A few months ago, the Garmin-Cervelo directeur sportif published a list of ten things he would do to change the sport of cycling. These suggestions ranged from rider rankings to television broadcasts, but the one that really caught my attention was his suggestion that there should be “long-term guaranteed entry to the Tour de France for professional teams“.
If this suggestion were realised, while it would be welcome news to the teams already at the elite level, it could potentially have grave consequences for teams starting out at lower levels with ambitions of progressing through to the top of the sport.
Shortly after Vaughters released his list of suggested improvements, the lads at Cycle Sport magazine issued a rebuttal on their website and they had this to say about the guaranteed Tour entry issue:
Of course teams want guaranteed entry to the Tour de France. Financially-speaking it is the only thing in cycling that has any value.
But what would the criteria be and who chooses which teams get a licence?
What happens when the sport is split in two, with the haves against the have-nots? The haves would get the choice of all the best riders and those on the outside hoping for wildcard selection would be simply making up the numbers.
What happens to the teams that lose sponsors because they are not part of the chosen elite?
Vaughters developed Slipstream from a small squad of young talent into one of the biggest teams in the world, using intelligent management and creative thinking. In 2008 they didn’t even have a title sponsor, yet they gained selection to the Tour de France and Christian Vande Velde finished fourth. This proposal makes the possibility of developing a team from scratch and going to the very top a lot more difficult, if not impossible.
With Vaughters sitting pretty at the helm of one of cycling’s strongest teams, it is only natural to suggest that his opinion might not quite be the same if he was in charge of say, the An Post-Sean Kelly team, and harboured ambitions of one day making it to the Tour de France.
I am guilty of suggesting exactly this. With Garmin-Cervelo currently at the top of the world cycling tree, of course Jonathan Vaughters wants to shut up shop and guarantee his own team entry to the Tour de France for years and years to come. I suggested at the time, that:
“It’s all well and good for him to come up with these fanciful ideas when he is part of the inner circle already. I daresay he wouldn’t have been publicly suggesting such grand ideas four or five years ago when he was one of the small fish”.
Alas, I found myself nosing through the October 2003 issue of Cycle Sport magazine today and therein I came across the following written by Vaughters himself, around the same time he was creating what is now Garmin-Cervelo, but what was then a modest, US-based junior development squad:
Professional cycling and cyclists tend to be introverted and overly traditional, and this limits the possibilities the sport has. It seems to me that most people involved in cycling spend most of their energy squabbling over very small sums of money instead of pursuing large amounts.
This comes off as unprofessional, small-time, and hurts the sport even further. All this said, the number one obstacle for the sport’s future is its biggest event: the Tour de France.
Any sponsor will want to be involved in the Tour, and if that isn’t guaranteed, they aren’t as interested. It completely overshadows everything else in the sport. This drives smaller sponsors away, as they can’t get their message across in smaller races.
I don’t have an immediate solution to all this, but it is an interesting problem. Maybe one that I’ll overcome in my next attempt to bring a big sponsor into cycling?
Alors, pardon Monsieur Vaughters, Je m’excuse. My tail is firmly placed between my legs.
**Edit: Jonathan Vaughters got back to me on twitter and said the following:
Thanks. Its understandable that you’d think I was just protecting my own arse. I do think small teams need an avenue too. I’d just rather have that avenue be every few years and clearly defined. Not voodoo points and random invites.