The Continental Revolution

With the Herald Sun Tour drawing to a close, the world got to witness some of Australia’s most talented youngsters punch it out with the World Tour heavyweights. It’s common to see a small selection of riders riding for the national team in the Tour Down Under, Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race and the Herald Sun Tour. These national teams have been crucial to the breakout of some riders like Jai Hindley, Lucas Hamilton and Michael Storer in recent years. However, this year has been historic in seeing not two, but nine Australian based teams line up for the Herald Sun Tour – the first time in its short UCI history.

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Hamilton (front) and Hindley (behind) finished 2nd and 3rd at the Baby Giro last year, one of the most prestigious U23 races. They both are riding in the World Tour this year, for Mitchelton-Scott and Team Sunweb respectively. Source: Twitter (@giroditaliau23).

Australian cycling is witnessing a continental revolution. The continential circuit was introduced in 2005 in sweeping reforms across the UCI. This reform introduced the Pro Tour (now the World Tour), and 5 continental series’ around the world where PRO teams could compete against local teams. These local teams also were required to hold a continental racing license to ride events up to Hors Categorie, and a pro continental racing license to ride Pro Tour events (on invite). Without a license, teams couldn’t compete in races unless individual riders make up a national team. Since the introduction of the Continental Circuit in 2005, no more than 7 Australian teams (in 2015 there were 6 CTs and 1 PCTs) have held a Continental or Pro Continental License in the same year. 2017 saw one of the lowest number of licenses given to Australian teams, with only 4 teams receiving one.

With dozens of local teams riding ProAm in the National Road Series, having only 4 teams able to race UCI events limited the opportunities to showcase talent. Furthermore, some CT level teams like NSWIS couldn’t secure funding to race overseas often, restricting the growth of Australian cycling even further. Australia in the past has gotten around this – with the World Tour Academy taking the best NRS talent over to Europe, and national teams participating in the Tour Down Under, CEGORR and Herald Sun Tour. However, it would only showcase a select few riders, usually from the Avanti/Isowhey/Bennelong super team. With a lack of racing in the higher echelons of the sport, Australian talent often fell to the wayside unless they had extreme standout performances. It was a tier of the sport completely underutilised in growing talent and making the jump from ProAm to PCT/WT less harsh on riders.

2018 saw 8 Australian teams apply, and receive, Continental Racing Licenses. Australia’s best local team (aside from Mitchelton-Scott) Bennelong – Swiss Wellness renewed their license, giving them the opportunity to make their mark on the Asia Circuit with a stronger-than-ever team in 2018. The feeder team to EF-Drapac, Drapac-EF Cycling (confusing, I know) received one – allowing riders like Cyrus Monk to gain experience outside of the Australian cycling scene. Oliver’s Real Food, after a breakout year in 2017 with rider Brendon Davids (now at Bennelong), were granted a license for this year. St. George retained the services of Ben Dyball after he went to Delko Marseille as a stagiaire, which would have helped in discussions to retain their license. Mobius-BridgeLane took the step up from NRS after a decent season to secure a license.

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Cyrus Monk has already won one race in 2018 – the U23 National Road Race. He was also a stagiaire for Cannondale in 2017, and one of the best Australian talents right now. Source: Con Chronis.

It wasn’t just pre-existing teams who got licenses though, 3 newly formed (or heavily rebranded) teams received licenses in 2018. Australian Cycling Academy, a project started by Matt Wilson (Mitchelton DS) and Ben Kersten (Commonwealth Gold Medallist) out of Noosa, Queensland, received a license. ACA combined with the University of Sunshine Coast to provide young riders a pathway into their future on the bike on top of study. Brisbane Contintenal Cycling Team was born out of the dead Budget Forklifts team and headed by ex-rider Josh Prete, with the aim of providing racing opportunities to Queenslanders since the team folded in 2015. Team McDonalds Down Under rounds out the 8 teams, led by New Zealand veteran Alexander Ray.

Individually, there are some very strong riders who wouldn’t have been able to race overseas without their teams going continental. ACA has recruited former World Tour pro Leigh Howard to help lead some great talent like pursuit gold medalist Sam Welsford and Daniel Fitter, who spent time in Europe last year with NSWIS. The Bennelong roster is jam packed with talent, with South African Brendon Davids being a standout for another breakout year in 2018. They also have Ayden Toovey, who spent the latter half of last year as a stagiaire at Trek. Drapac-EF have Theo Yates (who I can’t believe is only 22) who took out his first two pro wins last year over in Asia, Cyrus Monk who is currently the U23 National Champion and Liam Magennis who rode over in America in 2017 with the NSWIS team. Peter Livingstone of Mobius took out a great victory at the Tour of Tasmania last year, while 21 year old Kiwi Nicholas Reddish took out a stage win at NZCC for Oliver’s Real Food this year. These are only just a handful of talented riders who have been given the chance to go international with their racing and get their name out there. They are also getting much needed experience at a higher tier of racing if they want to extend their career.

The impact of these licenses has already been seen in the Herald Sun Tour. 7 continental teams, Mitchelton-Scott and a National team all lined up in Melbourne for the 4 day stage race. The only registered team who missed out was St. George. Sam Crome got a stage win on the final day, while Alex Evans of Mobius came 2nd on the 218km Queen stage, 42″ behind Colombian climber Esteban Chaves. Bennelong team mates Dylan Sunderland, Chris Harper and Sam Crome all finished in the top 10, while Freddy Ovett of ACA snuck in after finishing in the top 10 of stages 3 and 4.

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Sam Crome took out Stage 4 of the Herald Sun Tour riding with the Bennelong team, one of eight Australian CTs in 2018. Source: Con Chronis.

From here, with the shake-up of the NRS in 2018, races like Tour de Taiwan, Tour de Langkawi and Tour of Thaliand become possible next steps for Australian CTs before the start of the one-day season in mid-April after the Commonwealth Games. Over the winter months, the Tour de Korea and Tour of Qinghai Lake become major races before the tour season starts in August. These are only Asia Tour events – there are many more races on the Europe, America and Africa Tour which these teams can race in. If funding permits, teams like Oliver’s, Bennelong and Drapac will be able to attend these races while keeping up with the Australian scene.

While I usually love having a dig at Cycling Australia, their NRS reform for 2018 seems completely logical for growing road cycling in Australia. Sure, Simon Jones, the High Performance Director at CA, might only have sights on gold and not the 3.5 years between Olympics, but this step shows that CA might actually care about road cycling. In brief, the changes are splitting the calendar into 3 seasons. Starting in mid-April, there will be a 6 week one-day race series. From August to November, there will be stage races where the majority of points will be on offer; and to wind down the season over summer, there will be a series of criteriums around Australia. These changes mean that teams will be able to prepare for a series of races, and work their local schedules around bigger continental circuit races. Having time off at crucial times in the road cycling season (June-July-August for prime-time northern hemisphere racing, November for end of season racing) means teams can compete overseas, get themselves recognised, and have minimal impact on their racing at home.

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Isowhey (now Bennelong) have been the super team in local Australian cycling for some time, but hopefully in 2018 they can make a bigger impact on the world stage with some favourable changes to the NRS roster. Source: BikeChaser.

In saying that, dismantling the Women’s road program wasn’t the way to go. Australia is considered a top 3 nation in road cycling, and finished 4th on the nation ranking after last years WWT. Garfoot got silver and bronze at the Worlds Road Race and Time Trial respectively in Bergen, and looking towards Innsbruck, climbers like Amanda Spratt and Lucy Kennedy have a fair chance of taking the crown (although, Australia would still be considered outsiders to the likes of Van Vleuten). That’s enough ranting about women’s cycling for this post, but the changes to the NRS calendar are a positive step for more competitive men’s racing in Australia, giving Australia a chance to develop talent globally.

If teams can juggle both the continental circuit and the NRS, the rewards will be incredible for Australian cycling. Rider development will grow as the local scene becomes more competitive, allowing for a higher level of riding. Talent will flourish internationally, getting Australia recognised as one of the great cycling nations again. With great results, funding towards road cycling will increase, snowballing the improvement further and further. While Australia might not be of the caliber of cycling nations like the Netherlands or Belgium now, good junior development and a strong structure in place to assist this will go a long way.

The continental revolution provides another tier of the sport which was once more closed off to Australian riders. They have the riders, they have the program in place, now we just need to wait to see the results.

 

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Opinion: The Australian World Tour Predicament

I’m definitely biased, but the TDU is one of my favourite races of the year. There are probably experiences like it in Europe, but standing on Willunga Hill – a climb I’ve tackled many times, with much suffering – while Porte flies up it at an eye-watering speed is something you have to see to believe. The whole week is a festival of cycling for Adelaide and Australia, and for once the sport gets the publicity it deserves. Every year I go there, more and more people go to the Rider Village, and line the roads around Adelaide. It’s great to see the sport growing. There is only one problem with the TDU in its current state: its timing.

The UCI want to make the World Tour, a World Tour. They have expanded into the US, Australia, the Middle East and Asia. While cycling is associated more with Europe than other parts of the world, the growing popularity of the sport – and the hobby of cycling – means that the UCI must look global to keep the sport growing and satisfy fans interests. While there are Tours for each respective continent (including the criminally short Oceania Tour and the main event Herald Sun Tour, which I will discuss in another blog post), the World Tour brings the big talent, and the big money. Some races, however, don’t get this talent because of their place on the calendar.

The Tour Down Under usually takes place in mid-January, with the Cadel Evans Great Ocean Road Race taking place over the Australia Day Long Weekend and Herald Sun Tour the first week of February. These times, in an Australian context, are amazing. It’s the tail end of summer holidays, so parents are still off work and kids are still not back at school. Combining the TDU with CEGORR in the same time period, and you have two great Australian cycling events on within two public holidays and a time where everyone can watch. This means more eyes on the telly able to watch the race, or more bodies lining the roadside. Sure, the weather might be boiling hot (climbed Willunga Hill in 38C+ heat before, would not recommend doing that once let alone doing it twice along with 140km more racing), but everyone is able to come down and watch.

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Considering I’m talking TDU, I might showcase a few of my favourite TDU moments. Here is Adam Hansen breaking away into Stirling in 2016.

However, a predicament lies in where the TDU lies in the World Tour Calendar. Looking at the 2017 Calendar, there is a month between the Australian races and the next WT race, the Abu Dhabi Tour (which is in a much better time slot), and the first European WT race of Omloop het Nieuwsblad starts in late February too. Furthermore, it’s a month and a half away from the next comparable 1 week WT race in Paris-Nice, and 3 and a half months away from the Giro. While there are smaller European one week races like Algarve and Andalucia which are like the TDU 4 weeks afterwards, the race suffers from what I like to call ‘Shitty Calendar Syndrome’.

The ‘Shitty Calendar Syndrome’ is where you have an event in a time where no one really gives a toss about it. The TDU is too far out from major European races for riders to use it as prep, and as such it is used as a showcase of Australian talent while a few big names tag along for sponsorship interests. For example, Sagan coming out to promote Bora, and ends up riding for Bennett the whole race – which can be seen as ‘payment’ for Bennett helping Sagan for the rest of the season. And in a similar vein, Team Sky always send Chris Froome out to the Herald Sun Tour for a bit of early climbing prep, but also for an insane amount of publicity and to increase interest in the race (which still isn’t televised for the most part?!).

Because of its ‘cheap’ place in the WT Calendar, the TDU and CEGORR aren’t able to showcase the top talent of the World Tour. Teams for the most part bring their B-squads while their A-squads are training in Mallorca or somewhere else. Other races like the Tour of Turkey and Tour of Guangxi share this same fate – they are so far away from the European main base, and at a really poor time of year, that it’s a struggle for the top riders to come and race. Post-worlds and post-Lombardia is a dead time for cycling – riders are resting up ahead of the next season and catching up on family time and some much needed hearty food. Having to spend another two weeks away from home, halfway across the world – your mind won’t be in the race, or you won’t be there at all.

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Hitching a ride with Lotto Soudal up Willunga Hill. They were cruising up, I was suffering. After this, I went and watched the Santos Women’s Tour in Meadows, where Spratt won solo.

The calendar is a complicated thing. You have 365 days to fit in 37 events and over 100 race days on the World Tour alone, as well as Worlds, and enough time for riders to go home for a few months. Then, with the UCI stretching out where you are having events globally, teams have to come to a compromise.

Would it be better to send your star rider to a race in Australia where he could be bitten by a snake, dropped on by a drop bear or suffer heatstroke worse than Doha Worlds; or get him training in Mallorca for the European season. Any sensible DS (including myself) would take him to Mallorca, the risks are too large bringing a rider to Australia. On the other end of the calendar: as a star rider, after Worlds (which is meant to be the final event of the season), you don’t give a toss about racing – except for Lombardia as it’s a monument. Not many big names will be going to China because it’s halfway across the Worlds two weeks after Lombardia when riders want to be at home with their families.

If Australia ever wanted to attract the Sagan’s, Froome’s, Van Avermaet’s, Valverde’s, Contador’s or Quintana’s to the same races, the race timing in the calendar must be changed. Most teams, and good riders, went back to Europe after the TDU because CEGORR clashed with the Mallorca races and the HST was too far away to keep the GC riders because the cost of keeping 8 riders, and support staff, in a country and not racing for 10 days is insane.

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This photo might look familiar to a few of you. It’s my blog header. I took this at the start of Stage 6 in 2017. Probably my best photo ever.

Now I’ve done all this ranting, I should probably propose a solution. The thing is though, as long as there are 365 days in a year and the sky is blue, there is no solution. The UCI wants to expand the World Tour, but the fans want the top riders go to their home race. For some nations, this is impractical. It’s either they have the race without the big names, or no race at all. The best time to hold a race in Australia is in the winter holidays around July – families have more time off and the kids aren’t at school, the weather’s nicer and the scenery is lush and green. What race is on in July? The Tour de France. What about spring, maybe September or October? Worlds and Lombardia will clash. Before the TDF? You have to deal with the jam-packed classics season, then straight onto the Giro, and the Tour prep races. There is no feasible change of time for the TDU and CEGORR unless you want the TDF in the middle of winter when Alps d’Huez is 6 feet deep in snow.

As much as I would want the TDU to get the respect it deserves as Australia’s premiere race, its place in the calendar means it’s impossible for every great rider to come down. Sometimes you just crave more. Maybe I’m getting too greedy, and I should be happy that we have two World Tour races in Australia, but I want to see Quintana vs Contador vs Porte vs Froome on Willunga Hill! However, I’m happy Sagan came down this year, it was great for the sport here having the World Champion. Everyone in Australia loves Chaves, while Porte and Ewan are becoming national sporting icons. It’s great to see the sport growing in Australia even without the best riders being able to race here, and I live for that week in January where the streets of South Australia are lined by hundreds of thousands captivated fans cheering on the world’s best. It might not be the best of the World Tour, but I’d be damned if seeing cycling down under doesn’t make me happy as a passionate fan, or even others as casual fans.

Bringing happiness, excitement, and a festival where everyone in the community is invited. That’s what cycling is meant to do, no matter who races.

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This is why we love cycling.

Daan Myngheer – 2016’s Forgotten Tragedy

Looking back on 2016, it was one of the worst years for rider deaths and serious injuries in history. Everyone remembers Antoine Demoitie – the 25 year old up-and-coming Wanty rider who died on one of cycling’s biggest days at Gent-Wevelgem after a moto collision. In a similar fashion, Stig Broeckx of Lotto Soudal was induced into a coma for 6 months after a moto collision at the Baloise Belgium Tour – and is still at a state of minimal communication in hospital with little to no change of full recovery. Keagan Girdlestone of Dimension Data for Qhubeka crashed into the back of his team car on a descent at the Coppa della Pace Race, severing arteries in his neck – but since then he has made a great recovery, completing his first race just this weekend gone past. Staigiare Etienne Fabre of AG2R and Chambery Cycling died in a hiking accident late last year, while Colavita Neo-pro Ellen Watters was killed in a training accident after colliding with a truck. Iranian paracyclist Bahman Golbarnezhad died on the worlds biggest stage – the Olympics – on the very dangerous Rio course after a crash on a similar descent to the one which saw Annemiek Van Vleuten suffer a serious concussion (feared dead) and multiple other severe crashes in the Men’s Race. All of these accidents are tragic, and all of them got quite extensive media coverage; but one rider was forgotten amongst all of these.

Daan Myngheer spent 2015 at Verandas Willems Crelan before transferring over to the Roubaix Lille Métropole team for 2016. With promising performances in his junior years including being the Belgian Junior National Road Race Champion in 2011, 2nd at Omloop Juniors 2010, 8th at Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne Juniors 2011 and 17th at Paris Roubaix Juniors 2011; the 22 year old looked like a solid pickup for the Lille team heading into the classics season of 2016. And sure enough, he proved himself in not only the classics but also in the GC races – 4th in the Youth Classification at Etoile de Besseges ahead of riders like Antony Turgis, Florian Senechal and Maxime Farazijn (who are all proving themselves in 2017) and helping team mate Rudy Barbier get a win at Paris-Troyes (who is now at AG2R) was just the start he needed in 2016 on a new team.

The Criterium International 2016. Sunday the 28th of March. Myngheer was getting his first taste of the big time at the biggest race of his career so far. The scenic backdrop of Porto-Vecchio, Corsica, makes the day seem as idyllic as one could hope. Brushing shoulders with riders like Thibaut Pinot, Thomas Voeckler and Jean-Christophe Peraud; Myngheer would have only had to have been in awe of finally making it here. It’s not the WorldTour, but it’s close enough to get a taste of the world stage. 25km into the relatively flat stage, Myngheer lost contact with the peloton quickly, feeling ill, before suffering a heart attack in the ambulance on the way to hospital. While the race was still on in Porto-Vecchio, Myngheer was in the fight for his life in the back of the ambulance, reaching the hospital in Ajaccio.

At 7:08pm, he was pronounced dead. Not much has been announced since them about the specific circumstances surrounding his death, nor should it be. Although reports have been released about Myngheer suffering a similar heart abnormality in a race in 2014, he had been fit all the way through his career. Riders from all over poured tributes towards Myngheer, the cycling community suffering two devastating losses in two days. The race continued on, Thibaut Pinot winning by 37 seconds over Pierre Latour.

Since then, Myngheer has been forgotten. He has faded away into the background of what was cycling’s darkest day in years with Demoitie’s death. It was cycling’s darkest weekend ever, but not many people remember the Sunday. No rider deserves to be forgotten, whether they past in tragic circumstances or retired after a valiant career. Patrick Lefevere summed up the day perfectly: “When winning the race is not important anymore. We lost [two] young people. That hurts.”

Tomorrow marks the one year anniversary of Daan’s death. Another rider taken too young.

RIP Daan. 1993-2016.

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The Very Quick, Bloody Fast, Light Speed Rise and Fall of TJ Sport

When Merida announced in August 2016 that Lampre-Merida would be breaking up in order for the Bahrain-Merida team to go ahead, the future of the Lampre-Merida team was foggy. For the un-initiated, Lampre-Merida was a WorldTour team formed in 1991 and has been in the top flight since 2005. Riders like Ulissi, Costa and Meintjes are left searching for a team in 2016 if Lampre couldn’t find a new investor for 2016. Without an investor, the team was rumoured to still run on, but only at a PCT or CT level.

Enter TJ Sport. The Chinese-owned corporation had a keen interest in investing in the team and to ensure a Chinese market for cycling. 1 billion people behind a major team in a region the UCI needs to develop the sport in the future if it wants to be successful. Already gaining popularity in Japan and South-East Asia, the Chinese Cycling market was stagnating, and the retirement of the most recognised Chinese rider in the pro peloton in Ji Cheng would have an even worse impact on the stagnation of the sport. They came by, and started a partnership between Lampre and Champion System kits to save the almost-doomed team. Due to the partnership, the Lampre contracts were still valid and riders could feel more certain about their futures. A huge Chinese investor willing to invest big dollars to get the team off the ground would give some safety to the riders already at Lampre, and attract riders like Ben Swift from Sky to join the team.

It was not since 2014 had the WorldTour seen any major Chinese influence. After the Tour of Beijing being wiped off the WT calendar after only 4 years, it seemed like the UCI’s ability to grab a hold in the wider Asian market was slipping. Not only did riders not appreciate the almost-gimmicky event tacked onto the end of the year, people weren’t turning out to watch it and air pollution was a big turn away factor and would jeopardize the safety of the riders. The TJ Sport-Lampre partnership would give the UCI one more chance to establish itself in the Chinese market, and attempt to build the sport in the region. So how did this partnership go so horribly wrong?

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The Tour of Beijing in it’s second year, it only lasted 4. Source: The Beijinger.

When the ambitions of TJ Sport to buy the licence of Lampre was released, it was very sudden and took everyone by surprise. Giving media only a few days to react, the heads of CGS Sport (the then-owners of the Lampre WT licence) and the TJ Sport corporation met for an “Announcement of the first UCI World Team of China” and “Contract Signing of Acquisition of CGS Sport by TJ Sport”. This ‘meant’ that the big Chinese powerhouse in TJ Sport would be buying out the Swiss CGS Sport and coincidentally, buying out the licence for Lampre – but Lampre said that the acquistion of CGS Sport by TJ would not impact on Lampre’s ownership of the licence, which meant (presumably) that TJ Sport went over Lampre’s head to get their licence.

And while this conference between CGS, TJ, Lampre and other officials – including the Presidents of each business and Sky&Grass, an investment company – was expected to solidfy the plans of the future for Lampre, all it did was raise questions. A bold celebration of the sport in China, the 20 years of history under Lampre and the fact that there was going to be a partnership didn’t answer any questions that weren’t already answered. There was also a lot of talk from TJ and Lampre, both during and after the presentation, about how pro cycling influences the lives of us commoners in trying to promote healthy influences and the beautiful sport of cycling. However, amidst all of this, the partnership neglected how pro cycling actually influences the lives of those directly involved. The riders and all the behind-the-scenes crew were still in the dark about how this partnership was going to go about, they were hyped and hopeful that all would run smoothly.

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This was probably the most official the contract between TJ and Lampre got. A thumbs up. Source: TJ Sport.

TJ saw the opportunity of Lampre as a means of jumping on the back of an already established team who is ready to grow immediately instead of starting from the bottom and taking a couple of years to get the ropes. By having a high quality of operation from the get-go, it would allow the sport to become promoted at a much faster rate and make TJ Sport, according to Mauro Gianetti the project co-ordinator, “not only a team that must win races, it is a team with another goal which is most important – win races and bring people to cycling…It’s for the entire country.” But the project stayed a project, a project on paper. No official ‘contracts’ were signed, no handing over of licences and no carrying over of contracts. It wasn’t clear who was also going to sponsor the project aside from TJ and Sky&Grass, and the project at the moment seemed less like trying to organise a pro team and more like starting a movement to improve the environment – everything discussed up to now was all about how cycling improves lives, and no firm stance on the team was made other than there was a partnership.

And then, silence. After that conference in August, not a whimper was heard out of the TJ Sport side.  Although from the outside the wheels of the project were still turning – with Colnago signing on as bike sponsor in early October and the riders of Lampre and new riders who signed on – such as Ben Swift of Sky and Darwin Atapuma of BMC – attending a training camp in early November; there wasn’t anything from the investors or Lampre. As the December 15 deadline came closer, the nervousness grew seemingly from inside and outside the camp of the team. Rider agents were saying the more popular riders such as Ulissi, Meijntes, Swift, Atapuma, Costa and others were looking to jump ship to other WorldTour teams as their future under the TJ Sport flag became uncertain. The supposed funding was still yet to materialise, and as the WT licences were handed out in late November, one name was missing: TJ Sport. Excuses started coming out of the project – someone was sick and wasn’t able to finish the documentation, the documentation was incorrectly completed and had to be redone, waiting for funding, the political landscape in China was too volatile for the project to go ahead etc. There were rumours that an Abu Dhabi based investor would save the team (barely), scraping by with a 8-9 million Euro budget (also known, for a cycling team, as sweet FA). And as December 15 came and gone, TJ Sport were still unlicensed and very much facing the prospect of folding or racing at PCT level for 2 years. This so-called project to boost the sport of cycling in China had completely faltered.

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Louis Meintjes was one of the riders whose future was uncertain due to the TJ Sport dealings. Source: Getty Images.

December 20 saw the nail laid into the coffin of the ‘glorious’ project. While it was announced on December 13 that Colnago had signed a contract with a company in the UAE about the future of the team, it was on December 20 that the team formerly known as Lampre found it’s future – at UAE Abu Dhabi (name subject to change). Saronni from Lampre had to run around to find a contract for his team as the Chinese investors seemingly vanished as fast as the money did – it was like they didn’t even exist.

So where did TJ Sport and the future of Chinese cycling finish? It finished where it started – absolutely nowhere. Although the journey to nowhere was filled with hope, promise and a great goal, it turned around as quickly as it left when the money didn’t materalise and the investors seemingly scattered to avoid blame. Reflecting on it now, a cynical thought would say the team was doomed from the start – the vagueness of the first press conference, the lack of communication between branches and the disappearance of both sides as the tension grew were all signs pointing to its demise. And while in cycling, we love a good hope story, the story of TJ ended in tragedy like other cycling miracles.

Cycling in China however, is not dead. The UCI have added a new race – the Tour of Guangxi – onto the already-expanded WT Calendar, two years after the Tour of Beijing was removed from the WT calendar. The 6 stage race has been proposed to finish of the WorldTour. Also, there are still the Tour of Qinghai Lake (2.HC), Tour of Hainan (2.HC) and Tour of China (2.1) in the region, and these races have seemingly grown in popularity and the rider quality increased as the years go on.

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On December 1 the UCI and Wanda Sports announced a 6-stage tour called the Tour of Guangxi to be added onto the WT Calendar. Source: UCI.

The UCI seems adamant on trying to grow the sport in China, but if they want to get serious about growing it, they need to provide sustainability and security before chasing the money. And while this can be applied to how the UCI operates itself outside of China too (just look at Doha Worlds), the fact that the UCI has made so many stabs at trying to enter the Chinese market before ultimately failing means that something has gone wrong in how the UCI operates. Maybe bringing back the very popular Tour of Beijing would help, or establishing the Tour of Guangxi on the WT Calendar to bring the big names; but they need to make a bold move and make it stick if they want the market to grow.

Thanks for reading this post! I did a bit of investigation to write it and while in places it might be a bit lacking in detail, I tried to be more transparent than TJ Sport/Lampre did over the whole period the project was on. For now, I’m out.

~ The Cycling Raven

Edit: Thanks to /u/flavioxavier on /r/peloton for fact-checking my Tour of Beijing things, the article has since been amended!

Does Promotion and Demotion have its place in pro cycling?

So, with the UCI doing more backflips than an Olympic gymnast on the number of the teams in the World Tour in coming years – first 18, down to 17, back up to 18 etc – the debate of whether cycling should have a promotion or demotion system came up. Now sitting at 18 going into next season (dependent on TJ Sport getting their act together, but that is another post in itself coming soon), the UCI have again backed down from their promise of a 16 team World Tour by 2018.

For those who don’t really know the logistics and read my blog for ‘shits and gigs’, cycling teams are bundled up into 4 different tiers. World Tour (WT) is the top – this is where the elite riders you hear about on telly race. They go and do the Grand Tours (GTs – Giro, TDF and Vuelta) and you see their brands everywhere in pro cycling. These are your Team Sky’s, BMC’s and Movistar’s.

The step down from that is the Pro Continental Tour (PCT) where you still get some pretty big riders doing some pretty big races and if they are riding the big races, you’ll see them doing the moves on telly to promote their brand or their future prospects to World Tour teams. They aren’t invited to every WT event, but organisers can bring along a couple of PCT teams to spice up the action. A few of the bigger name teams in this area are Cofidis, Direct Energie (formerly Europcar) and Bardiani.

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BMC (far left) is a WorldTour team while One Pro Cycling (second left) is a Pro Continental Team. This is them competing together at the Tour of Yorkshire. Source: Orica GreenEdge

Further down from there is the Continental Tour (CT), and these are usually the guys who ride the big home grown races. Under UCI rules they can’t be invited to WT events but they will ride in .1 and .2 events around their local areas, or their own national competitions (they are invited to National Championships). Using my own stomping ground of Australia as an example, CT teams usually race the smaller Asian races and the National Road Series (NRS), and they have a super team (UniSA / Jayco) who band together and do the Australian ‘Summer of Cycling’ (TDU etc.). Examples of CT teams are Pat’s Veg, State of Matter MAAP (now defunct) and Avanti IsoWhey (now IsoWhey Sport SwissWellness).

Below this is the amateur ranks. These aren’t actually handled by the UCI but by the local cycling body like Cycling Australia. They would do the local competitions, Cat 1’s and 2’s and will be pretty well known on the local scene but anyone outside of the general area wouldn’t know them. Some amateur cyclists might try their hand at their respective country’s National Championships.

This classification of teams is important as it is the key to the Promotion-Demotion debate. Some people say that to keep cycling more competitive, teams will need to face the pressure of this league-system. Others say that the demotion of a team would lead to the death of sponsorship in cycling g due to instability and as a result the sport will die on a professional level. This post is written to break down the debate into its two sides, give a hypothetical on what would happen last year if a promotion demotion system was employed and then I’ll give my own opinion.

Firstly, the affirmative argument. Those in favour of a promotion and demotion system in cycling think that this system would provide more competition into pro cycling. With the risk of being demoted, teams would be more inclined to be aggressive in how they ride and very competitive and try to break free from – what some consider – the monotony of current pro cycling and its predictability. It would give the chance for high level PCT teams to compete on the higher level if they get promoted and gives reward to those teams who get promoted in the form of more sponsorship, more race days and the expansion of their name. Also, with a promotion and demotion system, it would give UCI the ability to shrink the WT more efficiently – if teams have the ability to go up and down, the WT doesn’t need to have the same amount of teams to operate on the scale it is now and as a result the peloton size can go down to something the UCI has been pushing for (and some race organisers too).

The argument against a promotion and demotion system all revolves around the future stability and sponsorship of cycling. If a team gets demoted, they would lose a lot of sponsorship, a lot of the better riders would be looking for a WT team to go to and it is almost the death of the team – left to rot in PCT with fewer WT potential riders, fewer race days and fewer sponsors to be financially sound. If this happens to half a dozen WT teams over the space of a few years, there would be a oligarchy of teams on top consistently dominating the WT standings year-after-year to the point where WT cycling becomes stale once again due to the weaker teams not being able to compete with the manpower of the heavy weights. Also, sponsorship would be a huge issue – demotion would be the death of a teams sponsorship and if the races they attend aren’t televised as much as they would be if they were on the WT (like .1 and .2 races) the sponsors would be less likely to committ to deals that’ll benefit the teams. The volatility of the promotion and demotion system would mean sponsors would be less inclined to invest as much as they might not get back their investment if a team gets demoted so overall sponsorship in cycling would decrease.

Another point is that because teams in pro cycling go bust or change owners so much and come in and out of competition, a promotion and demotion system would be unable to keep up with the flexibility of WT teams being able to do this at the moment. The affirmatives argue that you can just replace the teams with the next highest ranked PCT team or a new WT team that joins, but it is still a question to solidifying the system which flexibility works really well in currently.

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We will miss you, Oleg. Tinkoff is an example of a very well off WT team going defunct, demonstrating the volatility of pro cycling. Source: CyclingTips.


That is enough of the opinions for now, here are some hypotheticals for the World Tour and what it would look like this year based on last year’s results if a promotion and demotion system. Let’s use the ultimate goal of the UCI – 16 teams in the WT – as a guide, so two teams each year would be promoted and demoted into the WT.

The UCI point standings for WT teams for 2016 are as follows:

  1. Movistar (1471)
  2. Tinkoff (1361)
  3. Team Sky (1187)
  4. Team BMC (1128)
  5. Orica (909)
  6. Katusha (789)
  7. Quick-Step (775)
  8. Cannondale (616)
  9. Trek-Segafredo (565)
  10. Astana (539)
  11. FDJ (516)
  12. Lotto NL-Jumbo (506)
  13. AG2R (482)
  14. Lotto Soudal (463)
  15. Lampre / TJ Sport (442)
  16. Giant / Sunweb (435)
  17. IAM (418)
  18. Dimension Data (290)

So using this system, Dimension Data and IAM Cycling would be relegated. However, since IAM is now defunct and has been replaced, it would mean that the newly formed Bahrain-Merida would be demoted – or Giant (now Sunweb) would be the next team in line would be demoted. This is where there would be controversy about who would get demoted – or if they would be demoted – in this scenario. If Sunweb was demoted and a new WT team was formed to fill the void, Sunweb would feel a little bit ripped off for not staying up when they weren’t in the elimination zone. If IAM’s demotion applied to Bahrain-Merida, they would feel ripped off for being demoted for doing nothing. The third solution in this case would be to not grant Bahrain-Merida a WT licence and promote two teams from PCT, meaning that Bahrain-Merida wouldn’t be able to race on a WT level for next year. If IAM wasn’t demoted and say another team was, it would be acceptable for Bahrain to take that spot (in my opinion).

Tinkoff has also become defunct in the new year and have been replaced by Bora-Hansgrohe (in my calculations). This again opens another Pandora’s Box of controversy, where who takes the spot of the non-demoted team becoming defunct if two new teams are introduced? Using the individual points for the top 5 riders on these teams (like UCI rankings) in 2016 would be the best option to determine who gets first priority of spots in the WT if a team goes defunct; Bora-Hansgrohe (877 – Sagan, Majka, McCarthy, Saramotins, Konig) has the advantage over Bahrain-Merida (664 – Nibali, Haussler, Izaguirre, Visconti, Siutsou), so Bora would take Tinkoff’s spot and Bahrain would take the spot of IAM.

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Cavendish’s Dimension Data would suffer a demotion to PCT if the promotion-demotion system was deployed. Source: Sky Sports

Now time to figure out which teams would be promoted. These are the Rankings for PCT teams in 2016 (because I am unable to find UCI Rankings, I will use PCS Rankings, which if used on the WT would say Sunweb and Dimension Data would be demoted – if anyone can find UCI Rankings for these I will update the article):

  1. Direct Energie (1807 – different point system so these will be inflated)
  2. Wanty-Groupe Gobert (1692)
  3. Bardiani (1673)
  4. Cofidis (1590)
  5. Caja Rural (1503)
  6. Bora-Argon / Bora-Hansgrohe (1277 – but now promoted)
  7. Androni Giocattoli-Sidermec (1179)
  8. Fortuneo-Vital Concept (1137)
  9. Roompot-Oranje Peloton (1107)
  10. Wilier-Southeast (1088)
  11. CCC (1015)
  12. Gazprom-Rusvelo (948)
  13. Topsport Vlaanderen-Baloise (901)
  14. One Pro (817)
  15. Nippo-Vini Fantini (785)
  16. Stotling (649)
  17. Delko KTM (594)
  18. Drapac (592 – now part of Cannondale)
  19. UnitedHealthCare (585)
  20. Team Roth (556)
  21. Verva ActiveJet (530)
  22. Funvic (258 – team now suspended due to systematic doping)
  23. Novo Nordisk (217)

This places the top two teams at PCT level as Direct Energie and Wanty-Groupe Gobert. These two teams have had some success on the World Tour this year – with Direct Energie going to Le Tour and La Vuelta and Wanty Rider Gasparotto winning the Amstel Gold Race – so it isn’t surprising to see them on top and therefore in this system get promoted.

NETHERLANDS CYCLING AMSTEL GOLD RACE

Wanty would be one of the beneficiaries of this promotion system. Source: AAP.


So where does this leave us? It leaves us with quite a different World Tour than we would expect for next year. Sky, Movistar, Bora, BMC, Orica, Katusha, Quick-Step, Cannondale, Trek, Astana, FDJ, Lotto Jumbo, Lotto Soudal, AG2R, TJ Sport (if they stay afloat, otherwise this spot would go to Bahrain-Merida or any new team that replaces them), Sunweb, Direct Energie and Wanty. No Dimension Data, no Bahrain-Merida and quite possibly no TJ Sport if their application doesn’t go through.

It would be interesting to see a promotion and demotion system from PCT to CT too, saying that the bottom 4 teams at PCT level get demoted and the highest 4 ranked teams at CT level get promoted, it would mean Roth, Verva and Novo get demoted, allowing Wallonie-Bruxelles, Verandas Willems, Skydive Dubai and Kolss BDC to get promoted; and Crelan and Pishgaman to replace the leaving Bora and Drapac. This is another kettle of fish as well due to how the CT is split up between regions, but still possibly could be done (hell this is another post in itself because of how much intricacy it would have).

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The Continental Tour is just…confusing. Skydive Dubai is just one of 163 CT teams. Source: Mona Al Marzooqi.

Now time to give my own opinion on this issue. I believe that there isn’t a place in cycling for a promotion-demotion system. It would turn away sponsors due to the increased risk of investing in a team and quite possibly not getting the return if a team gets demoted. It also increases the volatility of an already volatile sport to unsustainable levels – and pro cycling would die as a result. While I believe PCT and CT teams should have more opportunities to race on a more elite level, they don’t belong in the World Tour unless they can secure a licence to get promoted – there shouldn’t be any automatic promotion.

Thanks for reading this post guys! It’s quite the brainstorm about the situation of pro cycling right now and how sponsorship and promotion-demotion would influence the sport in the future. Hopefully I explained it enough so if you don’t follow cycling you can get an idea of how this works, but it is quite a contentious issue in the community at the moment. For now, I’m out.

~ The Cycling Raven