I have never been to the HQ of the UCI in Aigle. But at the moment I do imagine it being a little bit like a start-up company in Silicon Valley where every employer has to come up with a new idea daily.
There have been a lot of new things being announced by the UCI lately. Some have been highly needed and inevitable like introducing a women junior race during Cyclo-cross Worlds, some don’t even deserve that we talk about it again like the mixed TTT Worlds. Others have been long awaited, like the one announcing minimum salary for women. Latest was of course absolutely necessary even if I believe that that project still needs to be finalized a bit more in order to satisfy everyone, the riders of course but also the teams and mostly maybe the small development teams.
Quick review for those who missed the news. In 2023 Glasgow and its Scottish surroundings will host the World championships of not only road cycling but literally of every UCI discipline except Cyclo-Cross. It will include all Track events, all MTB events, BMX and Trial events, paracycling, Indoor cycling and the not to be missed trendy Grand Fondo event. During 2 weeks, just like the Olympics, the best cyclists in the world will meet in Scotland. The first edition of the Cyclympics will be 2023 and it is supposed to be held every 4 years, just like the Olympics. Why not add a e-race as a 14th event? The Zwift Kiss Super League still has time to grow a bit until 2023.
It is a good idea and there are obviously lots of reasons to be excited about this novelty. It will be a mega event, and people love mega events. So do the TV and the sponsors. The recent multi-sport European Championships held commonly by Glasgow and Berlin have been the latest prove. During the ten days of competition a total of 567 million hours of sport have been on schedule through 44 different broadcasters, TV and radio mostly. In Germany f.ex 43 million people watched at least on event. The broadcasting also allowed smaller events to rise their audience, just like during the Olympics.
The same could happen to the Cyclympics. The UCI probably won’t have any problem selling the TV hours to the broadcasters. It is only a guess of mine that the UCI expects a bigger financial benefit of one mega event then trying to sell the events separately. Selling a– all or nothing- package to the public will of course mean we will get to see all the events. The less known disciplines such as Indoor cycling or trial will be delighted and the para-athletes can show that they compete not only during the Paraolympics.
It isn’t a surprise that, still inspired by the success of the European Championships, Glasgow offered themselves to be the first ever host of the Cyclympics. Well, it could be a surprise nevertheless. The 91 million £ hosting costs of this event could have stopped Glasgow to invest again a huge amount of money into a sport event only a few years later. Europeans might have helped the Scottish economy due to the perfect coverage of the event, but will the Cyclympics have the same impact?
And while Glasgow appears to be the perfect partner for this kind of event (it has the political will to promote their city through sport and all the biggest infrastructures are already existing), which city can take the relay in 2027? If we consider only infrastructures, we have to go back to Copenhagen in 2011 to find a city that has already a Velodrome ready to be used for competition. But do they have the BMX and trial infrastructures needed? Bergen probably held one of the most beautiful and brilliant road world championships of the last few years but the public success of the event didn’t avoid putting the Norwegian federation under bankruptcy threat. Now imagine they would have to build all still needed infrastructures to host the Cyclympics. So, who’s next?
And the athlete in all this? If you look at the idea with innocent eyes you will find it great. It looks like it will give us athletes the opportunity to come together, to share the experience of worlds together, to bring together disciplines that never meet, to help smaller events become bigger, more popular, share our passion with more spectators and help inspiring the next generation through a wider spectrum. That’s the usual drill.
But what about the details? The Olympics are well known to bring athletes together because of the Olympic village. We share the same accommodation, the same food, the same transport facilities. All this encourages to exchange with other athletes, countries, cultures. I don’t think the Cyclympics can create the same spirit. There won’t be a Cyclympic village. Every nation will be on is own in their own hotel. The bigger nations, all the disciplines reunited, will have a that huge delegation that it will probably not even fit in one single hotel. I am afraid the sharing and caring won’t even happen within one country’s team.
But more important let’s talk about the sporting terms. I know traditions should be broken from time to time but I do have a little concern about the change of calendar the Cyclympics will bring us. Bringing worlds from September forward to August isn’t much of a deal for the roadies. It might even bring new opportunities for several riders. Staying at the highest level until end of September isn’t always possible especially if you have a big program throughout the year. Having the most important race a month earlier will make it maybe easier to peak for worlds without having to sacrifice on other races during the year. The same counts for MTB riders.
On the other hand if you are a track rider, moving worlds from March to August is a big change. Also knowing that the World cup series probably won’t be moved and will still be held during the winter, there won’t be so much races beforehand Worlds where riders can efficiently prepare for their biggest race of the season.
And now imagine you are one of those riders that successfully combines two or even more disciplines during a year. You do so because the calendar allows you to do so. There was enough time to prepare specifically for one event, then rest and move on to the other event later in the year. Having everything together now will make things way more complicated or even impossible.
But everyone loves multi-discipline riders. The UCI is the first one proudly talking about riders like Neff or PFP who compete in three different disciplines. But bringing everything together will only reinforce specialisation of the riders and we might not be able to see riders racing and winning across different disciplines anymore. Even Peter Sagan had to choose between the road and the MTB during the Olympics in Rio. And if Superman Sagan has to choose means it really isn’t possible, because with Sagan normally nothing is impossible.
There is another point of the calendar that bothers me a little bit. Here is the picture: You become world champion on the track in August 2023. When are the championships held the year after? Logic wants the normal schedule to be back in between two Cyclympics, meaning February/March 2024. Does that mean the World champion 2023 won’ t be World champion for a year but maybe only for half a year? If that’s the case 2023 probably won’t be best year to become world champion.
I love new ideas. Doing always the same thing can be boring and boring is never good. Unfortunately these days I have the feeling the UCI wants to bring up new things at all costs without considering everyone’s opinion, especially the athletes opinion. Ideas are great but don’t they need a bit more time and reflection and discussion in order to develop into a great long-time project? Because the wind of change needs to be a steady wind and not only a windblast that comes and goes.