WCSN (World Championship Sports Network), which broadcast the Deutschland Tour (Tour of Germany) in August, the Tour of Missouri earlier this month and the current UCI Road World Championships (On Demand), continues its move into cycling coverage with today’s WCSN USA Crits Finals. As the event title indicates, this is WCSN’s event. They are broadcasting the race live and On Demand, worldwide, and free. The live coverage starts at 9pm U.S. Eastern.
How many times do we need to repeat this? The ProTour is dead.
I still see some of the top cycling news sites talk about such and such a team hoping to join the ProTour by 2009. Are people not paying attention?
Ask Team Unibet about the value of a ProTour license.
For that matter, ask Discovery Channel.
International Cycling Union (UCI) president Pat McQuaid now says that the Grand Tours of France, Italy and Spain do not need to be part of the ProTour. Some may interpret this as a truce (The UCI and Grand Tour organizers have been fighting over the future of cycling for three years). Nothing could be less sure. Rumor has it that the UCI is still demanding that all ProTeams (teams with ProTour licenses) be automatically allowed to race the Tour de France. At best, this is the way things have been operating, more or less, since the introduction of the ProTour in 2005. But Tour organizer A.S.O. seems less interested in continuing down this path and is even considering throwing some national teams into the mix.
A number of title sponsors are leaving the sport and it is unlikely that new sponsors willing to buy into the ProTour, dead, can be found. Indeed, I believe the primary reason for Tailwind Sports’ (owner of the Discovery Channel team ProTour license) upcoming complete withdrawal from the sport is because they were likely told they would not be welcome at the Tour de France in 2008. Team Slipstream, which quite significantly was invited by ASO to the 2007 Criterium International last spring, likely will get a Tour invite in 2008. ASO has indeed made a point of saying that invitations will be based more on team ethics than on results. Surely, someone from ASO took Vaughters aside in the French Ardennes (site of the Criterium International) last spring and gave him every reason to believe a 2008 Tour invite is in play. Vaughters has been building the team like he knows it….and Tailwind Sports/Discovery Channel are just weeks away from disappearing. That’s the way ASO likes to operate, both for the selection of teams and the selection of Tour stage host towns. Handshakes and politics.
I’ve always thought that Discovery Channel uncharacteristically brought its A team (Armstrong, Ekimov, Savoldelli, Popovych, Azevedo, Beltran, Rubiera) to the 2005 Paris-Nice (photo above), the very first event in the ProTour, as a favor to Hein Verbruggen and the UCI to help drive interest in the new “super league”. Ironically, the death of the ProTour, and its “guarantee” of a Tour invite with it, seems to have provoked the end of the Tailwind Sports/Discovery Channel team franchise.
The ProTour is dead. Long live Team Slipstream.
I just wouldn’t want to predict this one.
The general consensus is that the loser will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) but I don’t consider that a given. Can Floyd Landis afford to continue this fight? Even if Floyd wins, there are hurdles for him in France, notably the Agence Française de Lutte contre le Dopage (AFLD) which postponed its own investigation pending the U.S. arbitrators’ decision. There is also the matter of Tour de France organizer Amaury Sport Organization (A.S.O.) having decided months ago that Landis is guilty; they don’t want him back. You can probably say the same about the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI). What team will want to jeopardize its chances of getting invited to the Tour de France by signing Floyd Landis? The sport’s leaders don’t care if he’s innocent or guilty. They are worried about image alone.
The French government has called a summit for October on the subject of doping in cycling. You read that right. Not doping in sport. Doping in cycling. A doping summit surely is necessary. (How about a summit to launch an investigation into statements by French rocker Johnny Hallyday that his friend, French football (soccer) superstar Zinedine Zidane, recommended “blood cleansing” in order to increase endurance?) But the fact that the French government continues to effectively give other sports a pass is a clear indication of their lack of will in the supposed anti-doping fight. The French Minister of Sport, Roselyne Bachelot, hopes to see her predecessor, Jean-François Lamour, installed as the replacement for Dick Pound at the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in November. That’s the real reason for the French government hosting this summit just one month before the vote. Look at us, we fight doping in sport! Yes, the same Lamour who could have used his influence to bust open Operation Puerto but instead helped, possibly forever, to incorrectly label OP as a “doping in cycling” case. Excuse my near-French but un-freakin’-believable.
The real question is how do you say “nazi frogmen” in French. (ed: That was a term used by Dick Pound, for those unaware.) But seriously, if Lamour takes over for Pound we will soon be longing for the good old days where Pound at least was entertaining. Lamour is as entertaining as watching paint dry on a snail.
The UCI initially said “no thanks” when WADA suggested the summit. But when governments, particularly Paris-based, host a summit, with plenty of wine and foie gras and oh that view from the Restaurant Jules Verne on the Eiffel Tower, you don’t refuse.
The biggest disappointment of the Floyd Landis hearings? (Okay, second biggest after the LeMond/Geoghan fiasco.) Jacques de Ceaurriz, director of the controversial Laboratoire National de Dépistage du Dopage (LNDD), didn’t have to testify. He was there but was able to leave without having to answer questions about the lab, no doubt to his great relief. If Lamour, who oversaw LNDD during his time at the French Ministry of Sport, is elected as chairman of WADA, some things are sure to remain buried.
Floyd may have doped but the larger story of years of questionable political influence at LNDD may never be fully told. Fortunately, there is one French journalist, a former journalist for L’Equipe (the key word of course being “former”), who did some digging back in 2002…..
This has been a busy week for cycling coverage with live video streaming of the Vuelta a Espana, Tour de Pologne and Tour of Missouri. The Tour of Britain live coverage has been limited to Twitter text updates but they perhaps will have live streaming next year. As far as I can recall, this is the first time we’ve had some form of live internet coverage for FOUR races simultaneously.
The 2007 season has been phenomenal in terms of live video streaming of bike races with Eurosport doing more than last year, even if the trend toward the latter part of the season has been to restrict Eurosport access to countries or regions. But more race organizers and television stations, notably in Spain, have gotten into live video streaming too. France is unfortunately behind Spain and Italy, among other European countries, in streaming races live on the net. But France Télévisions has at least gotten into the game of live streaming this season and their regional coverage in the form of reportages of races big and small surely is unmatched.
The 2007 Tour of Missouri, which ends on Sunday, has seen an unprecedented number of live viewing options for a U.S. race, and an inaugural race at that. Beyond justin.tv and the Adobe Tour Tracker familiar to cycling fans who watched the Tour of California or Tour de Georgia earlier this season, fans can watch the Tour of Missouri on cycling.tv and wcsn.com. All this interest is good for the sport and cycling fans will benefit from a little broadcast competition in 2008.
Television coverage in some form is critical to the survival of professional bike races. Tour of Missouri organizers obviously understand this. There is every reason to believe that the coverage of races like the 2008 Tour of California and Tour de Georgia, if it survives, will be improved compared to 2007.
The 2007 UCI Road World Championships, September 26-30, are right around the corner. The World Championship Sports Network (WCSN) has the U.S. rights to these events. For the U.S. market, it is important that cycling fans turn out in great numbers to watch. That is the best way to ensure that the sport and the coverage continue to grow in 2008.