With Major Cycling Series in Disarray, What’s Next for the Sport in the U.S.?
30 Jan, 2020By: Michael Popke
Cycling, Unfortunately, Doesn't Have the Following in the U.S. it Enjoys Globally
The cycling world enters a new decade beneath a shroud of uncertainty, as one major series goes on hiatus and a new one is postponed.
In December, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) announced the postponement of the launch of the UCI Classics Series. As VeloNews.com reports, the series was intended to “unite the five ‘Monuments’ of cycling — Milano-Sanremo, the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, and Il Lombardia — with 15 or so other major one-day races into a season-long series.”
Organizers of the series claim the decision to postpone will “give time to build this new series together with all the parties involved (organizers, teams, riders and UCI),” according to a press release from UCI.
“Convinced of the merit of this new series that would provide a source of additional revenues distributed between concerned parties thanks to improved exposure of one-day races, the UCI will continue discussions with representatives of professional road cycling with the aim of a rapid launch,” stated the release.
Meanwhile, the Amgen Tour of California is on hiatus for the 2020 season.
“This has been a very difficult decision to make, but the business fundamentals of the Amgen Tour of California have changed since we launched the race 14 years ago,” Kristin Klein, president of the Amgen Tour of California and executive vice president of AEG Sports, said in a statement. “While professional cycling globally continues to grow and we are very proud of the work we have done to increase the relevance of professional cycling, particularly in the United States, it has become more challenging each year to mount the race. This new reality has forced us to re-evaluate our options, and we are actively assessing every aspect of our event to determine if there is a business model that will allow us to successfully relaunch the race in 2021.”
The race has become California’s largest annual sporting event, contributing more than $3.5 billion to the state’s economy over the years, according to reports. Each year since 2006, the cycling road race has showcased some of today’s best known and most decorated international cyclists, including numerous national, world and Olympic champions. The international competition also carried the distinction of being the only U.S.-based event that has both its men’s and women’s races listed on the UCI WorldTour calendar. It also was the only event of its kind that concurrently produced men’s and women’s stage races offering equal prize money.
“We do need aspirational events. We need people to watch the [Amgen Tour of California] and want to be bike racers because of it,” Adam Myerson, president of Cycle-Smart coaching services and a former domestic road pro, told Bicycling.com. “So if you don’t have that, that absolutely hurts us at every level. It hurts professional opportunities for riders, and it takes away something that draws people in.”
Bicycling.com also noted that the Amgen Tour of California is the latest American cycling race to bite the dust, citing the Philly Cycling Classic, the U.S. Pro Challenge, the Tour de ’Toona “and a dozen other events that made up the fabric of pro cycling here in the U.S.”
“I think it’s a bit of a bellwether as to the direction of American cycling,” Jonathan Vaughters, team boss of the EF Education First pro cycling team, told CyclingNews.com. “Cycling in the U.S. is a different marketplace than it is in many places. We’re never going to have these big-money, massive, state-backed races like [in Saudi Arabia] or the UAE Tour. That’s never going to happen in the U.S. Municipalities or government entities are not going to sponsor cycling. Our political system doesn’t allow for that. It has to come from completely private dollars.”
Cycling has always had a strong following in other parts of the world; September's UCI Road World Championships, held in England, enjoyed record-breaking viewing as 329 million people in 124 countries tuned in to watch. Its foothold in America has never been as strong. USA Cycling, for its part, says it is going to promote the sport at the junior and collegiate level, starting this year and moving forward.
“As we look towards the future of this sport and organization, it’s imperative that the development of youth and collegiate cycling be at the forefront of our priorities,” said Rob DeMartini, President and CEO of USA Cycling. “In October 2019 we established a new department within our organization that is dedicated exclusively to the growth of cycling among youth. Working to get more kids riding bikes, fostering a life-long love of the sport is not just a priority, it’s our responsibility.”
USA Cycling’s new Junior Development initiative includes programs to lower the barriers of entry for youth interested in racing their bikes.
With any luck, Jonathan Vaughters told CyclingNews.com, he hopes the Amgen Tour of California can return next year: “I hope the organizers behind California, who have the backing and resources and right people in place, take a long, hard look and say, ‘How do we re-invent ourselves into something that works for the U.S. audience?’ I think that’s totally possible, but racing in the U.S. has to be re-invented.”