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On The Passing of Cycling.TV

11 Oct

Will Farrell sings at a fanciful funeral for

♫…all we are is dust in the wind…♫

Last week, numerous cycling outlets reported that Cycling.TV, long-time online broadcaster of Euro cycling events, would be shutting down forever in a little less than a month. The company’s message to subscribers ran thusly:

Cycling.TV regrets to inform you that as of November 3, 2017 we will cease operations. As set forth in Clause 4 of Cycling.TV’s Terms and Conditions of Purchase, you will receive “a refund of the amount you pre-paid for the Services less an amount proportionate to the number of days for which you have had access to the Services”.

It was, as valedictions go, brilliantly and painfully appropriate—terse, yet convoluted, devoid of detail, accompanied by radio silence from the company, and utterly out of sync with anything on either the company’s website or Twitter feed, even now, a full week after the announcement. At time of publication, its app remains ready for download.

Just based on the rest of the brand’s communications, the mere existence of a closure announcement is notable, and the fact that it arrived weeks before the eventual termination feels like a minor miracle.

And yet, it remains nothing short of amazing that Cycling.TV made it this far. (more…)

A Twitter Thread on Eurosport, NBCSN, and Cycling TV Coverage

27 Sep


Deconstructing Self-Destruction

1 Feb

I got into a little Twitter dust-up this weekend with VeloNews’ John Bradley. It wasn’t on purpose—yes, I did tweet a rebuke at him, but it was based largely on my misinterpreting something he’d written.

He responded strongly—justifiably so, I think—and I apologized, attempting to explain where I’d missed his point. I don’t know John personally, but I like what he’s done in the past, and I think he brings a skillset that really shores up some of Velo’s soft spots. I had, and continue to have, no interest in antagonizing him.

That said, I was a little disappointed by his commentary that same day on cycling’s supposed “Self-Destruction”—of which Femke Van den Driessche’s motorized bike is apparently just the latest example.

There wasn’t anything inaccurate or offensive or lacking about the piece per se (I certainly didn’t dislike it as much as some people did—though they later made up) and it certainly covered some ground every long-term fan can relate to.

But this one line sums up what I found so sour:

“Cycling is not the most corrupt of sports, but it is one that the masses don’t understand.”

Now, for contrast, here is a screenshot of the VeloNews homepage from earlier today:
Screen Shot 2016-02-01 at 10.10.08 AM

(click image for big)

There isn’t a lot of what I’d refer to as content that will help people develop an understanding of racing.

I hasten to add that VN’s recap article on the men’s race was quite good, but it’s practically buried less than 24 hours later, and there’s nothing in terms of deeper analysis on a race that delivered the blend of hell-bent carnage and nail-biting tactics that should have the sport’s journal of record salivating.

If “the masses” don’t get the awesome aspects of racing on the homepage of the biggest cycling publication in the US, then where the heck are they supposed to find them? As Bradley himself notes, it’s not going to be in SBNation or the New York Times.

On the off-chance a mainstream writer gets a tip to check VeloNews, they’ll see only headline after headline on a rule-breaking DNF in the women’s U23 race, a bit on a disappointed US Champ, something about a guy being spit on, and nothing on what made #CXZolder16 awesome.

It’s not that cycling-aware writers aren’t always lurking out in the larger publishing world—Sam Abt famously brought the sport to NYT and the International Herald Tribune between copyedits. But the few out there who do get it aren’t getting paid for analysis beyond humping eyeballs for the story’s semiquaver of relevance. Only a concerted effort by the publications they reference will sway headlines from the vapid quick hit.

This isn’t meant to be a rip on Bradley or VeloNews, just a nudge that cycling fandom and reportage do not have to be cast as this hopeless cycle of self-destruction. There’s plenty I don’t know about editorial, but I’ve worked for advocacy groups and political campaigns. Messaging and framing drive the marketplace of opinion, and there’s all the more hunger for context when the optics are blandly and obviously bad.

It’s not like Velo couldn’t do this—I mean, the content exists already. Andrew Hood’s article on the evolution of the UCI’s motor checks does fantastic work putting The Femke Affair into the context general publications so desperately need, and I have reason to believe that Dan Seaton will be producing another of his striking and accessible photo essays on the World Championships (update: delivered).

But I always seem to sense this notion across the cycling press, a kind of chicken-and-egg thing, that no one understands the sport, because explanations of why it’s awesome can’t be made, because no one will read them, because no one understands the sport. And that dogma is as wrong as it is self-defeating.

I cannot tell you how many comments I get about HTRWW getting absolute n00bs into watching bike races, and c’mon—CXHairs delivers the meat of what makes people want to watch in seconds-long clips on a pretty much daily basis. The van der Haar pass requires neither background knowledge or explanation—and 1400+ Instagram users will back me up on that.

A video posted by In The Crosshairs (@cxhairs) on

So I guess the self-destructive cycle I see here isn’t so much within the sport, but in the way its covered. I mean, when a moto-cheater gets caught after years of concerted attempts at moto-cheater-catching, that feels to me like cause for minor celebration, a footnote to a marquee event that absolutely delivered.

But when literally the day after one of the best races in recent memory, the lead pieces are gear testing and mechanical doping, you can see where I stumbled into the cynical misunderstanding that started this piece: “racing is a downer, let’s be stoked about our advertisers instead”.

The Week in Bike #64 – Exit Interview

10 Apr

Since so many of you asked, it’s an Icebreaker Quantum LS Zip Hoodie. It’s wool, and comfortable for strenuous exercise or just wearing. And it doesn’t smell. I was very upset to fray a few threads in the right shoulder the day after I got it, but otherwise, it’s held up quite well. And no, I wasn’t compensated for that.

On Coverage and Contractors

24 May


(not verbatim, contains typos, and sometimes I go off-book)

Yes, it’s another delayed Cyclocosm Rantcast—but I’m not sorry, because last weekend I was temporarily relocated to the redwoods and hoppy, delicious ales of Sonoma County to ride bikes with fun and interesting people, and watch a little event you might have heard of called the Tour of California.

It seems an odd juxtaposition, really, because the topic of this rant is Beinsport’s coverage of the Giro d’Italia. Or rather, it was supposed to be. But I can’t in good conscience complain about something more or less sight-unseen. While I did manage—at long last—to catch a bit of actual BeIn TV coverage, it was during stage 14’s fog obscured nightmare.

But I’ve heard, actually, and from several sources, that BeIn’s broadcast commentary is quite good. Certainly, if the effort Carlton Kirby made to pump excitement into 40 minutes of staring at an empty road lined by bored, cold Italians is any indication, it couldn’t be that bad. But as the old saying goes, if Dan Lloyd delivers understated quips in his butter-toned British accent and no one’s around to hear them, does it count as good coverage?

So today’s rant will be less about coverage in its proper sense, and more about the contracting decisions that get made delivering the content to the people. Let’s start with something everyone can see—at least, in the US. Maybe the mish-mash of rights and geo-restrictions will be prevent a worldwide audience from seeing these, but head on over to and see what you can see.

I’ll be fair here—credit is definitely due for giving cycling and the Giro much more exposure around the site than it used to have. A few months ago, the only cycling story on up was about [Lance] Armstrong getting blocked from racing a tri—now they’ve got an article and a video highlight for every each stage—if you look under the “video” header, that is—and clips even make their way onto the front page occasionally.

That said, it’d sure be nice if cycling could have a link under “other sports” or if doing doing a search for cycling brought up more than just 11 articles in some random order.  And let’s take a closer look at these race reports—here’s Stage 17, which is currently two sentences long. And the video seems to suffer from the Phil Liggett effect—not that Dan Lloyd does a bad job with it, more that he seems to just kinda be talking over some footage they threw at him.

So let’s check out Stage 16…hmm “Intxausti timed a late sprint and fought off the challenges…in a dramatic late finish” good so far…”Intxausti was part of a 22-man breakaway group in the early stages” (huh?) “later managed to gain a five-second advantage” None of that is right. “Nibali…setting a fierce pace at the front of the peloton as he attempted to bridge” No, that’s not really… “ it was not until they entered the final 25 kilometres that the 22 separated.” But you just said that breakaway happened in the early stages? Or did you mean separated from each other?

Well, maybe the video will make more sense…nope. Actually, it, uh looks like this one’s just a music video. With some bikes rolling along. And no one talking about the race. Oh, and some guy wins. Nice. Very explanatory. Thanks for that recap. Similar nonsense, weird wording— my favorite was “Uran edged Carlos Betancur by 20 seconds” in Stage 10— and straight-up factual errors pepper most of the BeIn recaps. It’s tempting to blame the network for this mess, but you know, in the grand scheme of things, BeIN is really only a mouldering rusty pipe through which feces flows.

You see, nearly all these reports and videos are actually produced by a company called “Omnisport”, which is itself a sub-entity of a company called the Perform Group.  And as you can read on Omnisport’s riveting product offerings page, this is kind of what they do, producing “page ready content”—a Orwellian turn of diction if I’ve ever heard one—so that doofers like BeIn, and I’m guessing similarly clueless broadcasters from other geographic regions who need to farm out their work—have something to put on their websites so that underlings can report to middle managers who can report to executives that they’re doing really cool things with the web, probably backing it up with some large-sounding numbers that no one understands.

Welcome to the world of Rights Organizations—entities like Perform Group that you’ve never heard of but who seem to lurk everywhere. Last week, I was introduced to a particularly malevolent little troll called Base79. Name mean anything to you? Oh, they’re only YouTube’s largest content partner in Europe, with 550 million views per month on content they “produce”—though I use that term in the loosest possible sense; afterall, they don’t make any content of their own as far as I can tell. All they really do is offering things like distribution—that’d be uploading to YouTube—revenue generation—setting up ads to run on YouTube—and rights protection—the operation of YouTube’s automatic content detection software by which I—and the hapless innocents at Orica GreenEdge—discovered them.

Far be it for me to assail sock-puppeting well-worn YouTube features as some sort of business model—if you can find someone with money and trick them into throwing some in your direction, more power to you. My objection comes with the fact that as a “partner partner”—yes, that’s a literal quote—of the Giro, they’re responsible for the irredeemable mess that is the Giro’s YouTube page. One language, no English subtitles, irritating references to off-site links with no explanation of why these couldn’t be uploaded to YouTube as well, and oh yeah—video quality on par with dropping acid through a bad pair of cataracts.

A v

ery long time ago, when, I dunno, the Earth was pure and fairy kingdoms dotted the land, the purpose of copyright was to protect the work of creative people, giving them a chance to recoup investment, make a living, and generally just incentivizing the creation of newer, cooler, more creative things in the future. But currently, as these rights organizations show, copyright kinda does the exact opposite—pushing firms to dry-hump products for all they’re worth while adding nothing of value to consumers, and arguably—depending on if you’re a shareholder or not—nothing to society as a whole.

But really, the problem of copyright is out-of-scope for this rant, so I’m gonna pull it back to cycling, and the Giro specifically—Michele Acquarone wants to grow the Giro, or at least says he does. As a watcher of the sport—and by watcher I mean person who reads things on the internet because there is nothing to watch—I’ve no shortage of 2nd- and 3rd-hand reports telling me he’s done just that. But here, with my own eyes, in the US? I can’t see anything that’d suggest a single marketing dollar had been thrown the Giro’s way.

And honesty, eh, it’s his, or his organization’s own damn fault. They sold out rights to a channel no one can see, who further outsources to obviously incompetent contractors for their almost-invisible online content. And with another ill-advised partnership, RCS has managed to kneecap the YouTube audience—I’m sorry, the two-billion-eyeball YouTube audience—not just in the sense that the Giro’s “official” YouTube offerings are crap, but in that the efforts of people like me who do a halfway-decent job or presenting the event FOR FREE are actively being undermined.

This, THIS is how you grow your event, Mr Acquarone? I can only hope that someday I get the chance to ask you how, exactly, you thought was going to happen.

The Cyclocosm Rantcast is written produced and everythinged by Cosmo Catalano—that’d be me—one of the most dominant pack fodder finishers in the history of Cat 3 racing. I currently reside in Hartford, Connecticut. My blog is, I tweet using the handle @Cyclocosm, I make a video podcast series called How The Race Was Won, you can see them all at because YouTube is for copyright trolls. If you’re relatively new to my work, check out for some cool stuff you may not have seen. And now, I’m going to bed.

Why Americans Can't Watch Cycling "On TV"

22 Mar


(not verbatim, contains typos, and sometimes I go off-book)

A couple of weeks ago, Neal Rogers remarked he found it frustrating that despite the advanced technological achievements of these here United States, he still can’t watch bike racing “on TV”.

As you might guess by the tonality that offset it, I have a quarrel to pick generally with that last phrase. After all, a TV is just about $10 of RadioShack cables away from being oversized, power-hungry low resolution computer monitor—which, if the twitters and instagrams of last weekend are any indication, more and more of you are beginning to realize—and that’s a very good thing!

What is of far more concern to me are the connotations that come with TV as a medium—but I’ll get to that later. First, let’s just pretend you’ve all accepted that it doesn’t matter which screen displays your flickering images, and you’re a developing fan who wants check out today E3 Harelbeke, to see what this whole “Spring Classics” thing is about.

I suppose the first place that deserves mention is, because back in 2005, I watched George Hincapie win KBK on my laptop from my bed, and it was pretty cool. To say it’s been downhill from there is an understatement, but limiting myself to the specific constraints of the scenario introduced above, you can’t watch on Cycling.TV because they don’t carry the race.

But that’s cool, y’know because I have this email in my inbox from Universal Sports, and it says “Watch Tom Boonen, Phillippe Gilbert, Fabian Cancellara & All Your Favorite Cyclists This Week”—they sent it with a picture of Brad Wiggins, but whatever—and right there, on the schedule, Gran Prix E3 Herlbeke—that’s not the name, but close enough. Gonna go to their website and check it out—and…not available for purchase?

So…just to be clear on this, you’ve secured exclusive US broadcast rights but you’re not selling the race? Forgive my lack of business school experience but isn’t the whole idea of producing a product to sell it to someone and make a profit? It’s like, I’m walking into Mellow Johnny’s bike shop, Exclusive US Dealer of Rapha, and—oh, sorry, those $800 bib shorts you want to buy? Sorry—they’re not for sale”. Are you guys on acid on something? Who told you this was a good idea—have I been struggling under the mistaken assumption that you weren’t out to deliberately piss off the fan base who, under ideal circumstances, would be giving you money

But hey—Universal Sports themselves told me on Twitter that they were outbid for US rights to RCS’s events—so that means the Giro, Lombardia, Sanremo,  it they went to…BeIN Sport? That’s a new one one me, but we can get to their website easy enough. We got news, video, TV Guide, several different soccer leagues—ok, “other sports”, I’ll just mouse over that—”volleyball, rugby, golf” nope—no cycling. Well, I’ll just go up here the search bar and a look for “cycling”; one result; “Armstrong Speaks—disgraced cyclist has agreed to appear on American talk show…well jesus, this is from five months ago. Ok, I’ll just track down BeIN’s iphone App in Google—yep, there’s the link, open in iTunes and —and there’s an alert window  “The item you've requested is not currently available in the U.S. store.”

And so, literally bereft of other options, I’m now stuck with one of a dozen or so illegal* streaming sites—,,, etc.—and in fact, if you were to Google “live cycling broadcasts” “streaming bike races” etc these pages — and not the actual legitimate rightsholders, will almost certainly dominant your results. So if you work in SEO or online marketing for one of the legitimate cycling broadcasters, please, consider yourself fired.

While journalists can’t get enough of cataloguing the sordid demise of their own profession, the successful method for selling content online is pretty much a closed case. Create an easy, immediate point of sale, charge a relatively painless price for small bits of your content, and then watch the money roll in. This isn’t a new idea—iTunes and the App store are pretty irrefutable examples; and if you’re a diligent Googler can find me applying the concept to cycling in a Podium Cafe comment from three years ago.

The fact that such an option continues to not exist at any of the legitimate outlets for watching cycling induces the sort of apoplexy that I generally reserve for Pat McQuaid quotes and Lance Armstrong denials. Cycling TV has no excuse—their attempt to sell quarterly and yearly packages with a schedule full of more holes than a LADA jersey is at best ingenuous and at worst an actionable example of bait and switch—especially when the overwhelming majority of their coverage consists of two-minute recaps.

But—and this is where I get back to the problem of  TV as a medium—BeIN and Universal Sports both want to insist that they are TV channels. And the problem with that is that TV is really, [expletive] expensive. In my occasional interactions with actual staff Universal/VS/ON, I’ve been quoted absurd numbers for producing a televised broadcast. $30,000 in transmission fees alone, paychecks for cameramen, studio time—and here’s the kicker—a fat four-million-dollar flat fee for TV and internet rights for the ASO’s 6 major events.

It will not surprise you, then, that these cycling operations almost invariably operate at a loss. TVs expense means it is inherently aimed a massive, captive audiences bringing tens of millions of eyeballs—which makes cycling, whose US audience for the Tour de France is barely in the hundreds of thousands, an extremely unappealing target for advertisers. Simply put, TV as it currently exist cannot meet the needs of its audience, and couldn’t turn a profit at all except for the way that cable television is sold in the united states.

If you read the FAQ at Universal Sports, you’ll see that you can, in fact, watch their races online—you just need to have a cable or satellite package that already carries their TV channel. This is because they can make way more money milking cab

le companies for network fees than they can selling your eyeballs, and these providers can in turn milk their customers on the high-priced cable or satellite packages they’d need to get nosebleed channels like Universal or BeIN in the first place

In short, the system works for everyone but the fans. Race organizers can charge broadcast license fees that the viewership doesn’t warrant, small channels can leverage this exclusive access to remain profitable even while overspending and under-delivering on niche content, and cable companies can continue to pay the outlandish network—so long as chumps like us, and other consumers of said hard-to-find content remain obsessed with seeing it “on TV”

But there is, dear listener, one hope—however faint. His name is Michele Aquarone, and in a few short years as the chief of RCS sports, he’s gained a reputation for creativity and progressiveness nearly unheard of in the archaic and byzantine apparatus that drives this sport. After a particularly brutal Tirreno-Adriatico stage, where fully a third of the field dropped out, he volunteered that as a race organizer he had gone too far—showing compassion for the riders that in previous generations, would have be written off as part of the business.

If there were some way to convey to him the sheer misery of feed-hopping at 8am on a Sunday, frantically closing popups, squinting at jumpy, over-compressed images, and struggling to pick out rider names in languages you don’t understand, he might just realize that it’s unreasonable to expect any sort of fanbase to develop when they consistently have to Taylor Phinney their way through such adversity. he might—maybe—look into a buyer with an actual interest in delivering Americans a proper viewing experience for his races.

It just so happens that Michele Acquarone is on twitter—@micacquarone-that’s m-i-c-a-c-q-u-a-r-o-n-e. Next time you can’t seem to find an enjoyable, legitimate source for one of his races, maybe you should drop him a line.

*(In strict terms, these sites themselves are not “illegal”; they provide links to the Russian (if the Cyrillic dialog boxes that occasionally pop-up in the feeds are any indication) hackers who re-broadcast European bike races. I also hasten to add that I don’t use the termn “illegal” as any sort of condemnation—without these sites, watching bike racing in the US would be even more difficult than it already is.)

Feeding the Trollstrong Foundation

9 Jan

you freds are drafting in a troll echcelon

No explanation needed

The jokes, dear reader, have already been made.

I’m sure you think you’ve got some clever new gibe to add, some original snark to spin-off that will raise the bar that little bit higher—and in some cases, I might even believe you. But in humor, as in all things, there is a point of diminishing return, and we have long-since passed it.

Or perhaps your intentions are noble. Perhaps you feel this story is so big, the celebrity status involved in it so outsized, and whichever side you disagree with so clearly idiotic and unjustifiable, that it’s totally worth your continued effort to try and reason your opposition into an inevitable concession. If history is any indicator, that just isn’t going to happen.

"No Comment" is the New Doping

30 Aug

Lance Armstrong looking grumpy at the start of a TT

Fine—I’ll just do non-ITU Triathlons / by Kevin Saunders, cc-by-nd

There’s an easy way to make a million people agree with you—present an argument that’s both simple and entirely compatible with their existing values.

An example: A man is suspected of burglary. He has left fingerprints near, but not at, a number of crime scenes, 11 friends are willing to testify against him, but the suspect has never been caught in the act of robbing a house. Should the state press charges?

It’s hardly a moral dilemma, and you’d certainly be hard-up to find many people who’d call it unjust. And yet, last Thursday a suspected burglar convicted doper effectively pled “no contest” after the authorities brought just such a charge, and in the process convinced millions that not only was this slam-dunk of a case a witch hunt, it was somehow “#unconstitutional” as well.


The New Reality

24 Jul

Brad Wiggins in Yellow on Champs Elysees

There’s more to clean racing than just racing clean / by flickr user niceguysean, cc-by-nd

For better or worse, the racing in this year’s Tour de France did not offer a great deal of excitement.

There were some interesting sprints, the positive (mad watts) and negative (position, timing) confirmations of Peter Sagan’s abilities, the emergence of Tejay VanGarderen as a guy who can hold a GC place for three weeks, but as far as a battle for yellow, there just wasn’t a lot to talk about.

Sure, Evans took some shots early, and Nibali took some shots late, but as the Tour went on, the storyline became less about Brad Wiggins defending his race lead and more about Brad Wiggins defending the legitimacy of his performance.

The Amgen Tour of Confused Californian Branding

13 May

Eight Days of Epicly Poor Branding

Eight Days of Epicly Poor Branding

The Tour of California has an image problem. Mercifully, it’s nothing to with jersey zips—it’s more that the race’s marketing material is absolutely incomprehensible.

Let’s overlook the fact that “Eight Days of Epic” uses the most cored marketing term in recent memory (it’s been a joke on Archer for crying out loud)—the Tour of California is anything but. The race has struggled to find hilltop finishes that don’t end in a bunch sprints and Phil Liggett once described the peloton as “lost at sea” on the state’s enormous swathes of tarmac. There have been some interesting crashes, but beyond that, not a whole lot of drama—unless you count hockeygate.

And to use what appears to be the image of Mario Cipollini? While Cipo’ may have had his share of deep-dug, gritty wins, the man spent his career cultivating his image as an effortless winner who abhorred suffering: being literally towed to the start line in a chariot, flamboyant wardrobe changes up to three times a day at press events—heck, in 2003, Domina Vacanze bought his entire team to use the Italian’s reputation for getting in the beach time in their advertising. To grit him up and label him “epic” is almost insulting.

I won’t deny that there was a time when the ToC could have branded itself like this (and did). At its inception, the race was an early-season tune-up, complete with miserable early-season weather. But it offered riders way to suffer through the rust, torch those last few pounds, and get in some valuable race miles, all with the creature comforts of wide American roads, reasonably well-equipped, American-sized hotel rooms each evening, and the support of racing-starved American fans.

This isn’t to say that the Wellie-clad fanbase lining the bergs and cobbles in Belgium each spring is any less enthusiastic than its American counterpart, but yo-yoing at the back of a lined out field and trying not to swallow too much pig dung while fully-tuned classics specialists trade haymakers appeals to a relatively small segment of the peloton. The first Tours of California offered suffering, but on a much more sensible scale for anyone seeking peak fitness in July.

But the fact is, the Tour of Cali is no longer a boots-and-rain-cape affair. After a few rainy seasons, the race has grown up, taking a mid-season place in the cycling calendar where it fills a vital niche rebooting the campaigns of weather-beaten classics riders coming off rest, and providing a vital step in the training of Tour contenders who don’t want the full-on physical beatdown of the Giro. It’s a warm-weather, safe, comfortable retool, and—without intending the slightest disrespect—it’s about as non-epic as you can get.

And frankly, going whole-hog on that “glamor race” branding would be a perfect fit. It’s California, after all—land of movie stars, palm trees, sunny days, and legislative indulgence. I’m not denying that there are some awesome stages planned for this year’s race, or that there’s no glory in winning them. But no one with their eye on the Champs Elysees is going to make a redline effort to secure the Tour of California title.

Tour of California banner

Riding for Frodo, apparently.

I suppose the website banners and the San Jose poster almost have a sense of what I’m getting at; though the gleam-and-gradient on the lettering is a little more Las Vegas than Los Angeles, there’s at least some attempt to portray glamor. But the rest of the poster—a bunched peloton riding through a landscape that looks more like Mount Doom than the Pacific Coast Highway, falls back into the “epic” trap.

All that said, I do understand what the ToC organizers are going for with their “Eight Days of Epic”. But the fact is, it still doesn’t quite work. It’s a half-measure. And it doesn’t have quite enough mass appeal for the passive fan. So I’ve whipped up a little something that should snag the eyeballs they’re targeting with aplomb, all while trying to maintain the questionably-intended imagery they’ve chosen for themselves.