Tour of California cancelled

You don't have to dig too deep to see that we're not cuckoo for the pro road race scene. As often as not, when it's grand tour season we'll have whichever one on at the shop, but we're not diehards about the whole thing. As it turns out, apparently we're pretty normal in this. 

The challenge for bike racing has always been the monetization. Cross has it easy, at least in the Euro heartland, because it fits into places to which you can charge admission and which you can rent. It's a bit tougher to rent highways and open roads, so you have this ugly bargain of convincing municipalities to let you use their roads and disrupt their normal activities to let a bunch of skinny people in costumes ply their trade. Having done that song and dance to make the Lost River Classic happen, it's a pain in the butt for a one day race on an 11 mile loop in the middle of nowhere. Even with the resources and reach of AEG, doing this for ToC must be a nightmare. And after all that, you're selling access to eyeballs to advertisers, and not tickets, parking, and $36 hot dogs to fans. It's gotta be tenuous as hell. 

Even with our blasé disposition toward pro racing, ToC was somewhat special. For everyone in MABRA who'd been pantsed by Joe Dombrowski, it was one of the first places where you saw "oh yeah, he really is that good!" You didn't need to go to Europe and have a whole bunch of logistics to ride where the race went - heck I'm like the least accomplished cycling tourist ever and I've ridden a whole ton of the ToC roads. So it's a bit of a loss. 

But the direction of bike racing here in the US is also foggy. It's certainly believable that there just isn't the market for it. My impression has always been that the 90% of fans in the US are riders/racers themselves. The traditional market for the TdF TV audience was French housewives, as evidenced by some of the jersey sponsors through the years. The polka dot jersey was sponsored by supermarkets as often as not. In the US, we have this standing animus between cyclists and non-cyclists, and a poor delineation between "cyclist" and "person riding a bike." Not that that delineation is important in the greater scheme - it may in fact be harmful to cycling as in total - but I felt like it bears on this thing.

And that animus, at least in part, drives the desire for so many of us to get the F off the road and go on the trails or gravel (for which we have some great wheels, and did you know the current pre-order ends tomorrow?). And since the majority of the fan base is also participants, I imagine that there's a reflex desire for the racing we watch to represent what we're into now. And that's decidedly not being bumper bait on roads, from every data point I have. 

The ToC was also the big reference point for domestic teams, and their big opportunity to get sponsors in front of a relatively massive audience. The knock-on effect to domestic pro teams, I fear, will be catastrophic. 

Of course this all ends with the grand debate of what import and relevance does pro racing have to the health of the sport here. And that's not something I can tackle right now. I'll just end by saying that I'm sad to see ToC go for reasons personal and systemic, and that I don't think this is something from which the domestic sport will easily bounce back.


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  • mackd on

    I think it too bad and does not bode well for local promoters out in MABRA land. Local municipalities used to look at it as a boost to local revenue and tourist-marketing but no longer, and they make a very expensive PITA to pull off. I see their point too. Road racers at the amateur level are notoriously picky, self centered d-bags (present company included) that won’t sit down at the local diner(not organic enough) or shop on the main-street post race or even think about coming back to the hosting town unless there’s another bike race. On the pro level many of these teams are self contained units that, aside from the hotel, have all the amenities in their bus. Spectators at pro events are probably the before-mentioned amateur d-bags-wannabe’s who will never even think about going back to that small town unless its out there front door or there’s a race. Just listened to a poddy that said it never even broke even throughout its years as well. Gravel could easily go the way of these road races (they are after-all on public roads) if they gain in popularity. I road the DK200 this year which is a special event but the revenue that Emporia gains by the DK is so tangible that they can’t refuse, plus there’s a huge grid of alternate roads for people to go around the race (and really the race spreads out after the first 20 miles so that cars can easily pass). Larger towns that don’t necessarily need the bump in revenue combined with a smaller network of gravel can easily start to show their PITA side and make it too expensive for the promoter to make a buck. Combine all this with an ever-increasing litigious society and even the smallest business-park crit on weekend will be impossible to pull off.

  • HoogleDaBoogle on

    Good riddance. No market for it? Yeah, no kidding. There never really was one, not in the mainstream make-some-real-bux sense. No matter what they say, Americans really don’t mind Doping Sport-ohs as long as they can see them in a stadium and the games they are playing make sense in their wee little brains. Road racing definitely ain’t that. The Uniballer made it “chic” back in the day and Trek and others filled their coffers with the disposable income of rich dentists who became Weekend Warriors. Now road racing is as dead as Julius Caesar. “Gravel racing” feels a little like an effort to recapture the spirit of early ‘90s mountain biking which itself was a sort of backlash against the old world culture of road racing.

  • Todd on

    Death knell for pro road races of any size. The trickle down from the elite ranks that USAC has been touting will certainly happen. Crits survive? Yep. TT’s probably survive too. Long form road races? Dunzo unfortunately.

  • Rick on

    WOW!! BIG NEWS! I wonder if that will boost attendance or interest in the Tour of Utah?


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