While we continue to suffer from an alphabet soup of acronym overload, today’s news heralds the revival of one we all thought had been placed in cycling’s dustbin – WSC. World Series Cycling is a Formula-1-style concept originally touted by the now-disgraced Johan Bruyneel – in conjunction with Jonathan Price and his partner Thomas Kurth – which has garnered the strong backing of Garmin-Sharp’s Jonathan Vaughters and Zdenek Bakala, the billionaire behind Omega Pharma Quickstep.
The concept is 14 teams or so, with 20 riders competing in 10 events, plus select races which include the three Grand Tours and five monuments. The funny part of the equation is that this group has given a “stake” in the venture to the UCI (rumoured to be 52%) as announced by the Gifted Group’s Jonathan Price when he met with the Change Cycling Now people. That’s right, Price met with the group during their London summit to explain that based upon the UCI’s agreement to pursue this, it’s pretty much a done deal. Price also took that opportunity to meet WADA’s David Howman during the summit, at the behest of Jonathan Vaughters. Interesting times indeed.
There is real trouble with this concept. Firstly, cycling will be saddled with ten additional races in which there will be only fourteen teams racing. What happens to the other teams? The other riders? As we see in the corporate sector, takeovers always create “redundancies” which always, and I mean always, lead to layoffs and a heavier workload for those remaining. Whose right is it to say that the calendar should then be expanded to contain more events that 20 riders are supposed to compete in? Aren’t the riders complaining about the demands of the sport already?
If this concept takes hold, you’ve just eliminated eight rider jobs. Congratulations. You’ve put money in the owner’s pocket, and not only that, but you’ve technically reduced the competition from 20 teams per event down to 14, so there will be a culling of the herd when it comes to teams. Then let’s factor in the exodus of sponsors because they can’t get into the top tier of races, so they look to other sporting spectacles for investment. After all, you’re going to see the elimination of races like Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico because, well, they just don’t matter in the grand scheme of things.
So in essence, this plan, if executed correctly, will shrink the sport rather than grow the sport. Isn’t this counter to the UCI’s mission to grow the sport of cycling? I really doubt the UCI can gaze into their crystal ball to see how the future of professional road cycling will be viewed in years to come, but there is a greater challenge to this concept than the UCI, the Gifted Group, and rest of their ilk fail to realise. Just imagine how the transition would work to the new series, considering the UCI has already given licences out to some teams through 2016. How are you going to adjust and incorporate the WorldTour into this format? How will this effect the pro-continental circuit, and the continental circuit? Will they only have 20 riders as well?
However, unlike in Formula 1 – the much-touted format almost all the cycling revolutionaries are married to at the current time – regular people can actually ride bikes. They can’t drive Formula 1 cars as transportation, nor can they drive like them during daily life (some try and end up in jail). Bikes are different. People use them to go to the store. People use them to commute. Children ride them. There are road bikes, there are BMX bikes, there are mountain bikes, there are cruisers. Bicycles are woven into the fabric of our society. Not only this, but there are endurance events and triathlons, there’s the exploding world of mass-start races called Gran Fondos. And the best part? You can ride the same way and at the same speeds (if you’re in healthy enough shape) as the professionals do.
Cycling has to compete with itself. The danger professional road cycling faces with this concept is that if the fans won’t support it, you’ve got no volunteers to help get these events off the ground, and no one to watch them because they’re too busy climbing the Galibier themselves. The reason why Formula 1 works as a spectacle is not everyone has the ability to drive one of those cars themselves. They can’t drive the circuit like these drivers do. Therefore it creates interest and drama. Professional road cycling has a rich history and used to have brilliant pageantry. Marketing moves like the WSC group’s efforts have slowly yanked the spirit out of the sport (always be concerned when words like “product” and “marketplace” enter the vernacular). Why would someone in France tune in to a race in Brazil, when instead, they can call up a few mates and spend the day climbing Mt. Ventoux?
Professional cycling’s drama comes from the long kamikaze breakaways in regions steeped in history. It comes from the cobbles of the classics. The climbs in the Alps and the Pyrénées. The heat of Spain in August. The leaves falling in Lombardia. It comes from riders wanting to conquer the course first, and then competing with their fellow riders second. There in no history in these new events, and WSC is trying to borrow the history of others to give itself relevance. It’s a glorified cycling parasite. Hell, even the newest race RCS created, Bianche Strade, has incorporated previous historical significance of racing in the area, and the history of the area itself.
Personally, I’ll take the history of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico over some four-day homogenised course that features boring and predictable plot lines. I’m not interested in the battles between the combatants. I’m interested in if my mates in the peloton successfully navigated the grupetto to the finish prior to the time cutoff. I’m interested in hearing the roar of the fans heading up classic mountain climbs that those from the 1930s attempted to tackle.
I’m more of a fan of Ventoux than of a particular team. That’s where my support lies.
Call me a dinosaur.