Van Aert's Domination Continues; Legacy of the Qatar World Cup; Quintana, Lopez Out of WT; Colbrelli Switches Jobs; Triathlon Group Raises Money; NCL Announces 2023 Teams
· Van Aert Continues To Dominate
· What Will Be the Legacy of the Qatar World Cup?
· Lopez and Quintana Out of the WorldTour
· Triathlete Organization Raises More Money for Expansion
· Colbrelli Switches Careers?
Wout van Aert continued his absolute dominance over cyclocross this season with a pair of wins at Superprestige Gullegem on Saturday and Trofee-Vlaamse Duinencross Koksijde on Sunday. The Sunday victory, where he once again bested rival Mathieu van der Poel by over a minute, combined with his dominant performances during the road season over the summer, show that the 28-year-old Van Aert is performing at a level rarely seen before in the sport. However, one has to wonder about the longer-term sustainability of his packed racing schedule, and whether he will regret achieving such peak form in the middle of the winter, later on when the road season gets underway. Van Aert’s main rivals – Tom Pidcock and Van der Poel – have recently seemed off their best and unable to match Van Aert. Packed 2021 and 2022 schedules saw them both race cross, mountain bike, and road at very high levels. Have they learned from this experience and are simply building slowly into the 2023 season, or has the exhausting workload over the last 24 months (including the first grand tours of both of their careers) blunted their explosiveness?
What will be the lasting legacy of the various controversies surrounding the Qatar World Cup? A recent commentary in the Guardian pointed out that while it was “easy to find fault in Qatar given its autocratic nature and well-documented human rights abuses,” it is important that future sporting events be appraised with a similarly critical lens. In particular, looking ahead to the 2026 World Cup, there is no shortage of concerns worthy of critical journalism. Most of the games will take place in the U.S., which “has withstood a tempestuous few years marred with an attempted insurrection, a marked increase in mass shootings, longstanding racial injustice towards Black Americans and people of color, and increasing legal regulation of gender minorities.” Canada and Mexico have various social challenges of their own. The commentary concludes that “… if we want the legacy of (the Qatar World Cup) to be a watershed moment in how we report on the intersection of sports and politics, it is vital that journalists continue to reflect and report on that intersection at the next World Cup and other future global sports events in democratic countries. We have crossed the Rubicon. There is no turning back now.”
As the 2023 WorldTour season gets underway, Colombian climbing stars Miguel Ángel López and Nairo Quintana are both out of the WorldTour. After vague doping allegations were uncovered by his former Astana team, López recently signed a deal with the Colombian Continental team, Medellín EPM – so he will definitely be absent from the major WT races in 2023. Quintana was similarly let go by his Arkéa-Samsic team after a positive test at the 2022 Tour de France for a banned painkiller, and thus far has no team. In short, two of the sport’s top riders have suddenly disappeared. While it is encouraging that teams feel uncomfortable employing riders with any association to rule-breaking, the opaque managerial reactions leave many questions unanswered. There are legitimate arguments for keeping such details under wraps to protect the riders involved as well as the sport’s image (privacy and employment laws), but the fact that we may never find out the actual details behind high profile “firings” makes it difficult for fans to comprehend the situation, which impacts their trust.
It might seem hard to believe, but the WorldTour road racing season kicks off in less than a week with the Tour Down Under starting on Thursday in Adelaide. While the sport’s Australian fans are excited about the event’s return following its two-season absence, it isn’t clear if North American and European-based teams and riders will be as thrilled with the return of the far-flung schedule. Combined with last year’s closing event, China’s Gree-Tour of Guangxi, these more remote and season bookending events add a significant cost and logistics burden on the riders and teams. These events again raise the question of whether and how far the UCI should go in pushing its internationalization efforts. While it may seem positive to build new events in different parts of the world, this goal has to be balanced with the financial capabilities of the teams and the physical and psychological health of the riders.
The Tour de France’s Grand Départ over three days in Denmark last July drew more than 1.6 million fans, with almost 640,000 fans present in Copenhagen for the first stage. The audience over those three days included more than 722,000 international and domestic tourists, who generated approximately $US 107 million in local spending. “We got everything we dreamed of and more. The Danish Tour Start was a celebration from start to finish,” said Sophie Hæstorp Andersen, Copenhagen mayor.
The Professional Triathletes Organisation (PTO) recently secured a round of Series B funding that strongly positions the athlete-led venture for rapid expansion. Among the parties contributing to the additional $30 million round are Divergent Investments, Warner Bros. Discovery, and original PTO majority investor Michael Moritz. Triathlon still has one of the sporting economy's most affluent demographics, and the potential to hook fans into the PTO narrative could activate marketing for the new backers’ and sponsors’ product sales and unique services, and potentially attract new participants into the sport, reversing the recent decline in registered competitors. Cycling is similar to PTO's triathlon series format in that it has the potential to leverage rider rivalries to enhance its racing narrative but hasn’t succeeded because teams tightly control media access and rider interviews. However, in contrast to cycling, the PTO is an athlete-driven professional association, where the top athletes have taken ownership of the product, messaging, business alliances, and revenue streams. We are eager to see how this plays out for the PTO in 2023 and future years, and we hope that cycling's stakeholders, especially its leading riders, are paying attention.
After being forced to retire after discovering a life-threatening heart arrhythmia, 2021 Paris-Roubaix winner Sonny Colbrelli has apparently reinvented himself as a right-wing politician. Colbrelli recently announced he will stand for regional elections in Northern Italy with Silvio Berlusconi’s ultra-nationalist Forza Italia party. Whether or not Colbrelli is successful, we have to believe this decision will alienate many fans from his racing days and sour the goodwill he received upon his retirement. Obviously, Colbrelli should be free to chase a career path in politics if he wishes, but aligning himself with a hard-line and polarizing political perspective will likely make it difficult for him to be hired as a brand/race/event ambassador and/or commentator – career tracks that many big-time race winners often desire after retirement, but which require broad cultural and social tolerance.
Following its announcement a few weeks ago of a major capital raise, the National Cycling League then revealed its two internal team rosters for 2023 – the Denver Disruptors and Miami Nights – featuring such former stars as Paris-Nice winner Sergio Henao, women’s WT rider Leah Kirchmann, South African champion Reinhardt Janse van Rensburg, and several different Olympic and national champions. The Denver team will be coached by 13-time Canadian national champ Svein Tuft. Each of the NCL’s two teams will have equal numbers of salaried men and women riders, who will compete against other privately-owned teams in four different events for a total $1 million purse. The two NCL teams will also compete in other road and stage races.
The Life Time Grand Prix announced 70 riders for the 2023 season. Many observers and participants deemed the inaugural 2022 season-long gravel and mountain bike series a big success. However, the 2023 LTGP has not attracted the level of star riders that many had hoped for. Athletes from South Africa, England and Australia will be welcome additions to the series, but the overall talent level does not appear to be much higher than last season. A key reason is that the seven events span from April to late October – making it just too big a time commitment for most athletes who do not already live in North America. In addition, the series prize purse ($250,000) did not increase from last year and may not be enough to lure big-name athletes from road and MTB. The series also highlights cycling’s diversity problem – with almost no people of color in the entire series and not a single Black athlete. Nonetheless, it does now represent a way for privateer gravel racers to earn a living and race a full season of events – which was not the case just five or six years ago.