Why Strade Bianche Won't Be A WorldTour Event

Mar 7 2011

Craig Lewis by fsteele770

Craig Lewis is dead-on about the outright quality of Montepaschi Strade Bianche in his most recent Versus post. The race is sensational, but unfortunately, that’s why the UCI will likely do everything in its power to keep it out of cycling’s top tier for the foreseeable future.

Strade Bianche was founded and is organized by RCS, the Italian Media Conglomerate that owns the Giro, Milan-Senremo, Tour of Lombardy, Tirreno-Adriatico and (I believe) a few other notable Italian Races as well.

Along with their counterparts in France and Spain, RCS has been waging an on-and-off turf war with the UCI over the cycling calendar; the UCI wants less emphasis on traditionally important events and more on a season long campaign, while the Grand Tour Cartel would like to consolidate and expand its stable of established cycling events.

It’s tough to pick good-guys and bad-guys in the feud; siding with the UCI would help expand cycling beyond Europe, but they governing body has also got a habit of producing snoozy, unromantic events. The Cartel does a great job preserving the historical pillars of the sport, but at the expense of the rest of the calendar, and events in the rest of the world. Neither group is compelling as an objective, reliable central authority.

Fortunately for fans and riders, the two seem to have reached a detente. With the formation of the WorldTour, an agreement on dope testing and even—for the rest of 2011—an ongoing cease-fire on radio earpieces, things are more or less OK between the factions.

But the promotion of a Cartel-owned event (especially one as instantly charismatic as Strade Bianche) would almost certainly upset the balance of power, and the UCI is smart to keep it off the list. For the time being, RCS is content not to promote its latest creation to preserve the status (and profitability) of the events it already runs.

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10 Responses to “Why Strade Bianche Won't Be A WorldTour Event”

  1. Touriste-Routier 7 March 2011 at 5:38 pm #

    Which races do the UCI “produce”? I don’t believe they are involved beyond sanctioning and placing them on the various calendars. Producing them and placing them in the World/Pro Tour are somewhat different matters.

    The UCI suck, but on this charge, I believe they are innocent. Wait a minute, did I just defend the UCI… ?

    When it really comes down to it, very few care about season long competitions. The riders and teams just want to compete in the best races, with the best opportunities for publicity and victory. Strada Bianche will succeed in this on its own merits, whether it is in the World Tour or not.

  2. ColoradoGoat 8 March 2011 at 2:31 am #

    The UCI should take a good hard look at a few other regional sports which, with eyes on more money and glory, started to expand at the expense of tradition, and its core fan base.

    Example 1: NASCAR
    Example 2: The National Hockey League.

    Each one expanded, only to alienate its core fans, and eventually lose the new fans who were only interested in the novelty, and then went back to their traditional favorite sports. NASCAR in particular is a good example, since so much of it mirrors cycling, which are not the traditional ball and stick sports where teams gain fans through allegiance versus cycling/NASCAR, which are built more on the spectacle at hand.

    NASCAR is paying the price now, as its ratings have dropped, interest has waned, and the core fans feel left behind in the deep South of the US. (FYI – I personally hate NASCAR, as any respectable Yankee from New England should). But when you read what McQuaid has in mind, and you then compare that to races such as Het Nieuwsblad, where Belgians line the streets in the cold and rain for what is a secondary race to them…and you get the point.

    I hate to say this, but sports and sporting events should be earned, not given. Until such time that I see throngs of spectators for some of these lessor races (Tour of Qatar, Tour of Oman), ignoring the dedicated fans (who are fans based on a more solid cultural tradition)

    Rather than try to force the sport onto a new potential market, try to work on building traditions organically. Tour of the Gila and Tour of the Battenkill are perfect examples of races which the UCI should work to ensure their success. Instead, they are doing their best to insult those fans who care.

  3. Larry T. 8 March 2011 at 6:19 pm #

    In the end it’s all about where the money is. The Strade Bianche race is not televised live, even in Italy. They record it and show it later, edited to fit a time slot. If the ratings are good enough, it’ll no doubt eventually get live coverage on RAI Sport and who knows, maybe even RAI 3 like Milano-San Remo. Why should RCS care about changing the format they have now? The racers like it and show up – those who don’t want to get dirty skip it and race Paris-Nice or simply wait for Tirreno-Adriatico. I saw this soon-to-be-classic live last year and wouldn’t trade the experience for anything. It was as cool for me as Milano-San Remo a few weeks later – on a pure event scale (if you leave out the storied history of MSR) so I hope they keep it going…the Siena bank sponsor’s been around since Columbus sailed for the New World so let’s hope they keep bankrolling it!

  4. bikecellar 8 March 2011 at 7:47 pm #

    Globalisation tosh. Verbruggen and his puppet McQuaid have been after building an empire like that guy in formula 1 for years now, but fortunately are not getting very far. ASO and RCS may not be perfect but are preferable to the UCI getting involved in race/event promotion they should stick to doing what the UCI member federations want them to do and not imposing their pet projects onto the sport. OK! Rant over.

  5. SvelteSoutherner 8 March 2011 at 9:45 pm #

    ColoradoGoat’s comment is superb. I had not thought of the cycling-Nascar parallel. But that is spot on.

  6. trounder 9 March 2011 at 3:27 am #

    Preaching to the choir here, but if U.S. sports reporting would exert as much effort on expanding its horizons as it does rehashing the 1,230 regular season NBA games or the 2,430 regular season MLB games then cycling might become more mainstream. Unfortunately for the sport of cycling in the States, it requires a superstar to cut through the noise. With retirement 2.0, it is once again up to the core fans to continue to support the sport. More to the point of Cosmo’s post, I believe Strade Bianchi is a classic in the making…give it a few more years with an even bigger Sienna Bank paycheck and we’ll see on which calendar it eventually lands.

  7. Guy 9 March 2011 at 2:25 pm #

    Good balanced post, Cosmo. I think what makes many fans nervous is that we don’t understand the UCI’s motives. On the surface, it appears that their promotion of the Pro Tour/World Tour idea is an attempt to make a top-tier league that will pull in big money, big exposure, and guarantee its creators a nice empire to act as a stepping stone to IOC glory or sports administrative fortune elsewhere.

    (ColoradoGoat’s comments are well placed, especially about the decline in fortunes of pro sports. Cycling’s big problem for making money? Can’t charge an admission fee.)

    Cycling doesn’t really fit the typical top-tier league model and no amount of trying to fit the square peg in the round hole is going to achieve it. Plus, pulling in more sponsorship money just for the top teams honestly makes me a little nervous – to what lengths will riders go to make sure they’re on a UCI Pro team? That said, it sure is nice to have these teams coming over to Canada for the two World Tour races in Quebec City and Montreal.

    The current arrangement seems to be well balanced: the historical calendar gives some flexibility and the owners of many races on the World Tour still get to invite their wild card teams. Perhaps the UCI has realized that compromise is the best course of action – they can still push for their international races but allow some flexibility to allow a range of different teams in races. Personally, though, I’d like to see even more flexibility and perhaps a larger pool of Pro teams, or combine the Pro and Pro Conti teams into one group, allowing team rankings to shift during the season and make the teams compete a bit more for the top races, rather than guaranteed entry. Just a thought.

  8. The Hitch 30 March 2011 at 6:29 am #

    You say the the UCI wants to expand cycling beyond Europe. I support expanding cycling beyond europe. But the UCI could care less about cycling in asia, South America, Africa. Mcquaid has said he wants to shorten the Giro to make the Cali a grand tour.

    Its all about the anglophone areas. Australia and US and the Tour for them. When the the UCI starts trying to take advantage of bases like Colombia, Venezuela where cycling is far more popular than in the US, or Africa, East Asia, as well as North America and Australia then they become the good guys.

    But as long as all they care about is destroying the best grand tour out there- Giro, in favor of a relatively dull and upstart race in California, then they remain the bad guys.

  9. Slash 4 August 2011 at 11:33 pm #

    The Hitch,

    Oh brother. Isn’t the “We’re victims of the White Man” thing boring and dead yet? The UCI support me homies, then the UCI good. The UCI support da White Man, den da UCI bad.

    Simple fact, Amigo, the US and Australia have produced some of the best cyclists over the last 20 years. Name me one freakin’ central or south american cyclist the likes of Le Monde, Phinney, Hampstein, Armstrong, Hincapie, etc., McEwen, O’Grady, Evans.

    Grow up. I’m tired of racist nonsense.

    Cali duuude.

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