Welcome back after the last post to complete what I started with the women. Today I am going to do a restrospective of the critical points in men’s cycling despite some small part of the post will consider even the overall situation. What is actually good? What can be changed? Let’s discuss.

The calendar and the lack of challengers classifications

Men’s cycling calendar is sticking around the three Grand Tours, the Worlds and the five monuments. Of the three Grand Tours it’s clear that you have Tour, Giro and Vuelta. Calendar goes from february to october. In the end of july, after Champs-Elysees you have only Vuelta, Worlds and Lombardia missing as the big targets of the season over 3,5 months. On the monuments the most ‘risky’ are the cobblestone ones, that are also the ones being inserted earlier in the season.

Part of the myth of cycling was also TDF winners going in Roubaix to try to win, like Hinault did. This was something you can now rarely get with Ronde (Nibali) because having a crash there can compromise your season seriously. Another big problem is Giro – the Grand Tour with the best route by far and the one most close to a real cycling race – suffering lack of contenders while Vuelta is packed of TDF 2nd chancers.

I think 2020 gave a big chance to UCI and organizers about re-thinking the calendar and even move some races out of their traditional calendar spot. Cycling has changed a bit, calendar didn’t follow the changes and it’s stuck in the past. My idea of calendar would be following the current situation until Sanremo, then move Amstel, Fleche and Liege immediately after it. Vuelta would then follow starting in mid-april, two weeks after Liege. National Championships would then took place in end on may, with Dauphiné and Suisse following one week earlier the traditional day. European Championships would be before TDF moved one week earlier than usual like in this year.

Tour would be then followed by the usual San Sebastian/Hamburg stuff, Quebec GPs and then Giro in the traditional Vuelta slot. World Championships would so being followed by the cobblestones weeks from Gent-Wevelgem to Paris-Roubaix. Lombardia then closing the season or being placed in mid-june between Vuelta and Tour.

This would allow more riders to try the cobblestones, would restore the natural order of the Grand Tour having more attempts to a Tour-Giro double and so increasing the chance to see the best riders also in Giro.

Then we have the lack of challengers classifications. Take for example the F1: you have all the riders racing and at the end you have the best. This was originally the idea of the UCI Pro Tour – with a distinctive jersey for the leader. Today we have the World Ranking and we don’t even have a jersey for who is first – in other words, being first means nothing.

Until 2004 we had the road world cup concept of the 5 monuments + 5 top level classics that pushed some riders out of their fields in the attempt of trying to win the overall challenger classification and wear the distinctive jersey, like it’s now in the cyclocross races. Having a leader helps a lot in the media narration of the casual fan, making him recognizable when it races. Surely the current UCI ranking isn’t enough.

UCI inconsistency in rules application…

UCI rules are not rules. Are guidelines. When you write some rules, you expect them to be followed – they don’t. They are extremely not precise (the most effective one is the line/lane problem in the sprint deviation rules), extremely unnecessary long and not even updated. In the next worlds, more than 50% of the race distances announced, for example, doesn’t match UCI’s own rules.

The inconsistency is pretty clear in sprints where deviations are punished only when there is a crash – otherwise it’s all ok. Over that there is more inconsistency between rule and application, for example, in taking the sidewalk instead of running over a cobblestone sector – that is something terrible for the sport to be seen on TV as a team blocking the peloton to not allow other riders to go into the break (something against rules, but never punished). Terrible is what happened with the littering / positioning rules with Schar and Carapaz being scapegoated on monuments to showcase the new rule on TV, then basically nothing happened during the season.

It’s perfectly fine not having a rider losing a race because he threw a bidon out of litter zone – and to be honest the same day of Schar, Van Vleuten did exactly that and managed to not get a DQ keeping the integrity of the effort in the competiton intact. Supertuck was instead the worst excuse because “riders should be an example” – yes, let’s blame the rider if an amateur believes that he is like a pro instead of being put in the right place. Accountability to the extreme, even for things you shouldn’t be accountable like other people just being stupid and try to do what they shouldn’t do.

…and lack of transparency in reports

UCI has a “VAR room” in most of the races. It’s not clear when and where, because what we have it’s just an old press release of 2019 claiming the extension of it. How and when it’s used? It’s not clear. I mean, if you watch Champions League football, when VAR is going to check on an episode the spectator gets a notification on the screen of check being in progress and what episode are they checking. We need this in UCI races – we can’t every time wait for the jury press release when it’s available.

How it’s VAR room used? Unclear. In football you have protocol. In cycling UCI simply uses Twitter (check 1:40) to check on the episodes, plus the TV live feeds. This also puts on the table a transparency problem. We deliberately decided to not report on twitter episodes of littering and irregular positions on the bike until the race is over also for that – because personally don’t want that to happen. But let’s think also about to the TV production – if you use TV images for your VAR room, TV production shall be neutral.

What would happen, for example, if Sporza gets Van Aert using an irregular position with an additional camera during the Ronde? Would they send it on feed? And what if it’s Van der Poel doing it? Would they send additional replay to make sure he’s taken out increasing Van Aert chances? TVs are biased in image productions and you can offer a chance to significantly alter the result in this way. Even if UCI has all the cameras, showing more replay of an episode or not showing another one, can trigger the Twitter sonar.

And then the reports: a problem here is that we don’t have all the jury reports available – and a lot of them are provided by third service parties It would be a transparent operation putting all the reports of the races with fines etc on the UCI website. In this way you would know if some episodes are judged or not, being able to set precedents to judge consistency. Between the “big” report missing there are all the Flandersclassics race and the World Championships – in other words, not small races. There were rumors about UCI wanting to do exactly this few months ago but no traces about the development.

Lack of informations about routes and results

Procyclingstats it’s a great website, but the fact that you need to use it to see the results of the day it’s a problem. UCI should be responsable on keeping track of their competitions and/or they should be directly on the website of the organizers, directly reachable from an always updated UCI calendar. Same goes for the route: how do we develop cycling in South America or Africa if you need to Whatsapp the rider to get the roadbook and there are no infos on the route, the results and the startlist?

Imagine wanting to follow a football match not knowing when and where it’s played and the line-ups until the very last moment (if you are lucky) or discovering that it was played only when it was ended. This is actually the situation of some minor races that will surely stay minor until they improve – but this is a problem for the development of some geographical areas

Sportwashing money

Cycling lives on sportwashing money. Our position on it it’s officially to keep out the political aspect to not end in double standards and also because people living in the countries involved in a big event don’t have any fault for that not being helded. The second problem is that this indeed lead to double standards in the narration – we saw that with Track World Cup and European Track moved from Turkmenistan and Belarus to new locations. I would say: we had Worlds in Qatar, is helding worlds in Turkmenistan really unacceptable while having teams from Israel and Bahrain literally in the main peloton and a stage race in Saudi Arabia? Of course some can be attacked, some not due to media interest with the parties (ex, Saudi Arabia is linked to ASO, attacking Bahrain could lead to not having riders interview – while Rwanda or Turkmenistan can cause less problems) leading to double standards.

Still, I won’t be the one setting a “moral scale”, it’s not up to me to decide who is worthy and who is not to host an event – and this is why we won’t take any position on that. For me it’s all or nothing, it’s not up to me to set the “acceptable” line, it’s up to UCI and I’ll stick to what they decide. Would anyway be good if UCI will put down clear ethical criteria to host an UCI race and sticks to them even if it means less money in cycling. Without exceptions.

Unpleasant weather protocol

As UCI rules are guidelines, the one rule that is most disattended it’s the extreme weather protocol. Giro proved the existance of an “unpleasant weather protocol” that is applied only there. This produced a big damage of the image of the race and alters the sporting outcome of the race itself being raced on a different route than the original one.

While stages like Gavia 1988 won’t be seen anymore, there should be at least loud and clear intervention by the UCI because it’s not admittable that a stage it’s cancelled to be too long during a cold period or another one because it’s too hard while under different conditions, jury, race and CPA delegate the stage (or race, if it’s a classic) stays like this. Unpleasant weather protocol in fact doesn’t seem to exists in monuments or world championships.

Credibility of a sport sticks to its rules and the respect of the rules themselves. If we decided that Giro stages should’ve been altered this should be in the rules, under objective and clear conditions, leaving out organizers will and pressuring to them. And of course should be applied everywhere.

New fans and modern cycling

We have two big problems in today’s cycling and they are both linked. A lot of newbies come into cycling in last 10 years witnessing something different and defending that against the standard. While we had a lot of good days, can say that maybe one/two of them were memorable: Froome in Giro and Pogacar in the ITT. Every time I read that shorts stages are good, cycling dies a bit.

Will go over in the next posts over false correlation between short stages and attacks – but the problem is anyway different here. Denying cycling the “d-days” and the long ITT you deny to the sport the stages that made it memorable. It doesn’t mean that everyone of them would be of course, but in the variety of stages offered in the routes, one is missing.

I am more surprised that riders doesn’t speak up for themselves here, because there are clearly some categories penalized by the lack of 6h mountain days, transforming the Grand Tours in w/kg show over a single climb. Surely it will help TVs because the GC may be a little closer for longer time unless Pogacar happens but cycling dies a bit and Giro proved you can still do it today.

Welcoming newbies in the cycling world, but remembering they are not the house master, but guests, it’s important. We don’t need they to run out decreasing the viewership of the sport – but we don’t even want they to dictate the rules of a sport they didn’t set up the bases specially in a conservative sport living on symbol like rainbow or yellow jerseys or traditions. Contamination of idea is a good thing, total changement to please new viewers it’s not.

Too many breakaway stages

What was the worst day for Tour de France 2021? Indeed july 8 when peloton decided to let the breakaway go away and Politt winning the stage. Of course nothing against these riders and their only chance to achieve something bigger – but for TV these days are terrible and less TV audience means less money. Would probably say that one-day races are better enjoyable as every stage it’s ridden to the limit.

This is more evident in Giro where riders saved themselves for the last weeks and where stage hunters doesn’t have all the domestiques they get in the Tour de France. I don’t know how this can be solved – part surely can be put up to the draw (Quillan and Andorre stage of TDF 2021 were terrible) but part to the fact that in a stage race so long you can’t race all 21 days “full gas” (and it’s not the target here).

Of course I have no idea how to solve this issue – but avoiding these stages to happening too often it’s an issue.

Fair of banality on TV and social networks

One of the worst thing happened for cycling is that when Quickstep probably decided that Remco Evenepoel shouldn’t tweet anymore on his own and they gave the account to a social media manager after the famous “fucking motard de merde“. Probably, because we don’t know what happened but tweets of Remco changed the tone.

I don’t know if companies needs to show an edulcorated version of the real world to not offend anyone or what it’s going on – but I grew up with Basso and Simoni almost fighting live TV after a stage, screaming about accusations of buying a Giro stage for money. And that was a good moment on TV with beef going on.

There is nothing bad sometimes to let you go when you are nervous, also on socials or on TV. As previously said, what happened in Belgium between Van Aert and Evenepoel it’s pure gold for the sport. It creates a dualism, a dualism creates a polarization, a polaritazion creates fans. Remco Evenepoel it’s actually one of the best things ever happened to cycling for that.

Cycling myth grew up also with that. There is nothing bad to have some beef on the table between riders. Even the footballers are more free to use their accounts than the cyclists sometimes. Having the rider always posting on his account “good day, good legs, hope for tomorrow” and other pre-written messages by the press office doesn’t even add anything to the sport. We live in a real world, let’s be real.

Media production

The good part of Movistar documentary on Netflix, unfortunately not renewed for Season 3, was the fact that we were able to see part of the races from the different corners and the behind the scenes. I would add to the mix also the usual highlights documentary that is broadcasted every year before TDF presentation. These are two top media documents that we need in cycling.

Speaking about TDF, the main event of the calendar if you want it or not, team currently has rights to use 3′ of live footage per day. Some of them does them on their Youtube like Quickstep offering a better view – some of them doesn’t. Imagine being able to see all the reactions from the team after a TDF stage before the next one.

In other words, cycling needs to try to reach new audiences with different media productions. Drive to Survive of Formula 1 and All of Nothing of Amazon could be a good example of what to do. Some teams like Jumbo-Visma already are moving in this direction with their own TDF documentary.

TV coverage

Last but not least – there are still some problems TV coverage. In 2021 all Grand Tours should be live from start to finish and Vuelta isn’t 100% on board with that. Coverage of Paris-Nice and Criterium du Dauphiné is sticks to the 90s for duration with actions being sometimes caught before camera starts while Tirreno-Adriatico should be the model to follow.

As reported in the previous post about TV coverage the main problem here is the TV coverage of Italian races, also stuck in the 90s. 50% of men .1 races not being live are the Italian ones and some of them are pretty packed in line-up.

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