Where tarmac meets mud
Sitting down, freshly showered, to a pizza regina at the pizzeria where Steve’s girlfriend Emilie works, we look back at the day’s lessons then ponder the future of cyclocross, as the 'cross World Championships were coming up the next week. Today, the discipline is not favoured by the Fédération Française de Cyclisme, which would rather give its money to Olympic sports. Though it’s the people’s choice at the end of the season, ‘cross cannot even play a part in the Winter Olympics, since it doesn’t take place solely on snow or ice. As for private money, only the Tour de France and the Classics call loudly enough to attract sponsors. Nevertheless, ‘cross could solve many of road riding’s problems, if only for the following reasons:
- The road calendar consists of races lasting several hours, which are difficult to broadcast on TV, whereas an Elite men’s ‘cross race only lasts an hour.
- The crowd at a road race only has the chance to encourage the riders once, as they speed by, despite the hours of waiting, while ‘cross circuits consist of several laps passing the same spots. Not to mention the possibility that spectators can change position and see the pros confront different challenges – turns, log-jumps, stairs up which the bike must be carried, platforms, etc
- Road races stop traffic, and need marshalling over large areas, often covering several villages or towns (the costs of which are increasingly difficult to bear, even for the major races), whereas a single field can host a ‘cross World Cup race
- Road safety fears dissuade many parents from sending their kids to cycling school, whereas cyclocross develops the same skills, away from the traffic in total safety, and with playful elements too
- Start and finish events aside, road races struggle to make money. At a ‘cross race, however, organisers can sell tickets, snacks, and offer stands for concessions and even VIP tents, where sponsors can entertain guests all day. Belgian and Dutch riders don’t make big salaries, but they can command big appearance fees. Thus, organisers pay more than sponsors, with the money coming from the TV rights and other revenue sources detailed above. Think of it like the Tour de France paying for Froome, Bardet and Sagan, rather than Ineos, AG2R and Specialized
- Men’s road racing monopolises airtime, and airtime is the only way that sponsors see a return on their investment. This prevents many women’s races from being viable, and means that a lot of Women’s WorldTour pros don’t make a living from their passion. In the time given to one Tour de France live stage, it would possible to broadcast Under 23 and Elite ‘cross races – both men’s and women’s – and give everyone the chance to see people like themselves on screen, inspiring both sexes, perhaps, to pursue cycling