GCN Shuts Down: What's Next? Lappartient Warms to Reforms; More Speculation on Van Aert; Things Get Ugly at Israel-Premier Tech; Troubles in U.K. Cycling; Justice for Moriah Wilson
● GCN Shuts Down: What’s Next for Viewers?
● Lappartient Pivots to Structural Reforms?
● More Speculation on WvA and Jumbo’s 2024 Plans
● Family Squabble Boils Over at Israel–ProTech
● Troubles in U.K. Cycling
● Justice in Moriah Wilson Case
Shockwaves from the announcement that the GCN+ streaming platform is shutting down will be felt throughout the winter, as fans – and the sport – seek to understand and make peace with cycling’s broadcast landscape reality. Astute cycling analysts quickly surmised that fans in affected markets will likely need to realign viewing habits to include a mix of VPN services and subscriptions to other platforms – like Flo Sports – primarily due to the geographic streaming restrictions inherent in cycling’s archaic licensing model. In fact, the failure to develop cycling’s legacy rights licensing ecosystem indicates deeper fractures that mirror the recent bankruptcy reorganization of Diamond Sports Group (DSG) – a regional broadcast rights holder for multiple North American sports leagues. As the reorganization proposals and lawsuits between DSG and its parent company have unfolded, it’s been revealed that the licensing rights in smaller media markets – not unlike cycling’s niche markets – exceeded the costs to supply that content. Hence, DSG abandoned those markets altogether.
The floor is now open as to what might be the next iteration of cycling’s broadcast delivery model. Will parent company Warner Bros-Discovery offer cycling through its other platforms? Will it hold the rights in limbo while a new buyer is sought, the outcome of which could be even further devalued rights, due to fire-sale economics? Or will it jettison the rights and force the race owners to renegotiate deals with Flo (also partially owned by WBD) or other providers that might emerge? Despite a rumored two billion views on the GCN+ platform in 2023, the breakdown in viewers-per-race across an investment in the rights of so many smaller races – even with bundling strategies – will likely land the next rights-holder in the same small-market unprofitability hole. Since most race organizers lack the infrastructure to profitably and reliably self-stream their live content, the short-term heartburn of viewing constraints may force cycling’s stakeholders to quickly assess changes which could help rewrite cycling’s future.
Some of that “future” may be coming, as UCI President David Lappartient hinted this week on the French DirectVelo website, going as far to say he would be open to the idea of moving the tradition-steeped spring cobbled classics to the fall and other drastic calendar changes. He also revealed that the UCI would no longer allow for overlapping races and would look to reduce the WorldTour calendar after the 2026 season when a new round of race and team WorldTour licenses are awarded. These statements are quite surprising, on several levels. First, they suggest that some of the ideas of the so-called One Cycling project or concept could possibly soon be on the horizon. Slimming down the calendar might rankle traditionalists, but it would certainly please the teams, which are overburdened by the expenses of attending numerous and often overlapping races. It would please the fans, as more of the sport’s stars would be available to go head-to-head (Tadej Pogačar and Remco Evenepoel have never raced against each other in a grand tour, for example). Also interesting is the now increasingly prominent placement of UCI sports director Peter van den Abbeele as a strategist and proxy spokesman for Lappartient regarding high-profile pro cycling issues – a development worth watching, as rumors continue to circulate that Lappartient may soon depart cycling for the IOC. Finally, it should be noted that none of these proposed reforms are exactly revolutionary ideas; most have been recommended by various parties in the past. (Indeed, they closely align with many of the strategic recommendations and business plans which The Outer Line has consistently put forth over the past ten years, including the 2018 Rapha Roadmap report.)
Last week, we questioned Italian newspaper reports about Wout van Aert having already decided to race next year’s Giro. Later in the week, Van Aert himself appeared to confirm the rumors at an impromptu press conference in Colombia, although the team continues to insist that no calendar planning decisions will be made until December. Regardless of whether Van Aert ends up racing the Giro, there seem to be several reasons – beyond appeasing one superstar – why the decision would make little sense for the team. First, the team lacks grand tour support depth for a Van Aert GC bid in May – in the team’s previous win, triple Vuelta winner Primož Roglič had proven adept at handling leadership and isolation pressure. Second, if the team wishes to defend its Tour de France title with Jonas Vingegaard, Van Aert would likely be a key component there, given his unmatched range of capabilities – and the fact that the team is now racing against Roglič. In addition, surprise 2023 Vuelta winner Sepp Kuss has indicated he now wants more leadership responsibilities. Finally, if Van Aert wanted to target the glaring holes in his classics palmares – Flanders and Paris-Roubaix – he’d have only a month to slim down and prepare for an entirely different effort required to compete for the maglia rosa.
The same reports asserted that Van Aert was gearing up for the Olympic Road Race and Time Trial, further damping probability of a Giro attempt. Recent history suggests that racing the Tour de France is virtually required to win gold in both the road race and time trial (every road race and time trial gold medalist since 2008 sharpened their form with at least a week of the Tour prior to the Olympics). Given all these considerations, if Van Aert does indeed try to chase personal glory at the Giro instead of working for the team at the Tour, it could indicate cracks in Jumbo Visma’s “total cycling” philosophy. The departure of Roglič, and potential dilution of the team’s Tour de France strength, would suggest that the team is struggling to maintain its ethos which (as demonstrated at last year’s Vuelta) has seen superstars sacrifice personal ambitions to help the team reach new heights.
Understatement of the week: the honeymoon at Israel-Premier Tech between owner Sylvan Adams and four-time Tour winner Chris Froome is definitely over. Just a little over three years ago, after he signed Froome to a widely-ballyhooed five-year contract at €5 million per year, Adams confidently proclaimed that Froome would soon win his fifth Tour. At the time, many observers were skeptical of the high-profile signing by the WorldTour-elevated Israeli team (it had just purchased Katusha’s license in 2019) – given Froome’s relatively advanced age of 35, and his recovery process after a horrific training accident in 2019. In retrospect, Adams’ primary objective in signing Froome was probably not really to win more Tours, but was driven more by the desire for quick attention and awareness of his primary objective – unabashedly using the team to promote the state of Israel (a separate topic which we will address in a coming issue). At the time, Adams acknowledged his critics, admitting that “We will be heavily criticized if Chris Froome doesn’t do well … Everyone will say, look at them, they took a washed-up former champion and they thought they could milk it.”
To Adams’ credit, he stuck with Froome despite an early lack of results, but there was an air of inevitability that the relationship would go downhill. After Froome was left off the squad’s 2022 Tour squad, he publicly voiced his disappointment, with Adams responding that he had thus far received “no value” for his investment, adding criticism by referring to Froome as a “pedestrian domestique.” Now, with Froome’s recent series of perceived excuses about his bike fit, back pain and poor performance (even though he is an investor in Factor bicycles) the dirty laundry has been aired, with Adams this week telling the Radio Cycling podcast that Froome “could complain till the cows come home” but it wasn’t going to earn him a Tour spot. Adams undoubtedly knew he was taking a big competitive risk when he signed Froome, yet he probably earned the publicity returns he sought. Froome made heroic efforts to recapture earlier form, but he was clearly never going to win another grand tour. Both men are now captive to the contract they signed three years ago, and while it's uncomfortable to watch the decline of a generally well-respected rider, it’s equally jarring to see the internal squabbles of a WorldTour team overshadow the team’s actual competitive performances.
Continuing fallout from the major U.K. cycling branding insolvency that was Wiggle-CRC has seemingly dovetailed into financial and organizational jeopardy befalling both the Tour of Britain and the U.K.'s Women's Tour. The Women's Tour had already been "postponed" from 2023 to 2024, due to funding shortcomings; the recent announcement that the Tour of Britain's organizer has over £700K in unpaid licensing agreements loads the U.K. cycling ecosystem with additional downward stress. The potential loss of both events will deprive the nation of valuable tourism exposure, and more critically deprives British Cycling's development strategy of an even more valuable tool to inspire and attract new cyclists into the sport. These downturns could have a long-term impact, and they mirror the body blows experienced by USA Cycling and the North American market in recent years. After the closure of races like the tours of California, Utah and Colorado, the impact in the States has included reduced membership; no remaining flagship stage races or one day races (the nascent Maryland Classic is still in a growth phase), negative bicycle sales and a generally depressed market. In addition, talent development programs have had to emphasize placement of up-and-coming riders in overseas racing programs due to a lack of competitive opportunities on home soil. While the respective federations are trying to address these challenges with focus groups and tectonic strategy shifts, we would suggest a possible joint summit as a way to cogently and cohesively address similar problems with meaningful solutions.
Finally, we should briefly note that Kaitlin Armstrong, the accused murderer of gravel racing star Moriah Wilson, was found guilty by an Austin, Texas jury this week, and sentenced to ninety years in prison. In the closing page to this tragedy, Wilson’s family stated, “Violence is never a good way to solve personal issues; in fact, violence doesn’t solve anything but only leads to more suffering.” The Wilson family also announced a new foundation established in Mo’s name, geared to promoting healthy living and community building – and hopefully a lasting and inspirational reminder of Mo’s journey in the sport and a legacy that can provide positive impacts to others in the future.