Top cycling teams unite under business umbrella
The Associated Press
Eleven of the world’s leading cycling teams have united to form Velon, a business venture that they hope will rejuvenate the sport in the wake of doping scandals, haphazard management and questions about its overall integrity.
While the organization does not include all of the World Tour teams, it encompasses the majority of them.
Among them are U.S.-based BMC Racing and Garmin-Sharp, British heavyweight Team Sky and powerhouses Omega Pharma-Quick-Step, Orica-GreenEDGE and Team Giant-Shimano.
“There has been a group of teams collaborating for some time about how we can, by working together, shape the future of the sport,” said Jonathan Vaughters, the chief executive of Colorado-based Garmin-Sharp. “As a formal cooperative, we will be able to continue to create even more opportunities to grow the sport we all love and make it more accessible to our fans.”
In a carefully orchestrated rollout this week, the collaborating teams issued statements in which they said they hope to improve the sport by better organizing the schedule, incorporating new technology and creating a more sustainable business model.
Former UEFA and Nike executive Graham Bartlett has been appointed the chief executive, and he plans to work closely with the UCI — the sport’s world governing body — along with major sponsors and race organizers such as ASO, which is responsible for the Tour de France.
“This combined commitment can help to deliver more of what the fans want to see from the sport: exciting races brought to life with great technology,” Bartlett said. “What we’re trying to build will hopefully create a virtuous circle where it’s easier for fans to engage with the teams and riders and gives the teams even greater incentives to maintain credibility.”
While years of doping scandals have taken their toll on the sport, one of the biggest issues cycling has faced is resonating with fans — particularly those outside of Europe.
Races often act as stand-alone events, subject to the whims of title sponsors that bankroll them. The calendar takes riders all over the world, often on a schedule that makes little sense, and conflicting and competing events force riders and teams where to compete.
All of that makes the sport hard to follow for casual fans.
Throw in the fact that teams are perpetually in limbo, again due to their dependence on sponsorship money, and it is no surprise that drawing new fans to the sport has proven difficult.
“The existing, sponsor-only business model is fragile for all teams,” Bartlett said. “We need to change this to a more rounded one with fans at the heart of it, investing in new technological initiatives to generate greater excitement from the races.”
Already, the teams involved in Velon have collaborated on the use of on-bike cameras that promise to give fans a unique, first-person view of what riders are seeing on the course. Other technological advancements are expected to be developed in the coming years.
“The teams have a story to tell and it is through a project like Velon that they can be sure that story is heard,” said Swiss rider Fabian Cancellara, an Olympic time trial gold medalist and four-time world champion. “The on-bike cameras were a first example of the soul and strength of the collaboration between the teams and the other stakeholders in cycling.”
There are six major holdouts, most of them taking a “wait-and-see” approach to Velon. They include a trio of French teams in Ag2r-La Mondiale, FDJ and Europcar, Russian team Katusha, Spain-based Movistar and Astana, the team of Tour de France winner Vincenzo Nibali.
Still, numerous riders have pledged their support of the organization.
“It will be important to make our sport even better, more understandable, and more marketable for people outside the cycling world,” said Omega Pharma-Quick-Step’s Mark Cavendish, the British former world champion. “I believe that this kind of project is important to enlarge our fan base and to increase the awareness of our sport internationally.”
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Had Hailey Swirbul decided against going to Europe, she would not have finished with a career-best result in Friday’s World Cup opener. Yes, there was a time, and not long ago, when the U.S. ski team member and Roaring Fork Valley native questioned her desire to put on a race bib.