Europe is not the answer

So, according to VeloNews, what cycling needs is more races in shrinking markets with shrinking capital investment, not new races in growing markets with growing capital investment:

“With cycling pinched by recession across much of Europe, coupled with a growing fixation to “internationalize” cycling by shoehorning the sport into untapped markets, this weekend’s Italian romp should serve as a reminder to everyone that well-organized and smartly packaged events set in cycling’s European hotbed remain the sport’s best bet.”

“At its heart and soul, elite pro cycling is a European-based sport.”

Was, not is.

Look at the number of African riders pushing through, the growth of the sport in Asia. All else is nostalgia. Looks at the crowds and mind-blowing scenery of the Tour of Rwanda.

Every bit as good a bet as another European race for my money.

At its heart the “cycling is European” meme is reactionary, xenophobic, bordering on racist. Misty-eyed nostalgia for what wasn’t an economically viable sport will help precisely no one.

If you want “High drama, with the best racers, set against a spectacular “stadium” of natural beauty”, it is impossible to argue that Oman or the Great Wall of China offer a lesser stadium, or that the fields have any less reason to be good.

I’m almost tempted to say it’s willfully stupid to suggest that the history and monuments of either offer less to a bike race than the olive groves of northern Italy.

There were, are and will be races across the globe that have every right to be as much a part of the fabric of the sport as the heritage brand Strade Bianche and the Giro del Lazio in a new dress that is Roma Maxima.

Remember what Strade Bianche started out as in 2007? It’s now on its third race title, after Monte Paschi Eroica, Montepaschi Strade Bianche. A race that’s doing so well it lost a title sponsor and is being propped up largely by the organiser RCS.

Actually, it’s probably not their fault that Monte Paschi is a massive banking basket case. But hey, it’s still “well-organized and smartly packaged”, just not so that it can attract a headline sponsor beyond an “endemic” – in this case helmet manufacturer Limar.

If you want to disagree, go ahead, but first pop quiz:

  • – The Madison is named after a venue in which country?
  • – Fausto Coppi contracted malaria while racing for professional money in which country?
  • – A “North Africa” team first raced in the Tour de France in which year?

The acceptance that their can be no other single power in the sport than ASO is not only historically wrong, ignoring that ASO only became powerful by consolidation and state backing for the Tour de France, it is dangerous for the future of the sport – and ignores ASO’s own failing to monetise its own portfolio beyond the Tour de France.

In layman’s language, the sport’s over-reliance on the Tour de France as an economic driver is exactly putting all your eggs in the one basket.

Allowing one organiser or event to gain control of a sport is exactly how motorsport ended up with the dominance of Formula 1 to the virtual exclusion of everything else. Market plurality of organisers and events within a coherent framework is vital to avoid a litany of issues, from cronyism, to corruption and sudden market failure.

Cycling has a choice: get out of its comfort zone of European races and explore the beauty of the world; or stay where it feels safe and die as a sporting attraction outside of one annual event.

By all means let’s keep heart and soul in the sport, but not at the expense of a body within which it can reside.

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