Happy New Year! The 2024 road cycling season has started with Lukas Pöstlberger (Jayco) winning the Sun Hung Kai Properties Hong Kong Cyclothon. Such is pro cycling that hibernation awaits…
Yes the race is in 2023, comes after a busy previous weekend’s racing and there’s nothing on the calendar until the Australian championships and then Tour Down Under in January. But it’s in the rules (2.1.001) that any race that follows the final World Tour or World Championships event is technically part of the next season so the Hong Kong race counts for 2024. It’s the pro cycling equivalent of a tomato being technically a fruit, only everyone uses it as a vegetable. We must remember to count this race from 2023 in the 2024 tallies.
Is that it (1)?
No news from Jumbo-Visma about the pulled merger apart from one line saying they didn’t want to do the deal in the end as it would have sunk the Soudal-Quickstep team. Which is unusual given the very structure of the deal was designed to achieve this, even if the prime aim was to ensure the Jumbo-Visma structure continued with a top sponsor, the equivalent of taking a friend’s back wheel mid-ride so you can ride on until you clock they might be stuck beside the road for a while. The Belgian “wolfpack” would have had been toast given the prime sponsor and major shareholder were leaving with just weeks before the UCI deadlines.
Is that it (2)?
No news on a replacement sponsor for Jumbo either, just leaks with Lease A Bike said to be onboard as a new sponsor and Visma becomes the first name. Last week’s UCI registration announcement saw the team reprise the old holding name of Blanco. If it is Lease A Bike, this is a corporate bicycle leasing scheme and not exactly a household name. Perhaps all the more reason to enter sports sponsorship and companies thinking about leasing some bikes for their employees can get VIP trips to World Tour races. Still something suggests Pon Group has stepped in to help the team but the team is after a longer term sponsor as the corporate bicycle lease market feels like an odd thing for a top team to trumpet.
One quick thing to mention here is the “they’ve won all three grand tours, why can’t they get a sponsor?” FAQ. Few corporate backers will be sitting around for the news of the Vuelta win and suddenly appear with fistful of Euros. Sponsorship deals take months, often years to cultivate and are based on wider things like demographics and reach. A triple win like this is good for the long term but unlikely to lure sponsors all of a sudden.
Is that it (3)?
Soudal-Quickstep ride on. But for how long? Even if the mooted takeover never happened there’s no return to the status quo ante. We now know the lead sponsor was willing to drop the team and that the team’s major shareholder was planning a form of exit too. To cut to the chase, imagine you’re a rider or an agent: would you sign a long term deal with this team? If there’s doubt then the team’s got worries.
Giro presentation 1
The Giro route was presented the other day and you can see this blog’s thoughts of course. The Giro Donne was also supposed to be presented but this was pulled at the last moment. Either way the women’s race has changed name and crucially RCS are behind the organisation so we can expect much more professionalism in the organisation and the communication, a delayed presentation for October isn’t much to worry about, it should be a big boost for the event. Can we expect them to address the July calendar slot next?
Giro presentation 2
There’s a hypothesis here that having politicians show up for a bike race matters. Cynics may say it’s just for the sake of a photo opportunity but seeing the French President show up for an obligatory stage visit at the Tour de France speaks to the race’s importance and visibility and many other politicians make their way to the Tour, some even bid to host a stage. This has been more absent at other races, notably the Giro but we saw President Mattarella at the finish in Rome last May. Now the Giro presentation had “Agriculture, Food Sovereignty and Forestry” minister Francesco Lollobrigida although the hypothesis stands through gritted teeth since if people outside of Italy have heard of Lollobrigida it’s probably either because yes he’s related to Gina… or he’s got headlines like “I’m not a racist“. Another hypothesis is that grand tours are clients of their political customers so we’ll see if the Giro becomes more nationalist and if the government is swinging behind the Giro does the race visit the ruling parties’ heartlands more in return?
That’s most definitely it
On to another grand tour presentation and the Tour de France route is out this week. You can sleuth the route by phoning hotels to see if they’re already booked up; you can scour France’s extensive regional newspapers. Or you can get a leaked copy of the route. Some details about the course online already are quite detailed, more than the usual start finish places. Either way those of us looking for the route are 0.001% of the Tour’s audience, most people will wait for the presentation next week and there’s still more to learn on the day itself.
Staying in France and three French teams for bike sponsors with Lapierre confirming they’re ending the deal with Groupama-FDJ and we know Ag2r Citroën stopping with BMC and Specialized leave TotalEnergies along with Peter Sagan. Thanks to some transparency the French squads publish accounts and Lapierre’s annual rate was €1.5 million, plus all the bikes supplied as well. So it’s a team’s second source of income after the title sponsors, not game-changing by itself but able to fund the salaries of several riders or one star, without it the bottom falls out of a team budget. Which is why it’s an important part of the team takeover discussions we’ve had with Jumbo, Ineos and others.
Talking of Ag2r, what have they and Ineos got in common? Both have made several signings for next year but have yet to announce them. Late announcements can be polite, it doesn’t look like you’re pilfering a rival team’s riders mid-season; do it on a quiet day when there’s no road cycling news and you might get more coverage than on a September day when the Vuelta or Worlds probably crowds out more. Something more seems up at Ineos of course with their attempts to sign more riders but we should get news on both teams soon, if only because their signings are mixing with their team team mates already.
Finally having announced the start of the season at the top of this post… confusingly riders changing teams are still employed by their old squad until 1 January meaning even if they’re showing up with their new team on training camps they’re still dressed on “old” kit. It’s as someone changes jobs from Samsung to Apple but has to keep using an Android phone until January or any other example of joining a new employer while still being paid by the old one. This really ought to be one of those “quick fixes” where the standard pro contract is adjusted to run from, say, 1 November to 31 October instead of the calendar year, and either staggered over several years so that nobody gets short changed by a 10 month contract or introduced to neo-pros and carried forward.