Going to a take a bit of a break from the drama and talk about the TdU today. After all, there’s going to be about four weeks between now and the next biggish-kinda-deal event—and that fact is in no way unrelated to my thesis.
Bernhard Eisel recently made some comments that the UCI WorldTour—the sport’s top tier of competition—lacks a lot of unifying feautres; things like a leader’s jersey, a centralized media contact, and real, season-long relevance to the WorldTour points standings—for example, using them to determine caravan order.
You’d think Eisel’s concerns would come up later in the season, when there are actually some WorldTour rankings on which to base decisions, but I’m pretty sure the subject crossed the Austrian’s mind because he realized that as it stands, there’s no reason to contest the TdU earnest passion. It’s a WorldTour race in name only, and if the UCI is to have any hope of competing with the Grand Tour organizers, they need to realize that this is a very bad thing.
It’s not that the racing has been poor at the TdU. Quite the opposite, really—as per the Roche Hypothesis, the racing has been a bit “fiercer” than you might expect for a January race. Some even went so far as to see it’s the most enthusiastically contested you’ll see until July. But just how much of that is due to the top sprinters waiting for July is a matter of no inconsequential weight.
A top tier race ought to feature top tier riders who are on form, not top tier riders who are three months and fifteen pounds away from it. While Matt Goss, Andre Greipel and a few others with Grand Tour wins in their palmares looked like they put in earnest effort, for the most part, any given rider’s contribution to the event seemed to be in inverse proportion to their appearance fee.
With TdF invites coming out earlier than ever, it might be temping to see the TdU as teams’ one shot to impress the ASO’s selection committee. But given the outcome of this year’s announcement, I think it’s pretty clear that admission to the sport’s biggest stage will continue to be awarded—as it always has been—through intrigue, favoritism, and the whimsy of a few media titans back in Paris.
The UCI has long sought to decrease the influence of The Cartel in cycling, but slapping the WorldTour logo on races like the TdU is simply the wrong way to do it. While the UCI might like the exposure and (not to mention a nice slice of the 17 million AUD that goes into putting on the event), the UCI needs to realize comes at the expense of a watered-down brand.
Adding new names to the rolodex is one of the fun parts of following the sport. But outside once-in-a-generation contenders, it just shouldn’t be happening at events that claim to be the same level of competition as the Classics and Grand Tours. The more times little-known riders win at underwhelming, UCI-backed events, the more fans, sponsors and athletes will view the competing offerings of Grand Tour organizers as the true apex of international competition.
thoughts on “Tour Down Undermining”
You have to be amazed at the decisions of the ASO – maybe Geox as a team has a tainted history, but NOT to invite the one team that has two contenders for the GC that have won either the TdF or both Giro and Vuelta and who are among the very few GC contenders not to have been tainted by doping scandals following their wins, nor have been busted previously, is ridiculous!
Very possibly this years’ Giro is going to be more fun than the TdF – like last year!
I enjoyed the TdU, great sprinters in action, great atmosphere, a chance to check out new teams eg leopard Trek. So what if the big GC contenders are trying to keep warm across in Europes winter. Its not a grand tour never will be. Still aworthwhile race and worthy of UCI backing.
@nugga: It’s definitely a worthwhile race. But in terms of difficulty of courses or level of competition, the TdU really doesn’t meet the standard that the UCI wishes the WorldTour had.
The purpose of the WorldTour is to create a season-long series of races that everyone competes for, the idea being to extend sponsor and viewer interest beyond the Tour de France.
But packing the WorldTour full of races where the top names sit up and finish in the bunch is really reinforces the notion that the TdF is all that matters. Its a similar flaw to Versus/OLN’s Lance-only approach to coverage.
Not to jump on the anti-UCI bandwagon, but it just seems that they are willing to do anything to try and usurp the power of ASO. If they would face the fact that the ASO is truly the power within the sport and try to work with them rather than against them things would be better for all. Teams like Geox or Unibet become victims of the battle between the ASO and the UCI. RCI and Unipublic understand this and have aligned themselves with the ASO.
I actually hoped that the Grand Tour cartel would break the UCI a few years ago. The World Tour is just another toothless competition that will crown constancy, but not a true champion. Joaquin Rodriguez had a great 2010 season, but scoring a bunch of top tens and a few wins does not make him the rider of the year.