Rapha has unveiled the first two parts of its Roadmap for the future of professional cycling. It makes for some interesting, if lengthy, reading.
Two years in the making, the full report runs to some 40,000 words, the London-based brand says that “The Rapha Roadmap was commissioned to help the business understand the state of the professional sport, and inform our involvement in the future.
“We believe there is an incredible opportunity for growth in the sport, and this research is our attempt to chart a radically new path for Rapha within a radically reformed sport,” it adds.
The research is wide-ranging, covering all aspects of the sport such as its economic model, media involvement, the role of race organisers and the UCI, professional teams and the racing calendar.
It acknowledges from the outset that cycling is a baffling sport to the outsider, with a cluttered and confusing calendar, lacking an easy-to-follow narrative that, with teams and their top riders having different priorities throughout the year, makes it near-impossible to say with complete confidence which is the best.
Think back to when you first started following the sport. In those early days, as you got to grips with the array of teams and riders and the different types of races, it’s likely that you wondered at some point why, if Paris-Roubaix is one of the biggest one-day races on the calendar, the stars who battle it out in the Tour de France tend to avoid it.
After examining how other sports have brought cohesion to their calendars and packaged their competitions into a media-friendly format readily understood by new and old fans alike, the Roadmap goes on to propose a sweeping change to the men’s and women’s WorldTour calendars.
Men’s events would be split into two divisions, with 15 teams competing in each and promotion and relegation happening at the end of each season.
Division One would comprise a 14-race One Day Series as well as a Grand Tour Series.
The former would include all five Monuments, running from late January until early May. Curiously, given that Rapha calls for mass participation events to be held alongside those, the Prudential RideLondon-Surrey Classic – currently part of a weekend-long summer festival that includes the world’s biggest sportive – would move to March.
The latter, made up of just six events, would include two-week editions of the Giro d’Italia and Vuelta, and culminate with a three-week Tour de France held in August to bring the season to its climax.
Rapha, pointing out that the last major reform of the men’s calendar was in 1995 when the Vuelta was moved from the springtime to its current August/September slot and the road world championships were put back a month, insists that “the racing programme has become too long, crowded and unfocused.”
As a result, it says, “the modern cycling calendar, which does not build toward a season finale, risks losing the interest of dedicated fans, alienating new audiences, and makes it difficult to maintain and promote an annual sporting ‘narrative’.”
Most cycling fans we think would agree with the report’s finding that the men’s calendar has become too bloated and can be difficult to follow, even for the most committed.
But at the same time, given the competing interests involved – the teams and race organisers and their various sponsors, the media (broadcasters in particular) and of course the UCI – finding a solution that suits all is an impossible, not to mention thankless, task.
In the decade or so since road.cc was launched, there has hardly been a time where there has not been some form of discussion going on about how to reform the sport, whether that be in terms of the calendar, a so-called breakaway league trying to ensure teams gain a share of broadcast income, or how to raise the profile of women’s cycling and achieve greater parity between the genders in terms of both racing and income.
It’s as a contribution to that debate that the Rapha Roadmap is likely to be viewed, even if there is little chance in reality of seeing the implementation of all of its recommendations, which we list below. Let us know your thoughts on the report, and other issues you think need addressing in professional cycling, in the comments below.
Rapha Roadmap recommendations
Professional cycling must fundamentally reform and shorten its calendar to create a season-long series of linked races that reward individual triumphs throughout the year
It must find new ways to judge riders’ success, revolutionising traditional models of racing and winning to promote combative and aggressive racing across the season in new locations and formats
It must promote team structures that elevate rider stories, rewarding riders as much for their roles as ambassadors as athletes and moving beyond performance as the sole motivation
It must become the most transparent, media-friendly sport in the world, creating content that champions the human stories of the sport at every conceivable opportunity and building communities out of fans
The production and distribution of entertainment must be integrated into the heart of the sport, giving fans more access, creating more content and evaluating success by engagement
Teams, events and stakeholders must pursue solid links with wider participation in cycling, integrating with clubs, infrastructure lobbyists and broader fitness initiatives and taking on leadership roles on safety and environmentalism
Coverage of the sport must be enhanced with the adoption of cutting-edge direct-to-audience broadcast models and episodic, free-to-view content creation on a variety of platforms
Women’s racing must be promoted as aggressively as men’s, with greater emphasis on building and promoting characters and commitments to parity to capitalise on a huge untapped opportunity
Events and teams must urgently pursue diverse revenue streams, monetising opportunities around gate fees, marketing opportunities, merchandise, public rides, tiered-access content, fan access and more
The sport must better monitor and develop its sponsorship proposition locally and globally, and the main costs associated with the sport - team budget, event organisation, television broadcast - must be reduced through shared resources and modernisation
The UCI’s role must be reconsidered in relation to the friction with events organisers as leaders in reform of the sport
Long-term plans for youth development, including a radical approach to talent programmes that promote careers in the sport beyond riding must be developed.
Simon has been news editor at road.cc since 2009, reporting on 10 editions and counting of pro cycling’s biggest races such as the Tour de France, stories on issues including infrastructure and campaigning, and interviewing some of the biggest names in cycling. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, his background has proved invaluable in reporting on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, and the bike industry. He splits his time between London and Cambridge, and loves taking his miniature schnauzer Elodie on adventures in the basket of her Elephant Bike.