Wednesday Shorts

No news on Qavendish. With the British champion spotted on a Wilier bike, Mark Cavendish’s move to Astana-Qazakhstan seemed to be a done deal, La Gazzetta reported it as such… but no more since. Only there’s no need to hurry any announcement.

Why no news? Are lawyers haggling over whether he has to take part in the team’s annual rap video? Did the bike test prove unsatisfactory? At first Astana didn’t have room for Cavendish and fellow “Parisian” Cees Bol given the rule limiting the team to 30 riders. But Christian Scaroni, signed from Gazprom, has vanished from the team’s listing on the UCI website which, if it’s not a database error, frees space for both signings. This could be the issue with riders holding valid contracts to ride with the World Tour squad needing persuasion, and the UCI’s approval, to be moved aside.

Either way there doesn’t have to be announcement by the end of the year, the Quick-Step contract expires but a pro can be hired mid-season if need be. The ink on a contract could be dry by now, or Cavendish and a team, be it Astana, Human Powered Health or another, could reach agreement at some point next year too. No rush… even if it does feel like the last piece of a jigsaw puzzle that’s waiting to be completed.

After Astana, onto another state-backed sponsorship story and yay, Team BikeExchange have got a real outside sponsor for the first time in ages. Doh, it turns out to be the Saudi government. BikeExchange is a small business whose entire annual revenue is smaller than the contribution paid to the pro team by benefactor Gerry Ryan, who has a son on the board of the firm. Now the team has a new title sponsor in the Saudi tourist resort Al Ula (they were already sponsors, but in 2023 they step up as naming rights sponsors). Many will ask was there not a more normal consumer products company available as a sponsor? “Sportswashing” is the term – as a label it doesn’t quite hit the mark but that’s for another day – but a hypothesis is that any government backed agency trying to buy good publicity and recognition will always outbid a product or brand trying to reach more defined marketing goals.

Staying with sponsors, Paris-Nice could have a team time trial mid-week instead of the solo one, a first in 30 years. The official route is out on 5 January. As the Ardoisier blog points out, many of the stages that are leaking out to the local newspapers between Paris-and Nice have a sponsorship twist. One day’s start seems to be in the place where the Tour de France white jersey is based, another day’s start next to a major publicity caravan sponsor’s factory. It’s almost as if pro cycling is nakedly commercial.

The 2024 Tour de France will start in Firenze, Italy and finish in Nice which makes for a very unusual route as the race will reach the Alps after five days, early for a big showdown in the mountains, especially as the second day will feature two ascents of the San Luca climb above Bologna. Summit finish is stretching things but to use a handy comparison, one climb up the Via San Luca is worth about two Mur de Huy ascents so it’ll tell us plenty, early. Spare a thought for the Giro boss Mauro Vegni who must be frowning as he reads accounts of Italian cities queuing up to pay Le Tour instead of Il Giro… but that’s business. Also he’s said to get on well with Christian Prudhomme and ASO and they work together in the forum of major race organisers, they’re more often allies than rivals.

One thing to cheer up Vegni is that his race becomes more important in one aspect: all three grand tours will be even more lucrative when it comes to points as the UCI has revised the allocation of points for next season and beyond. 2022 was the year many finally clocked how the UCI rankings worked and winning a grand tour stage didn’t bring many points. For example in 2021 Tim Merlier won a Giro stage and then a Tour stage and earned a combined 220 UCI points… but in winning the Koksijde Classic and Elfstedenronde he got 325 points. We’ll take a closer look at the new tables in the coming year and it’s probably the right move but will come with some consequences, for example the likes of Pogačar and Vingegaard have got around 1,800 points for their Tour wins lately, thanks to 1,000 for the overall and almost as much again from stage wins and placings, the daily gain from wearing the yellow jersey and also taking the mountains competition along the way too. Similar performances would land them about 2,700 points, with a lot more points from the wins along the way than the final overall win. It’s a “rich get richer” scenario that makes the grand tours even more important.

How do you rate the Tour of Guangxi? With China dropping many Covid restrictions and reopening all of a sudden to international travel is this race finally back on? Races that have been off the calendar can be hard to reprise, we’ve lost the entertainment and fervour of the Tour Colombia 2.1 which won’t happen next year, the organisers are short of cash. February’s Tour de La Provence is back, fingers-crossed, after a series of disputes and a hearing that reached the French Olympic Committee. It ruled it should be reinstated on the French calendar. If so the race is returning to the Montagne de Lure, the smaller “sister” of Mont Ventoux, for a decisive summit finish.

Lastly having done some “Items of Use” posts in the past about kit and tech that proved useful during the year for cycling and blogging, I wanted to do another one. Only I’m not really using ten more items worth writing home about, many of the same good things are still in service. But mentioning the Montagne de Lure above is a reason to mention the Drôme and Hautes-Alpes area of France which are close by. Why? Because it’s the Alps but not as we often see them via the Tour de France. The Baronnies and Diois areas aren’t far from Mont Ventoux and the Lure but it’s a world away and packed with many roads so empty you almost wish for more traffic just in case you suffer a mishap and nobody might come along for hours. Anyone visiting Mont Ventoux, especially in July and August, and wanting some quieter roads should explore this corner.

Quiz answers tomorrow

19 thoughts on “Wednesday Shorts”

  1. Gerry Ryan will surely be relieved to find substantial partner to share the load – it’s been a long time since Orica pulled out. Does the sequence ‘Team Jayco-AlUla’ mean that Ryan is still putting in more than AlUla? If so, surprising given the depth of Saudi pockets.

    IR poses the question: “Many will ask was there not a more normal consumer products company available as a sponsor?” The answer must have been no or Greenedge would not have been dipping feet into Manuela’s muddy waters

  2. I did see Movistar were also after some Saudi sponsorship deal. My first thought was, how will the Saudis look apon the ladies cycling?
    Will the 2024 Tour have a “Remco Route Friendly” lot of TT kms to entice him there? That’s what I’m waiting on.

      • There’s not much need for ASO to entice Evenepoel, he was interested in riding in 2023 but wisely probably will do the Giro instead. But the other day Christian Prudhomme quipped the final stage of the 2024 Tour will be a TT and it’s on the same day as Belgium’s national day.

        • I think Evenepoel looked at the parcours for next year’s Tour and thought, let’s do the Giro instead. A wise move, in my opinion, and he’s already been out on recon rides in Italy, so it’ll be a good competition against Ineos’s Thomas.

  3. Scaroni being missing on the UCI website is quite an interesting development. Last week published an interview with him speaking at length about the upcoming season, and he seemed to be well within the dynamics of the WT team. Meanwhile, Wielerflits reported that Nurlykhassym would be demoted to Astana’s Devo team to make room for Cav and Bol. I wonder what will be the end of the story…
    RE Arabia Saudi + Movistar, there was this telling interview with the Unzués published by Nacho Labarga (Marca) on Christmas Eve:

  4. I’m always perplexed when people complain so much about Ineos sponsoring a team. A detestable company to be sure, but when the authorities of Bahrain, Israel, Kazakhstan, UAE, and now Saudi Arabia are sponsoring teams, they seem a much lesser evil – they’re probably not torturing, murdering or wrongfully imprisoning people. (And I’d feel exactly the same about a team that was sponsored by the UK or USA… most countries, let’s face it.)

      • I’m sorry Inner Ring – but is a big deal – the Middle east is paying money to act as if it is ok to treat women in unacceptable ways and to promote bigotry against the LGBTQ+ community.

        It is not ok to have the leader of the country saw people into little pieces because they don’t like what they said in a free press, as MBS did with Khashoggi.

        We can’t compare actions from 30 years ago with now as society is much more advanced and information is everywhere.

  5. Responding to your comment that cycling is nakedly commercial…. It is true to a point, but honestly it’s not in a bad way.

    Compared to all the major pro sports cycling is a very minor sport. And the dollar values are minor too. But without the money the sport doesn’t exist.

    • I found the route design passing sponsors was unusual but it happens many times in the sport. It is a commercial sport, but unlike many other sports, doesn’t try to shake as much cash as possible out of the pockets of fans.

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