Phil's Blog

Phil regularly posts here with his opinion on current races, cycling politics, and updates from the ground at Le Tour de France, La Vuelta a Espana, and other major races.

Holiday's - What a ride

Posted on: Wednesday, January 06, 2016

I headed into Christmas with loads of riding planned along with a short Christmas break. The hectic start of the Aussie cycling holidays, morning group rides out on the Great Ocean Road on my mind.

The weather gods changed my plans and those of friends staying in my home on at Grey River or the GOR. A week before the Christmas day fire my partner and I were MTB in the hills on the track where the fire started that same afternoon. Hot, and dry the afternoon thunderstorm triggered our first Bushfire alert. That night the smell of smoke lingered and we didn’t sleep well. Over the next few days the fire drifted further away. We headed off on our own Christmas break feeling safe.

My home was evacuated a number of times, the first on Christmas day. We eventually returned to a home mercifully saved by a Christmas day change in weather after having initially resigned ourselves to the reality of loss. 

Subsequent evacuations gave me time to ponder the trophies in the pool the room and what was important. Our bundle was small, the realization simple, my trophies, my life are dear to me, I have kept them all but most were left behind with each evacuation.

Before Christmas I read with some alarm that the ASO had withdrawn from the World Tour. Disagreement, changing power bases, politics have always been part of cycling but wow.

I for one am not a great fan of the ASO, they don’t give a damn about anyone most especially the riders and teams. It is their Tour de France.

I have been tangled a little in “rights” issues as the great ASO monolith seeks to exploit Le Tour. ASO told me I couldn’t use images of myself in the yellow jersey or even use the color yellow to promote myself and my little enterprise. They confirmed “only they (ASO) are entitled to exploit riders…” The really funny thing is that the ASO use my images, of my tour groups and me to promote tours to the tour de France.

The UCI too have made many mistakes but have stepped up to the plate in recent times. By not agreeing with the UCI’s reform policies, the ASO have laid down the gauntlet, a collision of ideals is looming on the horizon.

Politics in sport is so difficult, Athletes don’t care really, they make huge sacrifices to target certain races and should not be robbed of the opportunity. The ASO are counting on this.

I have wondered how I would feel and it happened back in the day of the Society Tour de France. Le Tour has been an important race for a long time. The Society created a race that was impossible, for the riders and the spectators. There was mystery and intrigue, the race was unapologetically French and even in the biggest teams there was never certainty that you would get a ride.

The Society always wanted the best teams but the inclusion of small, French outfits on a whim or perhaps dare I say “an arrangement” was part of the culture. The UCI changed that, the intrigue disappeared but with that, the World Tour gave sponsors and riders certainty.

The third player in the saga is Velon and to be frank the group is a necessary player. Velon supposedly represents the teams and riders but they also recommend riders sign contracts that gives teams and only teams the right to exploit them.

Effectively who owns who? I have won many races and am entitled to self promote on the basis of that. As an athlete I secured better contracts on the basis of those wins but with the yellow jersey, theoretically I have no entitlement to even use an image of myself wearing it. Does Chris Froome? Or are my issues to do with rights and control of visitors via rights to Le Tour while Froome Dog inadvertently promotes le tour and ASO.

The cost and scale of Pro Tour accreditation has almost ruined cycling, governance impossible, commercial viability never likely.

The current stand off wont last long and the battle is always about revenue streams.

As a professional athlete your team pays your wage and depending on your contract there are bonifications. Teams spend money, they don’t make it and they need sponsors.

Teams/riders ensure their legacy and secure financial future based on performances at premier events like le tour de France. There are not too many riders from budding junior to neo pro who doesn’t dream of winning the Tour de France.

The ASO own the biggest sporting event in the world but it is not making money. Margins are pretty tight in cycling so where is the ASO going to get the money.

The fans, too hard. The teams, nope, too highly geared and constantly strung out looking for sponsors. No, I reckon they want the sponsors, more and more of them.

Gro pro, live images, teams want a share for their own media and revenue streams and Velon put the idea to the ASO. Voila, Go pro are now an official sponsor. The images are great but there is no cut for the teams. If you want to be part of le Tour, you have to pay.

Not being a ticketed event, revenue emphasis is weighted on TV rights and some IOC modelling where town’s bid for starts and finishes.

The internet has changed le tour just like everything else and ASO intend to own the images, control the live streaming and smash anyone who stands in their way.

They have built the field and the teams will come. I would love to see the UCI stand up to the ASO and withdraw from le Tour.

I understand what it means for the contenders and teams. My view, the ASO are blackmailing the sport and for what it is worth,
give the pro-conties a crack at le tour during the strike. Great for the young guns, such a rush of fresh blood into the sport and possibly a re-balancing of the power scales.

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Photos:  Me, Graham Watson and CFA