Women’s U23 World Titles: create the slot, scale participation

In 2022, the UCI has deemed it timely to create world title events for U23 Women in road race and time trial. Obviously, the best way to do this is to simply integrate the even into the existing Elite Women competitions.

This innovative approach to giving rising stars the opportunity to shine – by potentially crossing the line bathed in confusing midpack glory – was greeted with the enthusiasm it deserved by riders when it was announced in 2021:

Sadabh O’Shea of Velonews asks “…does the integrated U23/elite women’s road race at the worlds cause more problems than it solves?” Surely an issue that the sport’s governing body might have considered before deciding to run it for three years before giving its own place in the schedule in 2025 at Rwanda 2025, the first Worlds to be held in Africa?

When the UCI chose to introduce the professional Team Time Trial discipline to the nation-based World Championships, it didn’t slide it down the back of existing Elite Time Trial events.

Instead it had its own slot, despite its manifest issues with attracting and retaining a deep and competitive field.

More recently, the Mixed Relay discpline arrived with much fanfare and a similarly limited level of participation. But it too was given its own slot in the schedule.

So if the concern here is that initial fields might of limited size and variable ability, it certainly isn’t one the UCI has had an issue with in recent expansions of the competition schedule.

Indeed a small entry list is exactly the sort of situation a talented rider from a smaller nation might regard as an idea opportunity.

Tactically, “sit in on Belgium/Netherlands/France/Italy/etc then pick your moment” and “go early and hope they under-estimate your ability to hold off a charging bunch” are not without merit or results.

Equally “small teams, chaos” and “that got attritionally quickly” are both valid race formats that fans love to see.

When it is due to become a standlone event the Worlds is hosted in a country with limited experience of hosting a major event. The course for Rwanda 2025 is likely to be rather selective – it’s not dubbed “land of a thousand hills” in error. Would Wollongong, Glasgow and Zurich not be chances to iron out issues and grow participation?

Fundamentally it seems the UCI has put things in the wrong order. It’s much easier to scale participation in a clear opportunity than it is than it is to untangle participation from an existing event.

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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