The One Cycling story is a big one with plans to reform the cycling calendar, bundling up the TV rights of races and making the sport more marketable. It’s a theme we’ve seen before with team managers linking up with private capital to try and reshape the sport… and failing because they were long on financial capital but short on cultural and political capital. There’s so little to go on for now we can only touch on it via this “shorts” blog post.
Reuters was first with the news and the RadioCycling podcast had more detail. The plan seems to be to create a commercial entity to run the sport, including selling the TV rights for the sport as a collective package, and also managing the calendar so it can select which races are part of the project, whether establishing new events in key markets or demoting or cancelling existing events; also to pool some of the teams’ marketing efforts, a bit like Velon does with “exclusive” interviews. It’s a serious project as advisors are on board and it’s been in the works for some time.
It is a response to the teams concerns that the lion’s share of profits from the main cycling races including the Tour de France, La Vuelta and the Giro d’Italia go to their organisers
– Reuters, 25 October 2023
The revenue sharing zombie can’t be killed. This blog’s looked at it before and the short answer is that if even you could somehow persuade ASO to donate much of its profits from the Tour to teams backed by billionaires, multinationals and even nation states it wouldn’t make much difference, a team that loses a key sponsor would still be holed below the waterline (if the slice is too small you can try to grow the pie but that’s a whole other issue). But a ton of money from investors could help teams.
Rights bundling can work. In fact it happens already, broadcast rights holders to the Tour de France get, say, Paris-Nice, and the Tour de France Femmes Zwift as part of the package… but they might only show the Tour live. Clearly the One Cycling Plan would be to have a series of equal events all on TV rather than cherry-picking but you can’t create this at the stroke of a pen… but a ton of money can help broadcasters.
As for calendar reform, some things can make sense and some things like look sensible to outsiders but might not be overlapping races aren’t ruinous, there’s a reason why say Itzulia Basque Country and Paris-Roubaix can coexist. But pooled marketing and a general central resource for races could make sense, but it can be hard to coordinate this across many countries but that’s presumably where the big bucks come in, you guessed it, a ton of money from investors could help organisers.
The UCI itself has tried rights bundling, there was a plan to roll all the UCI Pro Series races (ie those marked 1.Pro and 2.Pro on the calendar) together and sell the rights collectively but all we got was the calendar label as it was too much to pool diverse races, some organisers sell their rights, others pay to have their event broadcast and so on.
“We have a week-in, week-out series that everyone is going to be scoring a certain number of points in that series which is going to lead to an overall champion at the end of the year”
– Jonathan Vaughters speaking to the Radio Cycling podcast
One alarm bell rang when EF team manager Jonathan Vaughters spoke about rankings driving audiences and interest. Here even a ton of money might be hard to stoke interest although let’s be clear, this doesn’t sound like the central point of One Cycling.
Several team managers are against the One Cycling Plans, whether in public or private plus ASO doesn’t seem interested according to reports. So is the deal pulled, just as the same people behind it aborted the Jumbo-Quickstep deal? It could rumble on, One Cycling ought to be to create a workable package of smaller races supported by some central agency but now we’re into incremental gains rather than revolution and it’s not the cash cow private equity or sovereign wealth investors seek. We’re into Velon territory, bold ambitions but it hasn’t quite worked out as the jointly-owned company is in negative equity according to the last set of accounts and behind with its regulatory filings to boot, not the revenue spinner it was meant to be. As mentioned here before when One Cycling was named in public by Patrick Lefevere, it’s is one to watch.
On to other matters now and if Richard Plugge’s had a rough time of late with the sponsor search, the aborted attempt to takeover/sink Quickstep – pick your verb – and the leak about One Cycling, now comes another cloud. Michael Heßmann’s anti-doping case continues with the report that his B-sample has matched the A-sample. The next step is a hearing. It’s being managed by the Nationale Anti Doping Agentur Deutschland (NADA) in Germany so subject to their rules on disclosure rather than the UCI, which would have named the substance involved, for now we just know it’s a diuretic substance used as masking agent. Unless Heßmann can prove contamination he’ll face a ban.
Staying again with Jumbo-Visma – as they’re still called for now – La Gazetta Dello Sport has gone to town saying Wout van Aert will lead the team in the Giro next year and since they broke the story, they’ve published a second article on it. So they – as in their head of cycling – seem pretty sure, even if the team is yet to communicate on this saying they’ll have more discussions and so on. La Gazzetta is the sister paper of the Giro and usually pretty informed on the start list and the dealings that go on. Skipping the Tour gives Van Aert a fresher run at the Olympics but how to combine the spring classics and the Giro is the harder question even if he can pause after Roubaix for four weeks.
The death of Gino Mäder was a profoundly sad moment in the year for many reasons, each perhaps personal to us all. One follow-up is to note the Swiss newspapers are reporting the criminal investigation into Mäder’s death has been closed. This was conducted to investigate any potential legal matters regarding his crash. Nobody was deemed to be criminally negligent, it’s stated the organisers weren’t to blame, presumably the road wasn’t defective either. Perhaps most importantly Magnus Sheffield who also crashed at the same time is absolved in case anyone worried about a link.
To finish on some more cheerful points… the Saitama criterium is this Sunday. Yes it’s a criterium as in an exhibition race and we get some culture-adjacent photo opportunity activity on Saturday, the race on Sunday. Saitama city itself has a reputation as a dormitory city outside of Tokyo and the course doesn’t do much to alter this perception. But the wider Saitama area has some superb riding with high mountain passes, scenic valleys and more. A criterium is fun but a Tour de Saitama stage race around the prefecture would be a dream.
Dreams do come true, at least for Nairo Quintana. He’s back, having signed a one year deal with Movistar and we’re not talking about a home internet deal either. For the Spanish team you can’t help feel it’s like a child at navidad unwrapping a present, they hoping for the Carlos Rodriguez action robot only to get a used wooden doll of Nairo Quintana instead. But absent Rodriguez, Quintana can give the squad more depth in mountainous stage races. He’d been turning into more and more of a diesel and aged 34 next year it’ll be interesting to see what he and the team aim for especially as one reason for leaving last time was over his treatment in the team and relations with management. Plus the Tramadol case has never been resolved.
Finally talking of Colombian resurrections, the Tour Colombia 2.1 is back. The only race to proudly boast of its UCI status (2 means stage race, .1 is the third tier after World Tour and Pr Series) it is back on the calendar and a bright light for Colombian cycling after some rough years. The race is on the UCI calendar and has got political support and funding so it’s likely to be a season-starter for many pros, Patrick Lefevere suggested Evenepoel could start there, although the race can only invite so many World Tour squads, the field can have up to 50% World Tour teams max.