunt was there, many would avoid it but here people go to it. Watching adults dive into ditches to recover a keyring is memorable, especially when they elbow out children for it. Apparently Nestlé can track sales of its products in the wake of the caravan and the boost is big, a 20% increase according to one report and notably there are many blue-chip sponsors in the caravan who will sponsor the race but are still afraid to back a team.

      • gabriele Thursday, 16 June 2022, 12:02 pm

        Surely Larry T went more often than anybody else here to watch the Giro from the roadside, so his take will probably be more probing, but out of my personal sample of a dozen or so Giro stages, I really can’t recall anything close in terms of superior excitement for the caravan. People watch, some find it fun, no doubt they grab the goods, but the main focus by very very far was always the race. Admittedly, I tended to go watching stages with a technical interest of sort (which doesn’t make much sense, indeed! Or, better said, yeah they ride slower so you can see ’em better), which often implied going to some remote climb where the greatest part of the frankly huge crowds were not generic locals but cycling fans. Perhaps in Italy’s case the above described attitude might be similar to the Villaggio di partenza and Villaggio di arrivo, where many locals flood in because of pure curiosity and the party-like atmosphere, even more so thanks to their less exclusive or stressful mood when compared to the TDF, so you can very easily approach athletes, bikes etc.
        Another fun aspect of the Giro’s traditional roadside public which now definitely changed is that yes they got folding chairs, cooling bags for food and drink, barbecue even, but so often before the smartphone age you saw people with a power generator and their TV… they brought both bulks to some improbable mountainside in order to watch the stage although they also waited for the race on the roadside (as a crazy reply of sort to what plurien noted above).

        • The Inner Ring Thursday, 16 June 2022, 12:45 pm

          I think the timing makes a big difference, if the Tour was held in June or September than only people who really wanted to go to the race would go, while in July it’s holiday time and there are claims of 12 million people by the road so only a small portion of them will be actual cycling fans. But this is what makes the Tour such an asset, and not just financially so as it’s become a part of the socio-cultural landscape of France.

        • Larry T Friday, 17 June 2022, 7:16 am

          I wrote this http://www.bikeraceinfo.com/commentary/giro-versus-tour-g.html awhile ago but none of my visits since then to Le Grand Boucle or La Corsa Rosa have changed my view. As Mr. INRG notes, perhaps July has something to do with the “spectacle” nature of LeTour vs the bike race that is Il Giro? While I’ve never seen people at the roadside in France actually leave post-publicity caravan, it’s clear that a whole lot of them wouldn’t know Bardet from Demare while the fans at the roadside in Italy are much more interested in an actual bike race. Perhaps that’s why the Giro has never had a lot of success with the caravan?

          • ChuckB Friday, 17 June 2022, 10:27 am

            I respectfully disagree. Admittedly this is pure anecdotal evidence, but every time I’ve been on the Galibier or Izoard slopes the vast majority of onlookers around were also die hard cycling fans, or to be more accurate, had followed at least one die hard cycling fan in their group. Very few casual bystanders. I am always puzzled by this road side presence actually, the endless line of caravans parked alongside the road on the Lautaret 2 days before the race arrives (as the actual official camping ground at the col is full weeks before) is a sight in itself. A lot of these people actually follow the parcours with their camper vans precisely because of this atmosphere, and have been doing so for years and years. They travel with friends, and I’m sure most could spot the difference between Bruno Armirail and Sebastien Reichenbach from a distance (I certainly couldn’t).
            Looking forward to see you on the Granon this year ? I’ll be here ! Planning to ride the gravel back road to get to the top on D-Day, as the main road will most likely be shut down fairly early.

            Oh, and one last word: It may indeed be LE tour but It’s LA grandE Boucle. Same as in Italian… Easy ! 🙂

          • Paul Saturday, 18 June 2022, 11:05 am

            Just read your comment piece Larry comparing giro and tour. Thanks for sharing. As a French resident for over 10 years and occasional visitor to Italy your broader comments on differences in Italian and French culture ring true. Enjoyed the comparison between hotels, food and hospitality gene! And having been witness to brusque heavy handed gendarmes at the tour I know what you mean by being unceremoniously yanked!

  • MellowVelo Thursday, 16 June 2022, 3:32 pm

    Tv and in person attendance are not mutually exclusive, though. When we lived in France, we would always go to ‘watch the race’ if it passed within two hours drive of us ( even though we knew we would be watching the highlights later to try and find out what actually happened.) there is just a particular excitement about actually seeing the peloton whizzing past, trying to spot your favourite riders ( not a hope usually).

    We would never have become interested if the TDF hadn’t come to our home town. We went down early for the bread, thinking that the place would be packed later. Eerily quiet, most shops shut so the staff could go to the Tour, or just have a day off, this is France, you know. So we found a nice shady place by the river, bought some lunch…. That was it , hooked through the gills. Now watching more and more, all the GT, week races , have views on the main men, team management etc. Oh, and the key ring with the cow thrown into the crowd by an agri business still opens the garage door, ten years on. It was caught though, not retrieved from a ditch!

    • The Inner Ring Thursday, 16 June 2022, 3:36 pm

      The RAGT cow, still got mine too but an ear has fallen off 😉

      I would recommend going to see the race at some point to anyone, it is an experience. Even if just flies past, it is a sight to behold, plus there’s so much more you don’t see on TV. Villages are decorated and you sense the importance of being on the map that day, the peloton is fast but there are also sounds, and smells (washing powder in the morning, sweat later on) and more.

      • Steve Thursday, 16 June 2022, 6:25 pm

        I still can’t believe I caught a snap bracelet one-handed hurled from a vehicle doing at least sixty kph when the Tour went within two hundred metres of my home a few years ago. I got a polka dot casquette too but my daughter had lost it before we even got home. Kids!

      • RAGT Friday, 17 June 2022, 9:12 am
      • Michael Friday, 17 June 2022, 11:12 am

        I agree. Nothing like seeing it in the flesh. Best thing is to find a cafe or restaurant with a tv. Wait there all day watching live, go outside when the caravan and race pass, then go back in, have a few more beers or vino and just soak it all up. It is a cultural phenomenon and one that words, pictures and tv just can’t show or explain.

      • MellowVelo Friday, 17 June 2022, 3:11 pm

        Yep, ours has lost an ear, too! Is this a breed characteristic?

      • Mikael Aagaard Saturday, 18 June 2022, 10:46 am

        I just can’t wait for the start in Denmark, while I acknowledge that the more authentic experiences described above are found in the French heartland. But as a Dane currently living in northern Norway I have been looking forward to this ever since it was announced.
        In a danish cycling podcast, Alex Pedersen, one of the last amateur World Cup winners, and one of the driving forces behind the Tour start in Denmark, said that the Dane’s probably don’t understand the enormity of the Tour, before they actually see it.
        So caravan, riders, starting village, helicopters, French motorists, the whole spectacle bring it on!

  • JamesG Thursday, 16 June 2022, 4:30 pm

    There’s a small error in your review: the rags to riches story belongs to Émilien Amaury; his grandson Jean-Étienne is the current president of ASO.

    • The Inner Ring Thursday, 16 June 2022, 5:02 pm

      Emilien, not Etienne, of course. Fixed now, thanks.

  • Karsten Thursday, 16 June 2022, 7:58 pm

    Pleased the TdF was never sold to some oligarch or venture capitalist fund, they would have ruined it like so many of the other things they buy.

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 17 June 2022, 9:27 am

      Wang Xianlin tried to buy the Tour but hard to see him buying it, plus he’s ended up selling a lot of the sports buys he made in Europe anyway. Perhaps he just wanted trophy assets?

      As for venture capital, cycling seems like a bad business to invest in, there are high costs and few profits, you can’t load things up with debt because there are few cash flows nor assets to borrow against; not that it can’t be done but surely other sports are more ripe for this.

      The book covers more of this and the dealmaking and dealmakers and interestingly the big role played by Sky at the time. Whatever the financial aspects, collectively they really seemed to misjudge the approach to take. Curiously they hired Rothschild, the investment bank, for the dealmaking advice and their London office…but their Paris office has been on a retainer as Amaury’s investment bank for a very long time.

  • 150 Watts Friday, 17 June 2022, 2:31 am

    It is interesting that some were proposing to cut the Giro and Vuelta to 10 days. It is not obvious why there should be three races of exactly the same format.
    History plays a big part but the Giro especially suffers from its length … people who are serious about winning the tour don’t want to drain themselves there. It does seem to me that there is room to give each event a more individual flavour.

    • RV Friday, 17 June 2022, 6:06 am

      People serious about winning the Giro don’t ride the Tour in the same season! (Sorry, couldn’t resist. As much as I love the Tour, the Giro has always been my favorite GT).

    • Larry T Friday, 17 June 2022, 7:24 am

      “Giro especially suffers from its length.” But somehow I’m still sad when it’s over. Should RCS give up on the idea of a GT? ASO could easily chop down the Vuelta and leave LeTour as the only real GT, which I guess it is in your view? You’re (sadly) not alone in that idea, people like to blame this on Greg LeMond but if you’re laying blame BigTex is a better target. Cycling would be at a big loss with only one GT each year IMHO.

    • The Inner Ring Friday, 17 June 2022, 9:14 am

      If the analogy works, imagine a town with several shops but right in the centre there’s a giant hypermarket with lots of parking, it dominates retail in town and well beyond. There are two other big supermarkets but on different edges of town and while they tend to serve locals well, some people like visiting for the slightly different produce. But for the good of retail, the mayor of the town tells these two supermarkets to cut their opening hours and go to a four day week while the big hypermarket stays open 7 days a week. Whatever the merits of this, the supermarket owners, and the locals who rely on these two shops, will be annoyed and would never buy into the mayor’s plans.

    • Eskerrik Asko Friday, 17 June 2022, 10:22 am

      But do we really want to see all the same top riders in all three GTs and would it be good for road cycling if the same riders won and podiumed in all three – which, I suppose, is the goal towards those who would prefer a two-week Giro (and a presumably also a two-week Vuelta) that would make it possible for top riders to do the Giro-Tour double (or, indeed, a Giro-Tour-Vuelta triplet) and to be at their best in each three?

      I find that that there are two thing that make Grand Tours grand: (1) that they really are immensely long events; two weeks would be…quite normal, and (2) that each has its definite character, even if the course and the balance of different types of stages changes, and a different set of favourites, hopefuls and outsiders (and a wild card team or two that we don’t much see outside that country).

      • gabriele Friday, 17 June 2022, 1:29 pm

        Absolutely so.
        Moreover, from a certain POV to cut down the Giro would actually make it *impossible* from then on for any athlete to achieve the *real* Giro-Tour double, not “easier”: and precisely because the Giro-Tour double is special mainly given the fact that both are GTs, plus their position in the calendar and so on. Getting the double only because you use the same name for a very different thing would be just laughable.
        Winning a 10-day “Giro” when the Pa-Ni or the Tirreno or Suisse often have 8 stages (as the Volta until the late 90s… when the TdS had 9) isn’t anything special, surely not something which makes it a feat to double up with a TDF.

        Here’s a word we’re becoming again familiar with… “inflation” ^__^
        Few riders ever accomplished the Giro-Tour double even when many athletes were racing both with a high level of form. If you want to go down in history, you should deserve it rather then buying a bargain of sort which ultimately would take value away from the Giro.

        By the way, expanding on this and replying to 150watts again rather than to Eskerrik, surely the Giro has been suffering from a poorer startlist in a couple of very very recent years, essentially in 2020 and 2022 I’d say, but its final GC top-10s 2013-2019 were pretty much on the same competitive level of the TDF and occasionally better.
        So, it’s hard to say that it’s a structural problem, given that the third week, and a challenging one, was always there.
        Of course, ciclically and under given conditions, especially when the general cycling crop of talent isn’t abundant in numbers, the Giro will suffer from a poorer startlist more easily than the TDF (cit. monsieur de Lapalisse).
        The 1999-2004 age was terrible in startlist terms, but things weren’t reverted by making the race easier or shorter, quite much the other way around, if anything – and after 2-3 transition seasons, you started to get a very statisfactory competition level already from 2008 on. Same as for the great startlists in the 1989-1995 period after 2-3 meagre seasons and so on.
        It never was an issue to have back top startlists after mediocre eras (which themselves don’t necessarily mean poor or boring racing, but that’s a different story), and when you observe it all in a long term perspective, you become aware that it tells a lot more about the “champions” who chose to race or not, and how, rather than about the Giro.

      • Larry T Friday, 17 June 2022, 4:05 pm

        As usual – follow the money. The Outer Line folks go on and on about how pro cycling would make everyone rich (besides getting their greedy mitts on the vast fortune they think ASO has) if all the top riders raced against each other all the time with their model being North American franchise sports teams. They rant constantly about conflicting races and the sport’s “broken business model” and cite these franchise things along with the USA’s NASCAR as something to be emulated. A “season-long narrative” that ends in a champion being crowned is their pipe-dream. I think a lot of us like pro cycling because it ISN’T that…it’s not predictable, especially with individual riders winning the titles but supported by teams, unlike most other sports. Teams with a revolving cast of characters depending on the race. I fear the day these people and those at Velon manage to get their way and control the sport -turning it into yet another plutocrat-dominated, swinging d–k demonstration. INEOS is bad enough already! 🙂

        • Ricky Friday, 17 June 2022, 8:16 pm

          I love how there are so many different winners in cycling. There are some riders and teams I like a little bit more and less, but for me I just enjoy the sport of it all. Sometimes the strongest wins, another race may be won with team work, the next race might be a lesson in game theory. There’s races for sprinters, climbers, etc. I absolutely agree with you Larry, a season long competition would lack value.

          For example, I love how at the end of a grand tour their are probably like 25 really happy riders with even more happy team mates. I love this. And given the effort racing one day, let alone 21 takes, cycling is all the better for this.

    • gabriele Friday, 17 June 2022, 12:44 pm

      “…there is room to give each event a more individual flavour”.

      Actually, they still are very very different races, although both the Tour and the Vuelta changed some of their historical features to copy the Giro (in the case of the Vuelta, it’s very recent; whereas the TDF started to change with Proudhomme, and lately also borrowed from the Spanish race).
      Obviously they also kept some of their own trademark characteristics, especially the Vuelta; and one must admit that in the last edition the Giro, too, looked like they tried to borrow some (terrible) feature from the other GTs.

      However differences do prevail in the middle term, and the third week is nowadays one of the aspects which makes more difference for the Giro, so cutting it down to supposedly make it “more different” (while at the same time much more similar to those races with 8-9 stages… we’ve got already 6-7 of them which are historical, plus the smaller ones!) is sheer nonsense.

    • Fra Friday, 17 June 2022, 10:33 pm

      I don’t care about Vuelta, but historialy, Giro is probably almost on par with TdF and in many ways it’s perhaps the better race, usualy. I wouldn’t object to replacing Vuelta by X of Whatever three week race, but it must be a three week race, because those marathons make cycling what it is, imho. And how would you tell the Giro from T-A or Tour of the Alps if you’d shorten it?

      Tour de France is hyped enough even with those two other GTs around, there is little need to mess with them.

  • 150 Watts Friday, 17 June 2022, 8:14 am

    I wasn’t sad when the Giro was over this year because Hindley won it!
    Just the same it will be interesting to see what sort of impact the gravel world championships in Italy later this year have.

    • Larry T Friday, 17 June 2022, 8:20 am

      I’ll make a prediction about “what sort of impact the gravel world championships in Italy later this year have.” The only impact might be when/if someone falls off their bike and impacts the ground 🙂
      I have to admit despite LIVING in Italy, this is the first I’ve even heard of such a thing here. That big gravel thing in the USA, used to be called Dirty Kanza I think…might as well have not happened based on the interest/reports I’ve seen here, I think the only reference to it that I saw was based on Sagan going there or maybe someone was using a Wilier-branded bicycle?

      • KevinR Friday, 17 June 2022, 9:53 am

        I can’t help wondering whether gravel is the current darling of the media or it’s really a thing. Certainly road racing/riding dwarfs gravel yet the media love gravel stories and gravel bike reviews. It would be interesting to find out people’s views.

        • KevinR Friday, 17 June 2022, 9:57 am

          * a big thing.

        • Larry T Friday, 17 June 2022, 10:08 am

          As always – follow the money. When everyone had a road bike (or three) MTB’s came along and you just have to have one…then one with front suspension followed by dual suspension, disc brakes, etc. Next it was ‘cross. Throw fat bikes in there somewhere while you’re at it. When that faded they drilled a couple of holes in the bottom of the ‘cross bike’s downtube and…it was a gravel bike. Big money thrown into races and events followed all of ’em but they continue to thrive only in certain areas rather than worldwide after the fad is over. My question is what will be the next “thing” (aka fad) the bike industry dreams up? E-bikes are going pretty well at present…will they be just a fad as well?

          • Fra Friday, 17 June 2022, 10:44 pm

            Although you miss a considerable point – that the gravel bike success (although driven by marketing, I concede) is enabled by the fact a gravel bike us actualy pretty useful – it’s very versatile, jack of all trades, master of none, perhaps. But in Europe, it’s superb for bikepacking because of the abundance of tarmac roads. Anyway, on gravel, you can ride single tracks, quite difgicult terrain etc. and still be able to enjoy returning home on paved roads against the wind, in the drops. 😉

            It’s not for anyone, definitely not, but gravel bikes are fun – and you may perhaps appreciate that there are steel gravel frames available. 😉

        • RV Friday, 17 June 2022, 10:36 am

          Gravel is definitely “a thing” in the US. A big part of it is that road racing in the US has never had the kind of uninterrupted support it has always had in Europe. There have always been small local races (especially in Colorado and California), but very few of them are held reliably year after year. It’s always been understood that if you want to be a professional road racer, you need to move to Europe, and you need a contract with a team. Gravel, on the other hand, is a much more open proposition. The organizers of the races usually have amateur categories for people of almost any age or fitness level right on up to ultra endurance races that run hundreds of miles. Things like Dirty Kanza (now called Unbound) we’re designed as a way of bringing tourism to an economically depressed area. It was also about the community first, and the racing second. The egalitarian nature of most gravel races is, from what I can see, a big driver of it’s success. That and social media, obviously. Regardless of the hype surrounding it, the gravel scene in the US is very definitely real, and it’s putting down roots in ways road cycling never really has stateside. I just wonder if the prevalence of gravel racing in the US will mean that a lot of talented kids will choose that discipline instead of road racing and as a result we’ll never see another American winner of a grand tour.

          • Larry T Friday, 17 June 2022, 11:00 am

            Turn the USA’s calendar back to the 1980’s by inserting MTB into RV’s comment everywhere GRAVEL appears. Same s–t, different era. Been there, seen/read/heard/done that. Homer Simpson’s “It may be a fad, but it’s here to stay!” quotes were heard then as well.

          • AK Saturday, 18 June 2022, 1:59 am

            Actually, Larry, MTB is here to stay. So maybe gravel is as well? Gravel seems to attract a part of the mountain bike scene as well. IMO, the fact that even XC mountain biking has evolved to include many more technical features like rock gardens, drops, jumps etc is driving the mountain bikers that were more excited about riding long straight unpaved roads, towards picking up curly bars again.

          • What? Monday, 20 June 2022, 5:32 am

            Larry, are you implying MTB was not here to stay?! Sounds crazy. You realize it’s an olympic sport right?

        • The Inner Ring Friday, 17 June 2022, 11:22 am

          I think “the media” is often shorthand for US media and there’s definitely a big interest in gravel in the US. Plus gravel being new there are many marketing opportunities and ad dollars to chase, hence the increased coverage.

          Gravel is much smaller in Europe but growing . It depends on country to country but in many European countries there’s such a big network of quiet backroads that you can get away from it all on a road bike, although there are plenty of forest roads and more for gravel bikes so it’s an extra option, nice to have. Generally there’s huge interest in gran fondo rides but the Nove Colli or Ardèchoise don’t appear in the English media, despite tens of thousands of entrants, ex-pros on the start line; but Italian or French magazines have lots of “how to train for the big day” pieces, consumer guides, course previews etc, that feels like the substitute for the gravel rides that velo/cyclingnews cover a lot.

          To bring things back to the Tour and its business, we’ll see gravel in the Tour de France femmes this summer, partly a nod to the gravel audience but also because the Tour, men or women, wants more spectacular racing so don’t be surprised to see more off road racing in the years to come, it’s not going to be the pavé in the North but there are roads to take all over the place. The Giro and Vuelta can do this too, Tuscany has some gravel roads but other regions have plenty too.

          • gabriele Friday, 17 June 2022, 2:45 pm

            Gravel in Europe? The Pozzato race anyone? ^__^

            As I hinted below, in European cycling the “road-bike but off-road” trend was a lot about Eroica and what followed it, including Strade Bianche’s brutal success. Tro Bro Leon already existed, although it also grew more relevant only at the beginning of the 2000s.
            Classics like Gent-Wevelgem or Paris-Tours are already exploring this same sort of features to become even more specific and relevant in the case of the former or to get back mediatic interest in the case of the latter. Spain joined with the brand new Clásica de Jaén Paraíso Interior.

            The Giro had the famous 2010 Montalcino stage but included “gravel” stages in different forms since 2005 in each and every route of its different editions until 2012, only barring 2007 (Finestre is “gravel” and Plan de Corones, too… Catria had gravel sectors in 2009, I think). 2013 and 2014 didn’t have sterrato I think (but both had a good deal of riding under the snow ^__^), then we had sterrato again in 2015, 2016 (Arezzo), 2018, 2021 of course… and I’m perhaps missing something.
            About *2 out of 3* of the last 18 editions *have been including* some “gravel”.

            Obviously, it’s a different concept to gravel racing as it’s now understood. You adapted road bikes, rather than using a supposedly “different kind” of bikes. Often the gravel part is a quite much reduced albeit decisive portion of the course. As it happened this year in Valencia, several road pros aren’t favourable to the inclusion of these surfaces esp. in stage racing because they defend that luck comes too much into play.

        • gabriele Friday, 17 June 2022, 2:09 pm

          I think that as Larry T says the industry is behind a lot of it. They found (or create) a new sector to “differentiate” sales and so they’re calling the media limelight on it.
          At the same time, it’s about secundary economic actors trying to jump big or at least find their niche exploring new sectors… and top actors jumping on board a few years later to exploit the trend.

          That said, it’s a complex phenomenon, and in some countries it’s also quite much related to the direct or indirect pressure which forces cyclists out of the roads which motorised traffic normally uses. In that sense, it’s a problem, even!
          Of course, it’s all very circular and connected – the industry sells bicycles which promise to be fun and reasonably fast while forgetting an issue which kept many people away from the sport… safety. Cheaper for the bike industry than lobbying or advocacy at least for road safety.
          It’s not by pure chance that the gravel world considers “inclusion” a true focus – probably, and in comparative terms when checked against other sports, even more than society as a whole actually does. It’s something to be appreciated, and hugely so, but in marketing terms it’s a lot about expanding your appeal to a broader consumer base.

          In that sense, RV also makes several interesting points (a marketing factor in itself is that USA athletes who present themselves as “uncomfortable” with the European scene where they disappointed in a sense, now found new competitive spaces to express themselves, more “authentic” and “at home”), although the big question about all those supposed grassroots is – will they actually survive when the mediatic winter should come down on them from the wuthering heights of the industry’s boards, once they decide to go a different way (should they ever)?
          As Larry T remembers, that’s the history of cycling in the USA – it *always* looked to be working, and so much rooted, and finally local, and on the verge of going big etc. – until it stopped working once more, once again (Tour of Cali anyone? People seriously declaring it was ready to replace the Giro!).
          It doesn’t need to be the future of gravel – but it’s something which should be thought about. By the way, remember when Cyclingnews was reporting about RAAM?

          Finally, I’d be very curious to know (but that’s probably a research paper in its own right) if the gravel boom was a medium term consequence of the growing success and visibility of Eroica first and Strade Bianche before. I could be wrong but I seem to recall that when Eroica got its *pro* version in Strade Bianche, Dirty Kanza was still two dozens of friends or so going on a long ride.

          • Larry T Friday, 17 June 2022, 3:03 pm

            Yep, and “gravel” ain’t that new. How many unpaved roads have been a part of “road”racing even if they were dirt? And then there’s http://cycleitalia.blogspot.com/2017/03/gravel-bikes.html
            All of this is just the industry trying to create the “next-next big thing” to get current cyclists to add one (or more) bikes to their collection or suck-in newbies who have so far resisted getting involved to the point of opening their wallets.
            I was in the motorbike industry when we used to joke that everyone who wanted one already has one (three) so the industry bends-over-backwards with attempts to attract new customers. Remember those cute-looking, fat-tired 3-wheelers that injured so many before they were banned? Sadly these new customers are the ones quickly injured and bringing lawsuits or their toys just gather dust in the garage. Short-term gains for sure…but pretty much zero long-term thinking….but watch out…they’re getting into e-bikes! The bicycle industry isn’t much different – “How much $$ can we make NOW? We’ll worry about tomorrow later.” The USA-based gravel bike thing is just another in a long line of fads. Put it in with crypto currency and NFT’s.

  • Ecky Thump Friday, 17 June 2022, 11:32 pm

    All 3 Grand Tours face a major future problem with climate change, and predicted extremely hot Summer months.
    Spain has already seen temperatures in the high 40s C and France has experienced its earliest ever 40C this month.
    For La Tour, with its reliance on the southern and eastern parts of the country for much of the action, this could be a particular challenge.

    • Rooto Saturday, 18 June 2022, 8:45 pm

      You’re absolutely right, Ecky, to flag up climate change. Although the nature of the continental climate means that, here on the south coast, we’re the only part of France NOT on a heatwave alert at the mo’. It’s humid, it’s 30-odd degrees but it’s not 40-odd like it is further inland. The coasts and altitude are the best places to ride in the summer, for the TV images and for the climate.

  • Pete Saturday, 18 June 2022, 2:46 am

    Nothing against gravel if a cyclist of any persuasion wants to reduce the risk of getting run over. But if modern road racing is going to “detour” onto gravel, horse tracks, cart paths, etc. then why not alleyways, cutoff singletrack paths, or maybe a bmx or pump track sector?

    Might be entertainment, but I say keep the road racing on the roads! (Except for Strade Bianche!)

    • The Inner Ring Sunday, 19 June 2022, 5:17 pm

      They’ll true to find what is acceptable but exciting/spectacular/risky but without going wild. Like the pavé in the Tour. Worth noting road bikes today are much better equipped to race a bit off road, teams increasingly use 26-28mm as standard, they have more clearance for dirt etc. But I agree about keeping it a road race.

  • Larry T Saturday, 18 June 2022, 7:12 am

    Last word on this, I promise. “Actually, Larry, MTB is here to stay. ” writes AK, paraphrasing Homer Simpson. Perhaps he wasn’t around when MTB’s topped the sales volume charts in the USA…until they didn’t? Or when ex-road pros and others like Ned Overend were paid big chunks o’dough to race ’em, until they weren’t? Now ex-road pros are doing “gravel” since ‘cross has “been there, done that” with gravel being the current newest-latest, next-big-thing that will “save” the bike industry…though I’m thinking e-bikes are doing it now, at least until the auto and moto makers get going and take all that away from them. Porsche just bought e-bike motor/battery maker FAZUA along with a Croatian bike maker for example.

    • Fra Saturday, 18 June 2022, 9:28 am

      It’s perfectly possible gravel’s future would copy the mtb’s – marketing driven peak and then we’ll see; but the bike itself is a great jack of all trades imho, and therefore suitable for jack af all trades routes. I like mountains, but not necesarily on tarmac, I live in a country where road cycling isn’t without danger and I enjoy off-road tracks anyway, but for me, drop bars are the way to go. So… before gravel, I would probably buy CX bike. And as you know, off-road cycling (and racing) was allways part of the game (cycling races actualy probably preceded paved roads…).

      Gravel racing is a fad, sure, but… it’s driven by amateur scene, and that scene is as far as I know pretty strong and in many ways laudable. It comes through a marketing driven peak, but after that, it will survive. The market always incorporates everything with slight potential, so it embraced gravel racing. I don’t think it competes with road racing – as gravel bikes don’t compete with road bikes. Gravel races are usualy one day endurance routes or self-reliant bikepacking races and that’s fine, isn’t it?

      I would like a gravel bike with rim brakes, but that’s a different story. 😀

      • 150 Watts Sunday, 19 June 2022, 2:54 am

        Nicely summarised.

    • plurien Sunday, 19 June 2022, 11:30 am

      MTB may be here to stay but from experience as the organiser of a long running series I can tell you mumbers are down and the average age of riders increases by a year, every year. This at a time when there are inspirational men and women in the sport and regular online live coverage of the top events. It’s worrying.
      Gravel has become an all-American sport because that’s where the terrain and dirt roads allow in ways that Europe just can’t match. It’s taken the excitement offered by cross and packaged it for the masses, with an endurance element added. If they can sort out drone cameras and plenty of roadside timechecks it could go mainstream but it will never rival road racing for TV because there aren’t really a lot of tactical elements in riding a dirtbound paceline. What it offers outside of racing is a do-it-all bike that’s easy to ride.

      Worth remembering there soon will be a time when the bike as we know it is not the most common form of non-auto personal transport. eScooters, monowheels, e-anything is going to be the way that people really get out of their cars in the urban zone. Present car manufacturers are quietly engaged in a scramble to get into this action.
      This may not be a bad thing for our sport because we’ve always suffered from cycling being the thing you did if you couldn’t afford a car, and many of the disciplines date back to the time when horses were the power unit.
      Gravel, whatever comes next is the way forwards for human power racing but none of it detracts from all the other disciplines, and rach to their own.

    • Ama Si Smotan Monday, 20 June 2022, 5:59 am

      Larry, I’m really not sure what you’re talking about. MTB is not gone, it’s a huge sustainable industry and as far as I’m aware, in many places MTBs are outselling road bikes (if not worldwide, can’t find the data). There are countries like Bulgaria where a road bike is a rare sight and bike shops stock 5 to 10 MTBs for each road bike on offer.
      There is a healthy MTB racing and competition scene which includes not just XC, enduro, downhill, etc.
      MTB is an olympic sport that van der Poel preferred to race in the last Olympics.
      If you think MTB was a fad that went away, you’re out of touch.

      • Larry T Monday, 20 June 2022, 7:15 am

        If you weren’t around during the heady days of the MTB fad, you’re out-of-touch. I was there, watched it come from the days when Gary Fisher and Joe Breeze visited our SoCal bike shop. Now it’s just another part of the cycling industry, like fat-bikes, ‘cross bikes… the fads that came after them. Nothing indicates gravel will be any different, including all the talk of being “inclusive” vs the snobby world of roadracing. If you’re a clueless dolt who doesn’t know how to ride a bike in a pack, you’re a menace in roadracing/riding, but in the fads there’s not much of a pack so it’s all about inclusiveness while clueless dolts tend to find roadracing exclusive as nobody wants to crash because they lack the skills to participate. Putting MTB in the Olympic Games won’t change anything – I doubt worldwide MTB sales will go up based on being in the Games…

        • Eskerrik Asko Monday, 20 June 2022, 7:45 am
        • KevinK Monday, 20 June 2022, 9:30 am

          The references to those who do not prefer road bikes as “clueless dolts” is a major portion of why gravel cycling is popular, and why many people I know who regularly enjoy cycling continue to buy MTBs and can’t be convinced to put on standard cycling clothes and even try a road bike.

          For myself, I’ve ridden road bikes since they were a fad in the late 70s, before the road bike scene crashed hard, as it has done several times since then. However, I didn’t buy my first set of cycling clothes until 10 years ago, and I had to hold my nose while doing it to put up with the incredibly snotty attitudes of the sales staff at the LBS where I was buying what I wanted, and not what they considered appropriate. Around that time I remember an insufferable 18 year old mocking my three-year old Bell helmet as I took delivery of the first (and only) relatively modern road bike I’ve ever bought (I have a nice stable of vintage steel racing bikes). For a moment I considered cancelling the sale.

          What’s funny about your sneering attitude about road-cycling newcomers lacking skills is that my experience of embracing road cycling (after decades of riding road bikes solo while avoiding the insider crowd) was how often I experienced the arrogant and nasty behavior of dedicated road cyclists. I never had anyone at a LBS or on a casual group ride talk to me about how to ride in a group, why it was bad to be cross chained, etc. etc. But the first time I tried riding a MTB I had multiple people eager to explain the finer points as well as how to avoid dangerous situations. The attitudes of the two crowds are night and day different, and Larry you are a classic exemplar of what I’m talking about. I don’t have a gravel bike because I live in the Netherlands, but when I eventually go back to the US I’ll probably get one, even if the fad is over (as it always is after a few years regarding every bicycling trend, most of which have involved road bikes I’d wager). Despite the fads coming and going, we ride on, ignoring the barking dogs and tired old keyboard cycling judges.

        • Ama Si Smotan Monday, 20 June 2022, 10:39 am

          What I’m saying is that the current state of MTB shows that it was never a fad. If it was a fad, it wouldn’t be such a significant part of the bike industry. You might be viewing it as a fad because you are out of touch with it, but it is a clearly sustainable large market segment that is not at all small compared to the road bike one. If it was a fad, it should be orders of magnitutes smaller. Something that has a ton of amateurs doing it all over the world, sells well, is part of the olympics, has races, evets, journalists, media and an audience for decades is obviosly not a fad. It might have had a peak that somehow annoyed you, but this doesn’t mean it went away now that you are not seeing the exact same peak or hype. Comparing MTB with fat bikes is frankly ludacris as fat bikes are generally a very small niche segment of the MTB market (excluding the even rarer fat-tire city bike).

  • Rooto Saturday, 18 June 2022, 8:53 pm

    On a far less serious note, didn’t anyone else get a little annoyed by the in-flight meal picture? It’s all wrongly captioned!
    The mountain stages are surely the meat. (Although I appreciate the pun of the mountains jersey being called the ‘maillot à [petits] pois’).
    The sprint stages can stay as the chips / fries.
    The TT stages are definitely the veg, important but less attractive.
    The GC is, well, it’s the tray! It carries the whole meal and keeps it together.
    (This blog could be the spicy sauce, necessary to make the dull ingredients more interesting. Sorry for the brown-nosing!)