Is It Just Me, Or Are Things A Little Busy?

Aug 4 2009

pmcA mere 10 days since the Tour and we’ve already had how many races? My count of top-tier post-Tour Euro cycling events is currently at three; one classic and two fairly extensive stage races:

Tour of Denmark (29 July – 2 Aug)
Clasica San Sebastian (1 Aug)
Tour of Poland (2 Aug – 8 Aug)

That’s 13 days of racing within 14 days of the end of the Tour—and frankly, that’s too many races. I realize that cycling’s season is long and grueling; even with recently defunct races like Züri-Metzgete and Deutchland Tour, there are a finite number of racing days in which to hold events.

Still, with Grand Tours dominating the schedule, cycling has on-months and off—probably one of the reasons why they moved the Vuelta to September. Now check out this UCI ProTour schedule: in June, there are a mere two events. In August, there are five.

Not only that, but none are run concurrently with the TdF. It almost feels like someone is trying bump the Tour from the public eye without trying to challenge it directly. But who would want to do such a thing? Oh, I don’t know

I’m not insisting that the UCI is attempting to “retake” the sport with their barrage of August events—like I said, scheduling can be a tricky beast. But if there is some intent behind the UCI’s efforts, I think it’s highly misguided. First off, many who follow cycling, and the entire country of France, are on vacation during August.

Second, it’s not the worst thing in the world for races to run concurrently with a Grand Tour. Certainly, the Tour of California organizers aren’t worried about it, and Catalunya seems to be getting by ok. While the Tour may cast the longest shadow in the sport, it’s not like other events don’t exist—Tour of Austria, for example.

Cramming all these races into the first week in August just makes the UCI look desperate. Wedging events from the second half of the season directly against the tail of the Tour (Poland used to be in September, Clasica in mid-August, and Tour of Denmark didn’t begin in July) makes them a multicolored spandex blur in the racing-numbed eyes of fans.

431790320_b1656d0095The classics didn’t become classics by hopping around the calendar to best suit the perceived interest of fans or availability of airtime/newsprint. Objectively speaking, plenty of races have no business being where they are.

Roubaix and RVV have a nasty habit of landing on Easter Sunday (hardly conducive to a day out drinking and yelling) and any bike race slated for February in Belgium is doomed to occasional failure.

Classics became classics by staying put and attracting an audience, developing bigger crowds, better prize money, and the ageless mystique that comes from great riders putting on legendary performances.

The fact is, a lot of bike races aren’t going to develop these things and fail—and that’s not necessarily bad. Missteps allow organizers to learn from their mistakes, increase demand for new races from fans, and free up sponsorship money for new endeavors.

So next season, I’d like to see these races back where they started, preferably with a little blank space around them on the calendar. The UCI may just find that letting its events have some elbow room, and giving fans and journos a chance to get back up to speed pays solid dividends, even if a few races fall by the wayside in the process.

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