UCI relying on revamped WorldTour calendar to avoid 'disaster'
By Susan Lingeswaran
David Lappartient, the president of the UCI, cycling’s international governing body, has insisted that it is "crucial" that professional road racing resumes this year as the sport reels from the financial fallout caused by the coronavirus pandemic.
Yesterday, the UCI released the revised calendar for both the men’s and women’s UCI WorldTours for the rest of the 2020 season, following approval from its managing committee and the Professional Cycling Council.
After dozens of races were cancelled and postponed as a result of the pandemic, the governing body is trying to fit 25 races into a tight schedule from 1 August to 31 October.
Speaking at an online press conference yesterday, Lappartient (pictured) said it is vital for team sponsors in need of visibility that the three Grand Tours – the Tour de France, the Giro d’Italia and the Vuelta a Espana – and the most prestigious one-day classics take place this year.
Unlike many sports which rely on broadcasting rights for revenue, cycling’s business model depends on the sponsors channelling money into professional teams. The Tour de France alone is responsible for around 50 per cent of the visibility the sport and sponsors receive each year.
Lappartient said: “If it [the rest of the season] does not happen, it could plunge our sport in a rather catastrophic situation. If we have a 2020 season that will be a big challenge even for some teams but if we don’t have a 2020 season, it will be an even greater challenge and we’ll probably lose more teams.
“That’s why it’s crucial for us to have this 2020 season and this is why we are pushing so hard to have all these potential races and when I spoke with the teams, that’s what they were thinking too.”
Last month, the UCI unveiled a cost-saving plan in anticipation of a “significant reduction of revenues”, with senior executives taking pay cuts.
Asked by Sportcal to give an update on the potential losses facing the UCI, Lappartient admitted there are major financial challenges this year but is optimistic it will “bounce back” in 2021.
As it was due to be an Olympic Games year, the organisation had expected to report a profit because of a windfall of SFr25.9 million ($26.6 million) from the International Olympic Committee.
However, Lappartient said with the Tokyo 2020 games now postponed until 2021, it will not receive this money until next year and therefore cannot reinvest it back into the World Cycling Centre, the organisation’s coaching and training centre in Aigle in Switzerland.
He added the UCI’s global tax bill will amount to SFr8.5 million this year, and with 900 races already postponed or cancelled, it is essential the WorldTour is maintained to cover the costs.
Lappartient said: “We have three or four versions of what could be the budget of the UCI. We will lose a lot of money this year, that’s for sure. We have some reserves and we don’t have cash flow problems because we’ve had some events that have been paid for.”
He added the UCI management committee will be meeting next week and will release more information about the governing body’s financial situation.
Road racing is scheduled to restart with the men’s and women’s editions of Strade Bianche on 1 August, followed by the Milan-San Remo for the men on 8 August and then a shortened four-day edition of the Criterium de Dauphine from 12 to 16 August.
Cycling’s three Grand Tours are to take place in a whirlwind 71-day period in the autumn. The postponed Tour de France will be held in its proposed new slot of 29 August to 20 September, despite last week's announcement by the French government that there will be no professional sport in the country before September.
Lappartient said: “I do believe we are able to have the Tour de France but I can’t say I’m 100 per cent sure, that would not be realistic. I would say if you invest in cycling, 50 per cent of your investment is around the Tour de France. If we don’t have a Tour de France that could be a disaster.
“We could have said at the end of March, ‘the season is closed, let’s meet in 2021 at the Tour Down Under’, but we believe this would have been a disaster for our sport. We wanted to save what we can save.”
Responding to the release of the calendar yesterday, French sports minister Roxana Maracineau warned the UCI there is “no guarantee” that the Tour de France will go ahead this year.
Speaking to France Télévisions, Maracineau said: “Many people are begging me to keep the Tour even behind closed doors. I hope it will take place but I am not sure. We do not know what the pandemic will be like after lockdown.
One striking twist to the calendar is the overlap of the Giro d’Italia, running from 3 October to 25 October, with the Vuelta a Espana, already reduced in length to 18 stages, from 20 October to 8 November.
Along with the Giro and the Vuelta, October is also set to feature a series of top one-day races in what will be congested month for road cycling. Four of the five ‘Monuments’ will be held between October 4 and 31. These are: Liège–Bastogne–Liège on October 4; the Tour of Flanders on October 18; Paris-Roubaix on October 25; and Il Lombardia on October 31.
RCS Sport, the organiser of the Giro d'Italia, has expressed some reservations with the calendar while acknowledging it would have been difficult to satisfy all stakeholders.
In a statement, it said: “In order to save and safeguard the important heritage of cycling races, some sacrifices had to be made considering the short time span within which we could include all of the season’s races.
“We made a number of alternative proposals which, in our opinion, would have resulted in reduced overlaps among races in the calendar. These proposals have not been adopted.”
Lappartient claimed the overlap of the Giro and the Vuelta was inevitable because the Spanish race could not start too late in the season for safety reasons.
He said: “The Vuelta takes place in the Pyrenees mountains, by mid-November the climatic risks – with snow, and daylight ending earlier – are too big. We had no other choice than an overlap.”
Addressing RCS Sport’s claims, he said: “There was a discussion about the duration of the Giro but you can see that the request from Giro to be on four weekends and three full weeks has been approved but the UCI, as well as the dates that were requested by them all received a positive answer from the UCI.”
Eurosport, the Discovery-owned pan-European sports broadcaster holds extensive broadcasting rights to both the Giro and the Vuelta, along with the Tour de France.
On the issue of social distancing at races, Lappartient said besides reducing the number of spectators at the start and end of races, special measures would also be enforced, including for the media.
He said: “We have a specific dedicated working group under the leadership of our medical director together with the teams, the organisers and team doctors to create guidelines on how to organise the starts of the race with so many fans and media.
“There will probably be fences around, we will have conditions for interviews from journalists, what steps we have to take if we have a positive case of the virus in a team during a stage race so we are discussing internally to try and set up some guidelines for teams with stakeholders to be ready for the beginning of the season.”