Rapha's Roadmap

I am not a Rapha champion but these points are legit.

  • A failure to grow the sport as a whole, resulting in far too little revenue across the board and therefore a lack of investment in initiatives that could make professional cycling more exciting and more accessible to more fans.’

  • A weak financial model that is almost entirely dependent upon unpredictable commercial sponsorship, leading to a constant state of economic instability and ultimately creating an extremely poor model for meaningful growth.

  • An out-of-date and regularly changing competitive structure, with an overloaded and overlapping calendar of races at the elite level that make it increasingly difficult for fans new and old to enjoy the sport.

  • Outdated models of broadcast production, content accessibility, viewership measurement, and media distribution systems, as well as failure to champion characters and narratives within the sport on new platforms and a challenging media cycle focusing on doping and safety.

Under-investment, under-development, and inconsistent focus on women’s professional cycling and youth development programs, as well as a staid approach to team and athlete management with a lack of emphasis on engagement.

Systematic failure amongst almost all stakeholders in the sport to encourage and facilitate fan access and participation in the spectacle of professional cycling.

A confusing and often conflicted governance structure, which does not have the resources necessary to oversee the sport and which has given rise to conflict at the center of the sport’s organization.

The whole article is here: https://www.velonews.com/2019/04/commentary/rapha-roadmap-chapter-1-a-road-less-traveled_492738strong text

9 Likes

My hope is that USAC and IBD owners can glean something from this. There’s a lot that needs to be done in the cycling industry and too few, light + scattered pushes to get it done.

FWIW, T.R. you all are doing a great thing by consistently featuring women athletes. It’s flippin’ rad and an amazing step in the right direction (coming from a straight, white, middle-class, cyclist).

15 Likes

This is wonderful! However, there is no mention of joining forces with other cycling-related businesses. It is not like Rapha can do much by itself, right?

A coalition of at least Rapha, Zwift, SRAM, Shimano, Giant, Trek, Specialized, and Canyon would be much more convincing.

Oh and I guess we can now add in Walmart. :smile:

1 Like

Good luck on clawing anything away from the UCI. Crazy to think there isn’t World Tour broadcast rights.

1 Like

Pretty sure that goes without saying elysian - 99% of TR’s users are straight, white, middle-class cyclists :smiley:

Excellent points by Rapha, genuinely incisive on each one. I’m sure they have stuff going on in the background with other businesses in the network that they’re keeping hush about, wisely. Rapha’s own contribution has been to stoke interest in my partner - she loves their approach/marketing and they do seem be earnest in their development of women’s cycling, everything from sponsorship to women’s clothing to having women involved at all the steps of their various campaigns. Seeing how the interact with her, from local coordinators to customer support etc has left me impressed. I’ve never seen any business deal with people that personally. There is something good at the heart of that company once you get past the highly fashionable image of it (thought I don’t have any hangup about fashion or confident people looking fashionable on the bike - more power to them - but that’s another story). Most cycling businesses deal with women and their range with a 5 minute brainstorming session in the pub.

The UCI is a dinosaur, but they’ve suckered fans by wielding tradition and it’s elitist appeal to stuffy fans to sit on their laurels and stifle innovation. An acceptable first step would be a rotating leadership, country by country determined by investment and other factors.

2 Likes

Velon made those criticisms 3 years ago. JV was pretty vocal about it 2 years ago when he was looking for funding. Tinkoff said basically the same thing when he pulled out.

Everyone knows the problems, the difficulty is finding solutions that can get all parties on board. The UCI and the teams can push change, but ultimately, ASO runs the sport, and they are dinosaurs (and they do OK out of the current system).

Members of Walmart family are actually HUGELY interested and involved in cycling development. Two of the brothers, I think.

Through some of their charitable giving they’ve spent millions developing and growing mountain biking and cyclocross in Arkansas. Obviously that’s completely different from what this article/thread is talking about but I thought it was interesting.

1 Like

I’m a neophyte about professional cycling and the UCI and World Tour Schedules and all that stuff. And I don’t race myself (I’m just a recreational rider).

But here’s what I do know: ESPN 2 shows the American Cornhole Association mixed-doubles championships presented by Johnsonville. The fact that I can watch that and not professional cycling races is borderline criminally insane.

9 Likes

They also show hot dog eating contests. It’s all about what people are willing to watch. The Tour de France is mostly watched by people who don’t give a shit about cycling, they like to watch the scenery roll by and listen to the commentary.

World Tour cycling is a playboy sport, like sport car racing, yacht racing, Skydiving and other sports where a rich guy can buy their world championship. Look at the drivers of the Rolex 24hrs of Daytona - at least one of the drivers on each team is inevitably the benefactor. It is not a money making venture and never has been.

People watch sports on TV that they can play in their backyard with their kids. It’s a ritualistic glue for the viewer that brings people together.

Bicycles are polarizing. Most people cannot fathom why anyone would ride a bicycle on public roads and many have disdain for people on bikes. They cannot imagine themselves as one of the riders in a world tour race.

Sports are a natural progression of activities that were or are useful in society. Not enough people ride bicycles in the lives to generate any level of critical mass of interest. If more people rode bicycles for recreation or transportation, it would be more appealing. Look at the spectator attendance of cycling races in geographies where here is a high level of people riding bicycles for recreation and transportation vs where there is not.

Even if more people wanted to watch a World Tour Race, television is dead as a distribution channel. Further, it’s long and boring and difficult to follow. What happens in the first half of the race has almost zero influence over the outcome. I ride, I race and I have no idea what’s going on in the world tour save that Gilbert/Quickstep won Roubaix this year. Further, it’s just not that exciting.

The amount of time, resources, effort and energy it takes to put on a race is massive.

As for the Jr. programs, most parents are willing to invest time, energy and their children’s future in sports where the payoff is high. In America, at least, the number of college scholarships available for cycling is limited to a few private colleges. It’s not an NCAA sport. Even those who do “go pro” are going to spend years on Pro Continental program (where some teams require riders to bring a sponsor or cash to the table each year to be part of the team) for the hopes of making $50k a year as a domestique and never winning a World Tour race.

For most of the world, there’s really only one race that matters, The Tour de France. There’s so much history and tradition that organizers won’t allow a cohesive structure.

The fact is, the only people who will benefit from any financial gain are the bicycle equipment manufacturers. There’s no money to be made for anyone else who gets involved.

For anyone who wants cycling to grow as a sport in the US, they should advocate for: bicycles as transportation, infrastructure to facilitate recreational cycling, promote bicycle clubs, give to college scholarship funds, and advocate for cycling as an NCAA sport.

9 Likes

The next chapter is up. https://www.velonews.com/2019/04/commentary/rapha-roadmap-chapter-2-shorten-the-calendar-to-make-pro-cycling-more-exciting_492814
I particularly dislike the idea that the objective is to define who the best rider in the world is. I think this is following from the concept in the first chapter about driving fan engagement with personalities. I think cycling promotion has gone down this road before, and it leads to riders becoming bigger than the sport, and if scandal erupts then all the fans who came on board because oft he personalities disappear as quickly as they arrived. I think that the concept of the best cyclist is flawed because of the way that riders have become specialists.

I also think that the way they hold F1 up as a model of how to sort a calendar is somewhat disingenuous. They have removed many of the traditional, difficult, interesting tracks from the sport’s heartland so as to go chasing money in places where locals aren’t interested but sponsors will pay to build new tracks and host the event. The proposal for a Classics Series that races every Sunday across the globe, moves Il Lombardia, discards the mid-week Belgian races, and compels riders who want to ride the Tour to ride the classics seems a combination of the bad old days where racers had to ride hundreds of days of racing a year, and “innovation” where much of what is good about the current system is scrapped for the new. All because they want to define a “best cyclist”.
When the “best cyclist” turns out to be an all rounder like GVA, who has not won a grand tour jersey in his career, the public are going to be even more confused…

2 Likes

I have always been lukewarm on Rapha, but I find I agree quite a bit with their ethos and perspective these days. They have been able to catch the essence of cycling better than anyone, in a time of utter disconnect. The stuff they have done with the Morton brothers alone has been as important to cycling as anything that has happened in the past 20 years.

I love the TR podcast and gang, but honestly @Nate_Pearson and the boys feed a lot of the same story lines that keep the sport on this path. The latest Specialized SRAM whatever is gospel, crit USAC upgrades points yada yada yada… All important things, and I truly am glad for having them as a resource, because they have helped me improve immeasurably, but the biggest point in this Rapha series is the spectacle and the romance, and that is just utterly lacking right now across the board in cycling. The imagery of Gaul winning the Giro in a blizzard (or Hampsten), Lapize yelling “assassins” crossing the wild ass Pyrenees, and other crazy exploits are what made cycle racing.

The industry has been barreling along with an almost unshakeable inertia, hopefully we are finally seeing the cracks appear that will let it adapt to a new trajectory.

3 Likes

This is what I was talking about in my previous post. I love cycling, and I watch the Tour mostly for the scenery. People always made jokes about Paul and the castles, but that is far and away the best part, and it wouldn’t be the Tour without that grandiose backdrop.

2 Likes

What do you think of their suggested new trajectory?

For me, what captures the essence of cycling is the spring classics. Semi-organised chaos, where the point is to whittle the bunch down to a select few and only the strongest survive. Once we get past Liege I will probably check out of watching until Il Lombardia and the worlds. I suspect a lot of people are the other way around, and only watch the grand tours. Can they capture all those people and more, or are they going to throw the baby out with the bathwater?

1 Like

Thats what makes the classics great!

I’ve been waiting for this to be published- :pray:

Sure, but I think that is just a detail. There are massive structural and narrative issues that overwhelm details like classics vs. Tours and such.

I do think plenty of cycling fans prefer the classics. The casual fans more so the GTs. I personally enjoy them both equally, for different reasons. I think all of the above have a critical place.

1 Like

I agree that there are massive structural and narrative issues that are outstanding. The question is - what is the objective? Save pro-cycling, or re-imagine it into a profitable sport? I recognise the structural issues. And the calendar is mutable e.g. the Vuelta used to be a 2 week race earlier in the year. But, given the references to F1, I fear this report would sacrifice the soul of cycling for a chance at profitability.
However, what is it that makes cycling “the worlds most beautiful sport”? If you take away the mud and guts of Belgium and Roubaix or the hairpins of Alpe D’Huez or the desolation of Ventoux, and take it to some new empty desert road or some city centre crit, what is left? As an aside, if crits with crowds and online followings are the route to commercial success, why is Red Hook taking a break this year after the Rockstar sponsorship finished?

There are a number of chapters still to be released. It’s only fair to judge at the end, but I am not enjoying it so far.

I’m 100% with you here actually. Out of the five bullet points, I wholeheartedly agree with the last ones, and I’m implacably opposed to the first one, their schedule idea. In fact I think the schedule idea is diametrically opposed to their other goals. I mean city centre crits??? Can you think of anything more soulless? Yes you can easily get people there, but what will they be coming for?

I’m not sure the NASCAR reference either, their viewership is cratering. F1 is doing ok but not super healthy either.

Whatever, road cycling is INCREDIBLE for fans.
All these “white papers” by velon or Rapha or whoever are just the lesser players complaining they get a small share of revenue

Fact is Amauary group has made Tour, PR and other events the can’t miss events and capitalize from them

As a fan I love the flow of the season, events all over world in Feb March, then Strade and the classics, 1st cobbled then hilly while at the same time stage races get good like Catalunya and Itzulia. Now Giro tune ups thru the Ardennes events and so on.

You have these stupid “criticisms” like the best riders not racing each other as if I want GT winners matching up with classics specialists… That’s what MSR is for.

I love following the season and while I recognize the teams and riders get a small piece of the pie, it’s sure not at fans expense

The roadmap now has 5 of the chapters published.

I was reminded of this because the Cycling Tips podcast discussed the roadmap this week. It was interesting because they seemed to accept that the F1 model pursued by Bernie has made F1 better. However, they point out that ASO are the only ones with enough power to push through any of this stuff, and they behave terribly towards womens racing (eg La Course debacle, no live TV for Fleche or LBL, no Paris Roubaix). Definitely worth a listen.

I’ve not read #4 or #5 yet, but I had a quick skim through #3 and it goes on about “franchises” without ever actually explaining what the difference is between that and the current structure with World Tour licenses for teams.

1 Like