Livin' the Dream

Livin' the Dream

About Me

I am a sophomore at James Madison University in Harrisonburg, VA, majoring in journalism. My passion is cycling. I am a category 4 bike racer and my absolute dream would be to turn pro one day. My more realistic goal is to become a journalist for the sport of cycling and eventually move on to become a broadcaster for the sport.

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Carnage: Great TV, But What About the Riders

            As everyone predicted stage 5 of this year’s Tour de France drastically affected not only how the race will play out, but also the final outcome of the race. Defending champion Chris Froome (Sky) has abandoned; Alberto Contador (Tinkoff-Saxo), one of the primary GC contenders, is over two and half minutes behind; and Vincenzo Nibali (Astana), one of the underdogs, is sitting pretty in the yellow jersey with minutes on all of his closest rivals. Without question, Nibali rode fantastically and proved he is worth of the yellow jersey. Yes, the winner of the Tour de France should be the best all-around rider, but should cobblestones be included in the Tour de France?

Great TV

            Including cobblestones in the Tour de France makes for great TV. We viewers love the drama that plays out—the crashes that occur, the General Classification riders who will lose time, and the valiant effort a rider will give to win this majestic stage. In fact, when the Tour de France route was released in October everyone looked to this stage to be what cyclists call epic.

            Amaury Sport Organization (ASO) owns and operates the Tour and leases out the television rights every year. They make hundreds of millions of dollars from these television rights. Guess how much the professional cycling teams get? Zero. Professional Cycling Teams get none of the revenue gained from the TV rights at the Tour de France for providing the entertainment. That seems a bit unfair if you ask me considers NFL teams, NBA teams, European soccer teams, ect, get a share of the TV revenue. Cycling is one of the only sports in the world where the teams do not get a share of the TV revenue.

            The obvious option would be to boycott or protest at the start line of the race. The problem is the riders want to race, that’s what they love doing, racing their bikes. Furthermore, the cycling governing body, Universal Cycling Institute (UCI) is a bit of a dictatorship and has the ability for fining riders for doing just that. It is a lose, lose situation for the riders.

            Also, because the teams do not get money from television revenue they survive almost completely on sponsorship dollars. For this reason alone, professional cycling teams are not profitable endeavors for the owners. In fact, most team owners contribute some of their own personal funds just so the team can survive. With cycling’s dark secrets now coming out of the closet sponsors are hard to come by these days. The bottom-line is that the riders and teams should get a share of the TV revenue for providing the entertainment.

            If professional cyclists are going to put themselves on the line for this race, they and their teams should be able to get a slice of the TV revenue pie. Plus, this would take some of the burden off finding sponsorship dollars to run the teams. It would be a win, win—the extra money would prevent more teams from folding and create more competition to try to get a coveted World Tour license that guarantees entry into all of the big races.
Rider Safety

            Rider safety has been a topic that has been gaining momentum. So, the cobblestones bring in the viewers, but what about the riders, how safe are the cobbles for the riders? I believe cobblestones are made for the Spring Classics and should stay out of the Grand Tours for a number of reasons.

            First, very different riders compete at the Tour de France than say Paris-Roubaix. At Roubaix you have big 180-pound guys who produce massive power on the flats and can roll right over the cobblestones. These are the same guys that are domestigues at the Tour for the same reason. In contrast, the Tour de France brings in 140-pound climbers who bounce around the cobblestones like ping-pong balls. General Classification riders at the Tour do no compete in the Spring Classics because they are not built for the rough roads of Northern France.

            Today’s stage was an example of what happens when riders not suited to cobbles (light-weight climbers) try to tackle them. In addition, the rain made everything worse and sent everyone’s stress level through the rough. It is similar to what happened back in 2010 when cobblestones were last in the Tour—Frank Schleck broke his collarbone entering a sector of cobbles. In response to today’s stage, ASO may claim most of the crashes occurred before all of the cobbles. But those crashes occurred due to anticipation of the cobbles to come and the critical need to take risks to be at the front.

            This should be a wake-up call for ASO when 3-time Paris-Roubaix winner Fabian Cancellara (Trek Factory Racing) says in a post-race interview on NBC SportsNetwork, “This stage has no place in the Tour de France.” These are the words coming from someone who loves the cobbles and has been looking forward to this stage since October when the route was announced. Furthermore, GC rider Tejay van Garderen (BMC) was clearly upset after the stage, but held back a little saying “I think ASO needs to rethink putting days like this in the [Tour].”

            The hands of the teams and riders are tied. They can complain about the course conditions and rider safety, but they are unable to do anything. They are at the mercy of the race organizers and have to trust the organizers to look out for them. The problem is, the organizers have different priorities. Everything comes down to money. TV revenue brings in oh so many dollars, a priority for organizers, leaving no organization looking out for the riders. Regardless of what you think about Lance Armstrong, his tweet said it all, “Two Words: Riders. Union.” A riders union will protect the riders and prevent carnage days like today.

            It is time for cycling to quit being so old fashioned and for it to move into today’s world. TV revenue sharing would create more teams and competition within the sport, which is good for everyone. More competition brings more viewers. Furthermore, the riders need to be looked out for. Today’s cobblestone mess was a disaster and should never be allowed to happen again.

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