How did you feel about watching the first WorldTour race of the 2014 season, the Tour Down Under, last week? Excited, yes? Now how do you feel about the fact that the next event doesn’t take place for another month-and-a-half? Yeah, us too.
Cycling’s WorldTour is an odd beast. With 28 events – from one-day races to the three-week grand tours – taking place over the space of nine months, you might expect a regular weekly or fortnightly dose of two-wheeled action from now until mid-October.
But no. Although the races come thick and fast over the rest of the season, there is a six-week gap between the year’s opening race and its second, Paris-Nice, which doesn’t begin until March 9th. Can you imagine football’s Premier League playing its first round of fixtures and then waiting six weeks for its second set of games?
To add insult to injury, four of Paris-Nice’s eight-day schedule overlaps with the beginning of the following WorldTour race, Tirreno-Adriatico. To extend the football analogy, imagine the Premier League asking Manchester United to play two matches with overlapping kick-off times.
What’s the problem?
Why does this happen?
The answer to the question is simple, but the solution to the problem is rather more complex. It’s not that there are no races in the intervening six weeks, just that there are no WorldTour events. For instance, there are 13 Europe Tour races in February alone. Although some of these are long-established, none are categorised as hors catégorie (HC), the highest class below the WorldTour. (The first HC race of the European season is Omloop het Nieuwsblad on March 1st.)
At the risk of stretching my analogies to breaking point, this is akin to stopping the Premier League season just so the first few rounds of the FA Cup can be played in one go. Now I’m a great respecter of tradition in cycling, but in terms of engaging the casual fan rather than those of us who spend half our lives looking for, ahem, dodgy internet streams so we can watch every minute of racing possible this is clearly not ideal.
Anyhow, the presence of historic European races is a bit of a red herring. The real reason the WorldTour puts its feet up in February with an energy gel in one hand and a bidon in the other is to embark on a follow-the-money tour of Dubai (5th-6th), Qatar (9th-14th) and Oman (18th-23rd).
I’m all for boosting the commercial profile and health of the sport, but I’m a little dubious as to whether the financial boost for the UCI makes up for the resultant lack of column inches in the non-cycling media. [Yes, Tim’s so old-fashioned he still measures media impact in newsprint terms. He also writes his columns on a typewriter – Ed.]
What’s the solution?
Would the WorldTour benefit from a calendar shake-up at the start of the season? And, if so, what’s the best solution? Here are five ideas off the top of my head:
- Move the Tour Down Under back two weeks. (Temperature isn’t an issue – February in Adelaide is, on average, marginally cooler than January.)
- Promote one of the three Middle East races to create another Asian WorldTour race. (I would go with the Tour of Oman – it hasn’t been around as long as Qatar but it’s a vastly superior race.)
- Upgrade an existing African race to WorldTour status, or create a new one. (Gabon’s La Tropicale Amissa Bongo is currently the only category one race in Africa, so it’s a big jump. But how lucrative might a Tour of South Africa be?)
- Upgrade the Tour de San Luis and move it to February. (It currently takes place in mid-January, the move would present no climate issues and it would be the first WorldTour race in the Americas, although there would be loud – and justified – squeals of complaint from the Tour of California.)
- Solve the problem of Paris-Nice and Tirreno-Adriatico overlapping by bringing one forward by a week or two. (Although that would increase the possibility of weather disrupting the race and, of course, it would ride roughshod over European races scheduled at the same time.)
Anyhow, that’s what I think. What’s your opinion? Imagine you’re Brian Cookson for the day. What would you do to close the cavernous six-week gap between the WorldTour’s first two races? Cast your vote in the poll below and put forward your ideas in the comments.