Jonathan Vaughters unveils ten-point plan for cycling's future - but what do you think?

Garmin-Cervelo boss and AIGCP chief says cycling could be as successful as Premier League football

by Simon_MacMichael   March 21, 2011  

Jonathan_Vaughters_TdF_PhSpt

Jonathan Vaughters, manager of Garmin-Cervelo and President of the Association of Pro Tour and Pro Continental teams (AIGCP) has outlined a ten-point plan that he believes can boost road cycling’s profile and elevate it to a similar profile at global level as FA Premier League football enjoys.

"If you look at cycling's demographic it should be infinitely more successful than it is," the American told BBC Sport. “It should be on the level of Premier Football. The Tour de France is maybe the world's greatest sporting event."

The 37-year-old, who formerly rode for US Postal Service and Credit Agricole among others, and once held the record for the ascent of Mont Ventoux, described cycling as "human F1 car racing" and it’s probably no coincidence that several of the improvements he recommends have parallels in that sport. He added that it was the "exploration of the ultimate in human performance."

Vaughters acknowledges that the issue of doping is an "Achilles’ heel" for the sport, but points out that the fact that some riders do fail drugs tests reflects the efforts being made to catch them.

"Cycling has introduced the most strict enforcement of anti-doping regulations of any sport, so you will always see more people caught," he insists.

"Cycling is absolutely transparent. What do you prefer - struggling with scandals but with a fair competition, or do you want to bury the scandal and the competition is unfair?"

One way of helping boost the fight against doping, says Vaughters, would be for teams to make a significant financial contribution to the fight in return for guaranteed places in the Tour de France for five, ten or even fifteen years. That in turn would give teams a more stable framework to operate within.

"Guaranteed participation could help teams generate more sponsorship," he maintains. "In return teams would be obliged to donate 20% of new money to combat doping," which he says could amount to up to €50 million in the course of five years.

It’s an idea he has put to the UCI since his election as head of the AIGCP in 2009, but he has never heard back from the governing body on the issue.

"The UCI's willingness to hear and give credence to ideas put forward is fairly limited," claims Vaughters, with the AIGCP and UCI currently locking horns over the issue of the latter’s proposed ban on two-way radios, itself a reflection of the perception by the teams that they have little say in the big decisions affecting the sport’s future.

"My ability to vote on any regulation is essentially nil,” explains Vaughters. “The AIGCP is cycling's biggest stakeholder, but has no power to veto new regulations. That is ineffective governance."

Should the UCI not back down on its stance over radio communication between team staff and their riders by 1 May, the AIGCP has said that teams will pull out of October’s inaugural Tour of Beijing, a race not only run under UCI regulations, but one to which the governing body unusually also owns the rights.

"This a team sport that is conducted at 80/kmh," Vaughters reflects. "If we are going to have a modern sport there has to be communication and just as importantly that rule was introduced without speaking to anyone in the field.

"The regulations are limiting creativity, intelligence and engineering. There is so much more that could be done to improve cycling, but we're being held back by decision making."

His ten-point plan for cycling’s future, together with our own comments on each of them, is shown below. We’d be really interested to know your thoughts the very fans that Vaughters presumably hopes his suggestions will appeal to, so please make your own comments below.

1. A larger number of top-level races outside Europe.

Apparently in line with the UCI’s efforts to globalise the sport, although the question is open as to whether this means new races in new markets – think the Tours of Qatar and Oman – or races in places with an established cycling culture. The new one-day events in Montreal and Quebec last year were a big success; a one-day race in New York or San Francisco, anyone?

2. Race formats that are consistent and readily understood by the fans.

We’re not 100% sure what lies behind this – possibly it’s the tendency of organisers of races such as the Tour de France to keep tweaking the format each year, so in some editions you may have a team time trial, in others you don’t. The Prologue had pretty much become established as the curtain raiser to the race, but that will be missing this year as the race opens with a road stage and team time trial the following day.

3. Pro teams to be guaranteed places in the Tour de France on a long-term basis.

Teams with UCI ProTeam status are now guaranteed entry to – and obliged to compete in – World Calendar events. But lose that status as a result of a poor season or some other factor, and you’re relying on wild card entries. That’s bad from a sponsorship point of view, and not conducive to long-term planning either. As mentioned above, the quid pro quo is teams contributing financially to the fight against doping.

4. Anti-doping programmes to have greater emphasis on preventative measures rather than trying aiming to catch those who are doping after the fact.

For every rider who dopes, someone, somewhere first encouraged him to do so and supplied him with the means. It’s apparent from ongoing investigations in Italy, for example, that young up and coming riders may be encouraged to take performance enhancing drugs at an early age. Address the issue at that stage, and you may prevent a big name rider testing positive several years later.

5. A greater number of team time trials.

Contentious. Cycling is a team sport, but it’s one in which the ultimate victor of the general classification in a stage race is an individual. A poor performance in a team time trial can give a rider hopeful of the overall victory a deficit on his rivals that proves impossible to overcome; conversely, a strong team performance can see the top of the GC dominated by riders from the same squad.

6. Use of technology such as cameras mounted on bikes, helmets or inside team cars with the aim of making the "craziness and danger of the peloton more real to the viewer".

We’re big fans of this one. The movie Chasing Legends gave a particularly good illustration of how this might work in practice, and some of the action shots were stunning. We’d love to see the race organisers and broadcasters try it out.

7. Innovation in equipment permitted with the aim of finding out whether the cleverest team can win and not just the one with the strongest riders.

Unlikely to be welcomed at the UCI HQ in Switzerland, given its history of banning some of the more radical designs of frames or components in the past. As with some of the other proposed innovations, the comparison here is with Formula 1 and Moto GP, where the outcome of an entire season can be pre-determined by some technological breakthrough. In cycling, at least it’s the rider who provides the engine, but should they be allowed an edge through their equipment?

8. Radio communication to be opened up to fans so they can hear what their favourite teams are up to mid-race.

Apart from the fact that radios are at the moment rather a controversial topic, we can see a slight flaw with this one – a few choice expletives broadcast around the world at a crucial moment in the race might have the TV producers up in arms. Mind you, think of some of those turning points in big races down the years – wouldn’t you love to be listening in?

9. Allow riders to be tracked by GPS to add to the viewing experience.

As Saturday’s Milan-San Remo showed, even experts can be confused by what the current state of play is on the road – it took some time before news filtered through on TV that riders such as Mark Cavendish were in the second group on the road after the peloton split. Problem solved.

10. Devising a way of ranking the world’s best rider and best team that is readily understood and consistently applied. As an example, riders not taking part in a race such as Paris-Roubaix might be docked points.

To the general public, of course, the world’s best cyclist is the one who wins the Tour de France and weighting of the UCI points ranking system to some extent reflects that. But short of another Eddy Merckx bursting onto the scene, the size of team rosters and diversity of type of rider around makes it difficult to see how a definitive ranking could be devised.

 

16 user comments

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Gets my vote

posted by 37monkey [143 posts]
21st March 2011 - 12:03

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I'm afraid anti-doping needs FAR GREATER PROMINENCE (sorry for shouting). You're never going to expand the appeal of a sport where the results of major events are constantly being overturned, or at least cast in doubt, by subsequent doping results.

posted by cowspassage [43 posts]
21st March 2011 - 12:29

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Oh yes, and team time trials do not need any further promotion. They only reward the wealthier teams.

It's not so long since the Tour de France had to artificially limit the gains that could be taken from the TTT.

I'd have no objection to 2-ups and TTTs being promoted as standalone events, but their limit in Grand Tours should be restricted to the shorter prologue style they've used in recent Giros.

posted by cowspassage [43 posts]
21st March 2011 - 12:33

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we can see a slight flaw with this one – a few choice expletives broadcast around the world at a crucial moment in the race might have the TV producers up in arms.

Not a problem. F1 coverage features selective team radio snippets and they're subject to enough of a time delay that swearing isn't a problem.

The only problem I can see is that overhearing orders from a rival team is potentially more useful in cycling that it might be in F1. Be prepared for lots of coded orders, instead of a DS bellowing "Schleck's chain is off - VENGA VENGA VENGA!!!!!"

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posted by Chuffy [183 posts]
21st March 2011 - 12:34

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Points 6 to 10 are fine but I don't see why the ones related to coverage are something that has to come from the cycling teams or the UCI.

If you look at any other sport the innovation in coverage comes from the broadcasters not the authorities. Stump cameras, on-field microphones, hawkeye and ball tracking etc. In other sports they lead the way and the authorities and teams are more or less forced to follow.

The broadcasters should be the ones developing these things. In fact I would add to the list things like relay of rider data and heartrate etc. And I've never understood why info like speed and gradient isn't part of the on-screen display. That could all come from the devices the riders currently wear.
And why not have interviews with the riders - in 20-20 cricket some players are miked up and will take questions from the commentators in between balls or overs.

So the question is, are the broadcasters trying to do this and being blocked, or are the broadcasters not even thinking about it. These developments would have to come from the host broadcaster, which is French television, so that sort of answers the question given that they regard dull and worthy as a creative aspiration.

ASO should open up the rights to other bidders or award it elsewhere and pay for it then sell on the rights - let a professional sports media organisation do the coverage and it will look a lot different.

Is it about a bicycle ?

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posted by abudhabiChris [469 posts]
21st March 2011 - 13:03

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abudhabiChris wrote:
ASO should open up the rights to other bidders or award it elsewhere and pay for it then sell on the rights - let a professional sports media organisation do the coverage and it will look a lot different.

Ah, if only there were such an organisation already involved in the sport, perhaps sponsoring a ProTeam outfit, that could use its riders as guinea pigs... Wink

Good points though Chris, Eurosport do seem to struggle at times because of the quality of feeds/info provided to them by the host broadcaster, Milan-San Remo being a case in point, it was a long time before it became apparent who was in either the front group or the second one.

I was actually watching the feed on the Gazzetta dello Sport website and the coverage kicking in half an hour earlier, and therefore before the Hushovd etc crash and Freire's tumble, made everything much clearer. When I watched the recording on Eurosport in the evening, it was like watching a different race.

Bringing someone else in might give host broadcasters a kick up the backside, although with the logistics involved, you wonder whether they'd just be using the existing cameramen, facilities etc as sub-contractors.

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posted by Simon_MacMichael [7486 posts]
21st March 2011 - 13:12

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Here's what I think:

  1. There was a one-day race in San Francisco. It was great. But getting the world's best cyclists to travel 5,000 miles for a single day of, to them, unfamiliar crit racing proved too much to last. Expanding into "new markets" sadly these days usually means racing for half a dozen billionaire oil sheikhs who are oppressing their population. But, a one-day classic in the UK, that could be fantastic. Ronde van Yorkshire anyone? The Belgian and Dutch teams could even take the overnight ferry to/from Hull, and be back home fully rested by Monday. Also, I never hear about races in Eastern Europe, despite there being some fantastic riding in places like the Czech Republic.
  2. Kind of conflicts with 5 doesn't it? Team time trials are the most difficult things to explain to newbies. I don't have a problem with the variety of event types myself.
  3. No, promotion between leagues based on points, not vague criteria bended to suit the UCI's political purposes. This is the one and only thing cycling should copy from football.
  4. Both are needed (or neither, depending on your viewpoint on PEDs.)
  5. Yeah, why not have a few more TTTs. It might rule out a few teams from the GC-competitions at major stage races initially, but it would force them to build broader-based teams in the future. Balance it out with some killer climbs, so as not to preclude small climbers from ever winning a grand tour again.
  6. On board cameras would be a better way to make up the weight needed to comply with the UCI's limit than power meters or electric shifters. But the Chasing Legends cameras didn't have to have all the extra kit to be able to transmit live pictures, which would presumably be the whole point. Once you've added all that, having a camera would be a small but definite disadvantage to the rider. So it would either have to be compulsory for all riders (for the TDF that would mean 200 cameras, 200 batteries to change each day, and 200 wireless signals cramming the airwaves) or voluntary, which would mean the top GC riders would have them for the flat stages, and sprinters would have them for the mountains. Solutions to these problems - such as attaching equivalent lead weights, or slapping sponsors logos on the footage to give the teams a reason to provide good footage - would be clumsy and stupid. Maybe in a couple of years.
  7. No, it wouldn't be an advantage to "the cleverest team." It would be an advantage to the teams with the richest suppliers. Sure, Obree came up with some funky stuff on his own, and anything goes on the track might liven that side of the sport up, but it wasn't practical for on the road.
  8. Being able to listen in to short, delayed clips of audio hasn't made Formula 1 really any more interesting. (No doubt the F-bomb "problem" is a reason why the clips are so short and delayed in F1 - when is the human race going to grow up?) But I suspect hearing Johan Bruyneel shouting, "Increase your output to 255 normalised watts and we'll catch the breakaway 2.7km from the finish line" would not be all that entralling. I'm with the UCI on this one.
  9. Confusion is part of the game. But I could watch Sporza's coverage, then it wouldn't spoil my fun if the commentators knew exactly where everyone was. Or put live maps on a web site, so people who want to know can look up where each rider is, but not on the TV so those of us who'd rather keep surprises such as Stephen Roche appearing from nowhere in the cars behind Pedro Delgado at La Plagne in 1987 can do so. Sadly, the motivation for GARMIN-Cervelo's team principal to suggest this is presumably to have GARMIN's logo pastered on the screen as much as possible. Also, it would have to be combined with a radio ban, and a ban on TVs and mobile phones in team cars, otherwise DSes and riders would have far too much information on the positions of their rivals.
  10. I can see how teams could be ranked (and they'd need to be if they ever implemented promotion and relegation) but you'd never get agreement on a points system that could determine who was better between Alberto Contador, Fabian Cancellara, Mark Cavendish and Philippe Gilbert. Nor is there any need for such a system.

posted by handlebarcam [527 posts]
21st March 2011 - 13:33

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Well for what its worth .....
"make Cycling like Premier League Football or F1" NO THANKS!

1. Not really interested in races outside of europe .... are we in danger of creating too many races and spreading the cycling stars too thinly??
2. NO. Please leave the formats to the organisers.. different formats each year make cycling more interesting.
3. Well I can see the commertial point of this but do we really want to start an ASO - UCI war again?
4. Yeah yeah .... easy to say but how do you do?? Nice principle.
5. Nope boaring! ... put in more climbing!!
6. Yes like this and could be fun.
7. Well yes and no ... some regulations must be enforced but we wouldn't want to be over regulated like F1!
8. Don't actually see the need for this ... it's more fun guessing. If it ends up like F1 then we'll get a "quote" after the fact! Rubbush!
9. Yep GPS good .... and HR & Power output ... nice data Wink
10. Do we really need another ranking system?? we all know which are the important races! Don't we?

Cheers
Chris Wink

posted by GrimpeurChris [59 posts]
21st March 2011 - 14:13

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Maybe I'm naïve but wouldn't paying for a guaranteed slot in Le Tour merely hasten the formation of the mega-bucks elite (Premiership) from which an increasingly wide gap existed to the nurturing grounds (First Division)? Voila, do we really want to replicate the nonsense that rules football with suits and oligarchs holding sway. Power and money corrupt. Open competition on a rolling annual basis seems to me to keep the majority of the Pro peloton focused and freshly turning over......
Thinking

It doesn't get easier, you just go faster.....maybe

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posted by pward [86 posts]
21st March 2011 - 16:13

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I like idea of promotion to and demotion
from leagues - gives a team a chance to earn a place, rather than buying one or 'winning' it based on politics. Plus it would make the teams competition way more interesting (rather than just the sponsor's tool it is now) - more incentive to get more than one man in the breakaway (points for places) and more incentive to turn up and actually compete in all the races (rather than just showing faces on the start line).

posted by step-hent [638 posts]
21st March 2011 - 18:21

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1. You can't just keep adding races. So which existing races must go? Some classics? A major Tour? It's hard to do any more than drop a few races and add just a few in new locales.
2. No, different races are suited to different kinds of riders. This is good.
3. ASO will never agree with this. They barely accept guaranteed entry for WorldTour teams.
4. Sounds nice in theory, but what does it really mean? Will a huge number of amateurs be placed in the test pool? This is a huge burden for those amateurs.
5. No, TTT's are traditionally won by teams who collectively dope. Although this may be changing (Rabobank suddenly winning a TTT at the Tirreno-Adriatico was weird), I dislike the big incentive for teams to dope for a TTT at the TdF, for instance.
6. Sounds very nice for the viewer, as long as it is fairly implemented. However, the risk is that camera's will be integrated in the frames, which means that pro bikes will start to diverge from bikes sold to the public. This is a threat to bike manufacturers.
7. There are very few actual gains to be made, unless you really start changing the shape of the bike. How many amateurs ever bought a 'superman' bike? So again, a risk of separating pro bikes from the bikes of amateurs.
8. It would be a good experiment, but it doesn't solve the issue that so many escapes are caught with 1 mile to go. Banning radios is probably more fun for the viewer.
9. No, confusion is fun! I really like when everyone is confused about the location of a rider and is wondering whether a rider is 1 minute or 10 minutes behind the main group. The idea by some that HR and power data should be published is even worse. It allows competing teams to exactly predict the limit of a rider, so there will be no more tactics on climbs. The team staff of the best rider will say: ride 495 watts for 5 minutes, then stabilize at 453 watts. It can then be guaranteed that other riders will blow if they try to follow.
10. Ranking riders is always comparing apples and oranges. How much is a stage win worth versus a tour win? Should few races pay big points or should riders be rewarded who get a lot of results in smaller races? So how do these numbers relate to an actual race? Goss is the current nr 1 in ranking, but he can't win any Tour or race with lots of climbing. Schleck and Contador won't do great in the classics and thus won't get high in the standing at the beginning of the Giro, but if they compete in that Tour, they will be favourites for the win.

posted by Aapje [147 posts]
22nd March 2011 - 10:33

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I have to disagree with many of the points made around #5. There is a lack of innovation around TT's in general.
TTT's are great. Superb spectacle and fun to watch. I'd also add another dimension - some long stages that are individual time trials... 180k time trial anyone? Spectators get to see all of the riders indiviually, we generate some meaningful time gaps, the races aren't always run by those who are the best at climbing and SPOCO TT courses can result in pretty balanced outcomes -just like in IM races over hilly terrain.
I'd love to see Cancellara build up a 15 minute gap on the flats and go all-out to try anf defe3nd it thru the mountains.

We can mske the big tours more fun and more entertaining, they've been pretty formulaic for years. The best recent one was the Giro last year with the inclusion of the Strada Bianchi stage. Best and most innovative stage I've seen in years.

NorthernRouleur

posted by NorthernRouleur [26 posts]
22nd March 2011 - 12:54

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Cancellara will fade on long time trials. He will actually lose a lot of time to riders with less strength, but more endurance. The main change will be that Contador will have less competition from riders who are weaker in TT's, but strong in the mountains. So Contador can just wheelsuck the few remaining competitive riders in the mountains and let climbers with a poor TT fight it out for the stage wins. It will be superboring Yawn

Furthermore, there is the issue of recovery. Such an effort will tire the riders out immensely. That will be a big disadvantage to adventurous riders who save themselves during most stages and who use the saved energy for a breakaway. So expect more softpedalling to the finish.

posted by Aapje [147 posts]
22nd March 2011 - 13:40

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I really like that Jonathan Vaughters. I don't know why. There's just something about him...

vaughters.jpg
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posted by Dave Atkinson [7036 posts]
22nd March 2011 - 13:41

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He may have held the record for Ventoux -but he aint got your sideburn Dave...

MercuryOne

Silly me. You're probably right....

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posted by MercuryOne [932 posts]
22nd March 2011 - 19:00

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1. Totally Agree. Maybe more classic style races outside of France, Italy & Belgium
2. Agree. My wife likes to watch but struggles to understand
3. Top n teams should be guaranteed places regardless of what the organiser think of them
4. Agree. But also consider how much of a particular drug would have an effect on performance.
5. Disagree. Make races more challenging in terms of overall terrain. i.e. the TdF is pro climber, Contador, Schleck for example. They do nothing until the mountains. The winner should be doing more throughout the race to win it.
6. Definitely agree, especially if it shows the speed, steepness of climbs / descents, and the general daily duties of riders.
7. Partly agree, but this could spiral out of control where the teams with the most money have the advantage (like F1 - boring)
8. Ban radios. Let the riders use their heads like in the old days.
9. Agree if radios are banned. Otherwise there is too much information for riders
10. Agree. The best rider is not the one who wins the TdF. Armstrong did nothing else during his racing career and as such does not rank as good as, say, Merckx, Poulidor etc.

Marky

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posted by Marky Legs [102 posts]
23rd March 2011 - 10:21

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