Cor, the Tour of Beijing has ruffled feathers among the noisy few. For all the cries of despair, you’d think the world of cycling was coming to an end.
I’m going to cut straight in: the value to the sport of accessing markets where cycling is a ingrained activity is vital for its survival. A solvent, well-financed UCI is equally important to cycling’s future.
There is a qualification: the UCI dipping the pockets of the World Tour teams to fund Beijing through Global Cycling Promotions (GCP) is not the proper behaviour of a governing body. There needs to be a proper separation, a chinese wall, between the financial interests and governance functions of the UCI.
Why the UCI making money is not bad
Distasteful as some of the current behaviour of the UCI may be, it needs to increase income if it is to govern effectively. At present we have a situation where the UCI is robbing Peter to pay Paul by taking funds from teams and organisers for the privilege of seeing their name in lights in the calendar and access to some races.
Take anti-doping as a case study of what would happen if the UCI developed its revenue streams significantly.
Inner Ring says the 2010 accounts showing the teams contribute 60% of the antidoping budget. If the UCI were to increase revenues to the point where it could fund the programme without the considerable investment of the teams then this has direct benefits to the sport.
It would allow teams to return this investment into development of women’s teams and u23 squads. Both of these are areas which at present many struggle to fund properly, if at all.
It would allow the establishment of a single, independent body to oversee all testing in the sport. Ultimately this is the right direction for antidoping to take if it wishes to be effective.
To a sponsor looking at the sport in terms of investment and return, spending on talent and exposure would be far more enticing than having to lob a chunk at what is effectively admin.
Cyclismas details the costs of paying fees to the UCI for organisers alongside their anti-doping commitment. Now if the UCI generates significant new revenues to reduce licence costs, then that is money that organisers can pour back into prize funds, sustainable growth of new races and even reducing the cost of events.
Cycling goes where the money is
The central point is this: the history of professional cycling is racing bikes wherever it has been economic to do so, be it velodromes, roads or dirt tracks.
Road racing is a bit of a stick in the mud. Perhaps as befits the oldest form of racing, it clings to its heritage like lycra to a fat lad. There was a time when it had a broader public resonance.
As The Washing Machine Post points out about the rise of mountain biking
“It is no secret that the mountain bike craze of the eighties and nineties more or less single-handedly saved the bicycle industry, creating a number of new manufacturers in the process, while letting the italians continue their blinkered approach to road bike production.”
This same logic applies to the professional tier of road racing, where the blinkered attitude to preserving the “european heritage” scene as it dies on its arse comes at the expense of developing racing in the other two thirds of the world.
At the same time track has waned as one of the dominant forms of mass entertainment, a function
At the same time cycling has always had a global aspect of which “globalisation” is a function. This goes back almost as far as the sport has been practiced.
In 1902, the legendary American rider Marshall “Major” Taylor toured Europe and Oceania. This came a few years after international fields had raced in Madison Square Gardens in the hugely popular Six-Day Races.
In a period when far fewer people had experienced life much beyond their locality, the names of the top cyclists travelled across the oceans. So far that Fausto Coppi could be found in Colombia in 1957.