Why the UCI needs to make more money

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.

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Some of the things Sir Bradley Wiggins might say to Andrew Marr about Grand Tour TUEs

I could have misjudged XIX Management’s strategy on this, but their game now is re-positioning Wiggins as a mainstream “inspirational” lifestyle brand. That’s why they’ve chosen Marr and not a sports outlet or journalist. I didn’t see this coming.

So here’s some things that seem to me obvious lines that you’ll hear in the interview (which is a pre-record anyway):

  • They were within a strict framework that all agencies agree, we didn’t bend the law, we stuck to it
  • They were medically necessary, I followed doctor’s orders
  • Dr Freeman has been British Cycling doctor and has spotless record
  • Leinders played no role in my TUEs
  • We’d done lots of data and the inhalers were ineffective in managing the condition over 3 weeks
  • In shorter races my respiratory condition was manageable with inhalers
  • While others have abused TUEs we had absolutely no intention in our use
  • We didn’t have any fat to burn, I would have got sick if I lost more fat
  • I know it looks bad, but we’re not in the cheating game
  • I love this sport
  • I couldn’t cheat and live with myself, my wife, my children
  • Here’s my numbers, they were as strong before use as after use

Eyes down for a full house, Sunday 0900BST on BBC One

Posted in 2012, Bradley Wiggins, British Cycling, London 2012, Professional | Tagged , | 1 Comment

Here’s why Sky should have invested in a British Women’s team

Because women control the vast majority of consumer purchase decisions in the household

70-80% was the figure I was told by Bob Stapleton, owner of High Road Sports in 2011 – HTC-Colombia – on the process of searching for new sponsors.

You don’t believe me? Try Bridget Brennan writing in Forbes:

Women drive 70-80% of all consumer purchasing, through a combination of their buying power and influence.

Because Sky Italia

So if Italy’s Giro Donne is the biggest race in women’s cycling and you have a commercial satellite television business in that country, you’d want to find some way to get traction in that market with the people who drive purchase decisions.

Why do you think the men’s team keeps on hiring young Italian riders and persuading some of their best riders to schlep round the old boot in May, when the goal is to win a race in France in July?

Sky Italia’s contribution to the Team Sky budget probably could have kept a very well-appointed women’s team running for every year they’ve been running.

Because it cost less than buying out Bradley Wiggins contract

Depending on who you believe, the price of getting him out of Garmin-Slipsteam was £2m or as high as £4m.

For that, you could have had an Olympic and World Champion, one of the top climbers in the world and a TT goddess, one of the best young riders, a top domestique. And control over the development of one the strongest teams anywhere in cycling – the women’s track endurance squad.

Because they’d already done it once with incredible success

It was called Team Halfords-Bikehut. It resulted in Nicole Cooke becoming the first and only professional cyclist to win the Olympic and World Road Race titles in the same year, 2008.

There’s five riders on that squad who have gone on to win World or Olympic titles. That’s quite some strength in depth given the small squad. You might recognise some of the names – Lizzie Armitstead, Jo Rowsell, Wendy Houvenagel.

Was it a hard slog for the likes of Brailsford and Fran Millar with limited rewards? Undoubtedly, but so was finding something for Wiggins to do after 2012, but they stuck at that as well.

Working in a publicly funded organisation isn’t meant to be easy or without struggle. Trust me, I’ve worked for one for the last decade.

So you can go away and make excuses, or tell people to get over themselves.

Those four things, that’s a better business case that there was to launch a men’s team during the second Armstrong era, then hiring riders and staff who everyone else knew had skeletons on the mantelpiece, let alone closet.

Posted in British Cycling, Economics, Professional, Women | Leave a comment

Does British cycling have a problem with women?

So, we’re here again, debating sexism and British Cycling.

Nicole’s article contains a more analytical and well-evidenced case. That GB’s women did not have access to the ultra-aero UKSI bikes for London 2012 road races, what can you say?

Look at the gold medal potential in that women’s squad  – Cooke, Pooley, Armistead – versus the men – Cavendish.

Now there is a case that until 2012, British Cycling’s progress was hampered in previous cycles by inequality in events on the track.

If you look at the depth and breadth of support offered to Bradley Wiggins over his career, you can see this illustrated

We’re now two full Olympic cycles on from Beijing 2008, eight years in which to effect change.

And we’re still hearing the same criticisms from female athletes and an absence of a visible female presence in senior leadership roles within the organisation.

British Cycling vs UCI

But discussing British Cycling in isolation is rather like worrying about a puncture while ignoring a buckled wheel.

There’s a long and deeply entrenched sexism in cycling as a whole. It’s going to take a while to equal things out.

So establishing a Women’s World Tour is a step in the right direction on the road.

But the absence of a clear plan to phase in minimum wage equality as part of that project represents a massive missed opportunity.

Effective change is rarely comfortable for existing stakeholders – it shouldn’t be – but it demands a degree of ambition and disruptiveness that goes beyond what we’ve seen so far.

For me, Cookson’s new UCI, lacks the willingness to be disruptive in a meaningful way for cycling. Bradley Wiggins argues this in a recent Procycling interview.

Bradley Wiggins on uci and change -

And that ripples all the way down the sport.

Diversify for Tokyo

We’re too far in to the current Olympic cycle for Rio to really do anything meaningful. So we have to look to Tokyo 2020 as the point at which we can deliver something substantive.

Quotas are ugly tools, but in small workforce populations, they can even up the odds and create the environment for transformation. Elite sport is one such environment.

To reach a goal of 50% of women’s Olympic Podium Programmes (OPP) on the track – endurance and sprint – being run by women would require one appointment over four years.

Does anyone this is unrealistic?

You can run all the Breeze rides you like, but if women don’t see a place for themselves at the top of the sport, then you will never fix the problem.

Posted in Bradley Wiggins, British Cycling, Culture, Women | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

The joy of Gary Imlach’s Tour de France coverage

Gary Imlach has been part of my summer for 20 years now, so it feels right to praise one of the best broadcasters in sport.

Gary Imlach

Gary Imlach in Chartres, July 2012. By MikeEye on Flickr

A carrier bag for a hat

The image of him defying the elements – a thunderous storm in Northern Spain – with a carrier bag for a hat is burned into my memories as much as anything else from the Wild West before Texas – or the 1990s as it is also known.

I think the occasion was Indurain riding into Spain towards the end of his Tour de France career with nothing going according to the scripted glory. If anyone has this image or video somewhere, I’d love to see it again.

Perhaps that image is a stronger metaphor for reporting on that period in the sport than I’d thought before. Imlach’s was a thankless task trying to retain a degree of journalistic dignity in terrible conditions. He’s always been that to me: a journalist with integrity and honesty.

Discussing the Chris Froome data leak he alluded to the classic loaded question “when did you stop beating your wife?” to the consternation of his ITV colleagues – it was the sort of allusion any journalist would get.

Even in the Armstrong years, he keep a degree of journalistic distance which is difficult to maintain when presenting an event your employer is paying money for.

This stuff is too important to take seriously

One of the hallmarks of Gary’s coverage is his sense of perspective. Bike racing, like many other things in life is too important to take seriously.

His beautifully crafted links almost always involve playfulness, humour and a sense of the absurd circus that is the Tour.

When Tour coverage switched from Channel Four to ITV at short notice, his opening gambit was “No, you’re not watching the wrong channel” – a familiar yet dry way to cover the changes in one line and never need mention it again.

I’m sure you all have your favourite Imlach lines and moments, including the pedalo incident.

Posted in Tour de France, Video | Tagged , , | 1 Comment

London 2007 v Yorkshire 2014 – Tour de France compared

So the report into Yorkshire (and London and Cambridge) hosting the Grand Depart 2014 has finally surfaced.

You can read the full report here as a PDF file . Here’s the equivalent summary for London 2007 which is worth re-reading as a comparison.

Over the first two days

  • Yorkshire had 2.3m unique spectators across the two Yorkshire stages (although it claims 3.3m if you count people who viewed in more than one place)
  • London and Kent 2007 had 2.5m spectators across the two stages (although estimates go as wide as 2 million and 3 million)

Day visitor spend

  • Day visitors to Tour de France in London in 2007 spent £26.15 per person (these are people from outside the host region)
  • Day visitors to Yorkshire spent on average £27.13

Where were they from

  • 57% of people who watched in Yorkshire in 2014 were from Yorkshire
  • 69% of people who watched 2014’s Cambridge to London stage 3 were from Cambridge, London or Essex
  • 45% of people who watched in London in 2007 were from London
  • 61% of people who watched in Kent in 2007 were from Kent

Cost of staying

  • In London 2007, visitors staying in commercial accommodation spent £116.33 per person
  • In Yorkshire 2014, visitors staying in commercial accommodation spent £107.25  (£49.54 on accommodation, £57.71 in other expenditure)
  • People staying with friends/family spent £45.48 per person in 2007
  • People staying with family/friends in Yorkshire spent £45.26


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5 things you should know about that Colombian cycling kit

1. It’s not the national team or the national team kit

It’s the colours of IDRD-Bogotá Humana-San Mateo-Solgar, who the Colombian Federation proudly announced would be competing in the Giro Del Toscana

2. It’s not flesh or nude, it’s gold

There are numerous tweets to this effect from people who have been paying attention. Lycra done as gold effect never photographs well. It’s unfortunate, but there you are. It’s not “unacceptable by any standard of decency” as the UCI boss Brian Cookson seems to suggest.

3. They’ve apparently been wearing it for up to 9 months

Here’s a picture of it being raced to victory in Colombia in August in the Carrera de la Mujer in Bogota. The rider with the bottle in her mouth is wearing it and wins the race. Here’s the report from Las Bielas

Carrera de la Mujer, Bogota

Jono Coulter tweeted this picture of the kit in El Salvador earlier this year.


4. It seems to have been designed by one of the riders on the team

ABC.es quotes several Colombia sources in its report on the kerfuffle (via Frontier Sports)

5. There is still no minimum wage for women in professional cycling

Events deemed “Women’s Elite” – like the Giro del Toscana at which they were competing –  are roughly equivalent to the top two tiers of the men’s sport.

In 2011, second tier men’s teams were required to pay a minimum around 32,000 euro, according to the Inner Ring. A woman who wins every event in their top tier World Cup Series probably would fall short of that sum in prize money.

Most women in the top tier of professional cycling aren’t even making what most countries would describe as a minimum wage.

So you can be outraged by an unflattering photo.

Or you can be outraged by the fact that the people running the sport still haven’t bought forward meaningful change to ensure that women are not on the end of enduring sexism in the sport where their right to a fair wage for a professional job is still considered less important than the design of their kit.

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Posted in Professional, Women | Tagged , , , , , , | 45 Comments

Farewell the mighty Emma Pooley

Big scoop for Sarah Connolly to get Emma Pooley’s retirement story for Rouleur.

I interviewed Emma a few times back in 2009, when I had time to write about women’s cycling. On one occasion she called me back from a train in Switzerland, apologised for missing my call – she was in the lab doing PhD work after training – then proceeded to give a wonderful interview that was honest and engaging.

Most importantly for the time-pressed journalist, she always gave interviews that made the story easy to write – strong quotes, clear responses, thoughtful views.

I’ll miss that. But not as much as I’ll miss her brilliant riding.

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Podcast episode 6 – Women’s Tour and Giro 2014

Between here and the third week of July, it’s hard to think of a more interesting and exciting week in the sport of professional cycling, to use a classic Sherwenism.

The Women’s Tour – a new beginning

First and most importantly, the inaugural Women’s Tour. Let’s skip the nonsense about names and rights, to you and me it is and will always be the Women’s Tour of Britain www.womenstour.co.uk

Equal prize money and race organisation are the big selling points. Now while prize money seems the big deal, it’s the race organisation that really matters.

Simple things that men’s races do as a matter of course, like arranging hotels, not school gymnasiums or hostels. That’s something of a novelty for a lot of women’s races.

Likewise, having a daily highlights programme on terrestrial television, free to air. Now the hardcore will say “why not live?” and I’ll say, take a look at your audience figures. In the UK – on ITV – the daily highlights routinely outperforms the live coverage.

Simply put, more people have an hour free in the evening to watch telly than in the middle of the afternoon. It also allows the race to be packaged with video inserts and insights that would get lost in live coverage.

Those three-minute slots are gold to both host towns and to team sponsors as it gives them the sort of undivided audience attention that makes the investment worthwhile.

Then there’s the quality of the field. It’s all killer, no filler. Everyone has brought their strongest squad to the race. Just take a look at the start list.

Throw in the random variable that no one quite knows how the racing is going to pan out, and it should be guaranteed excitement, like the 2012 Olympic Road Race that inspired it. As Ned Boulting has pointed out, it’s quite a piece of legacy.

If you want to keep up with what’s happening during the day, I recommend their official twitter which is @thewomenstour.

But don’t think of this as the end, until women professionals get a minimum wage for top flight teams, we’re still a long way from home. Nicole Cooke is absolutely right to bang that drum.

Some argue it would collapse a whole number of teams. I say, fine, professional teams that can’t or won’t pay their athletes aren’t credible as professional organisations. Without that credibility in the sport, why would you pay money as a sponsor? I’d want to know that my money was supporting the performance of the team and their being a value to my deal rather more substantive than a logo on the jersey.

Alternatively the Installment Loans from Purple Payday could – and in my view should – structure a three to five year transitional period during which it could underpin team finances on a reducing scale to allow them to find and build their financial backing. Ambitious? Yes. Necessary? Absolutely.

Giro – anything could happen

Then there’s the Giro d’Italia, hashtag #giro. If you don’t know the drill by now, it’s the interesting Grand Tour, with decent food in the press room and a relaxed vibe that makes it so much more bearable that the Tour de France.

In redux, it’s a question of who can come second to Nairo Quintano, with Rigoberto Uran, Cadel Evans and Joaquim Rodriguez the most likely. Poor boot-face Michele Scarponi is in there as the token Italian contender.

But the Giro cannot be reduced down to such straightforwardness. This is a race after all where we’ve seen the entire peloton sliding across the finish line like lycra-clad penguins, stage finishes in blizzards and 60-rider escapes in the rain.

Anything can and will happen at the Giro, including starting in Northern Ireland, which is one of the most bizarre crossing of political and sporting paths I’ve seen in a long time.

I’m not even going to try and make a prediction as this is a race which almost always defies them.

Please donate to the following organisations

The London Courier Emergency Fund
The Wolf Centre, Combe Martin Wildlife Park

>> Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

Thank you for listening, all feedback welcome.

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Podcast Episode 5 – Just in time for Paris-Roubaix

After too much coffee and – appropriately enough – a Belgian bun, I rattle though some choice morsels in episode 5 of the eternally delayed and somewhat infrequent Chasing Wheels podcast.

– Paris-Roubaix, why will no one let me bet on Manuel Quinziato?

– Speaking of betting, thank you Mr Alex Kristof for winning Milan-San Remo. Proof that if you pay attention you can place a good bet on cycling and win big.

– UCI’s Women’s World Cup coverage, highlights or race report? Why the coverage needs to feel more live and less last weekend.

– Women’s Tour. Great Britain, prepare to stand by your roadsides. We are world class when it comes to lining a road.

– Alberto Contador. He’s flying again, but leave your moral judgements aside. He’s done his time and deserves no more doping criticism for his past than others who are lauded for telling the truth a decade after the act. Also he’s a sneaky blighter with some serious race craft.

– Why the heck don’t they show the last 20km of Women’s Fleche Wallonne? They’re on the finishing circuit, two motos will do the job. And the men’s race is incredibly boring at that point.

Please donate to the following organisations

The London Courier Emergency Fund
The Wolf Centre, Combe Martin Wildlife Park

>> Subscribe to the podcast on iTunes

Thank you for listening, all feedback welcome.

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