24-10-2019 Gosse van der Meer
In this essay I try to describe the current standings of cyclocross as a sport, the problems we are facing with the current worldcup plans (mainly from a mid level pro rider perspective) and my view on a solution. It is important to get an understanding of the problem but even more important it is to get an understanding in how we got to the current situation so how we got to point where we find ourselves today.
I didn’t want to write a catchy introduction either to get more attention or to get to the emotions of the readers. At the moment we are in a very important period of time because for us as riders our world is being sold without ever asking for our opinion. My thoughts and concerns are straight forward and this text has been written in one go, and before uploading I’ve only done a quick spelling check.
Without digging to deep in to the problems of the new worldcup plans I want work towards a solution. The main problems can be found described down in the long read.
There is no problem with internationalisation of cyclocross if you look pure at the the number of events in the number of countries and the numbers of riders at these events. Cyclocross is alive and kicking but not in every country there are events on the UCI level. Regional/local races are booming and everybody is having fun. The problem is that often the UCI or a national federation don’t have any involvement in these events.
The biggest international cyclocross competition is the EKZ crosstour at the moment, every rider who has ever ridden on of these races will have my back if I say these races are all well, professional organised and pay a fair amount of starting money. All this together results in big international startlist and great races. Series like these will be hit the most by the new UCI worldcup plans because they basically sold the Worldcup circuit/concept with the spots on the calendar to the highest bidder.
Cyclocross is a sport with a rich and international history. Great races have been held in front of thousands of enthusiastic fans all over Europe. Worldcups in the Olympic Stadium in Münich, Worldcups in Basque Country, Worldcups in the snow in Czech Republic or Slovakia etc. These races where held in places with great cross history, up until this day the older generation of these areas will know about the races where younger kids often have no idea about it ever happening anymore.
But as the sport changed the races changed but also the focus point changed. Cyclocross got pulled towards Belgium and the other countries where left on their own. A lot of sponsors disappeared, races downgraded or completely disappeared on the countries the sport used to be big.
The UCI has let down our entire sport by selling the Worldcup circuit to the highest bidder rather than taking their responsibility and bringing back the current new kind of cyclocross racing to the old grounds.
VIP tents, TV coverage and thousands of fans will keep the sport alive in Belgium, I am not afraid of that. But increasing the worldcup to 16 races and have 8 of them in Belgian will be the last punch before the international touch of this sport will go down.
Don’t go to 16 worldcups and never host 8 in Belgium. Keep with 7-9 worldcups and host a maximum of 2 in Belgium. We only save this sport if we come back to these legendary grounds and be able to inspire a country again with bringing back the best riders of the world to them just like back in the day!
Host amateur and kids races the day before or after the worldcup on the same course, come back to Poprad, come back to that olympic stadium in Münich, come back to Eschenbach, come back to Basque Country, come back to Milano come back to history.
We have to make the worldcup great again but most important, we have to use it as a way to inspire an entire country of young riders.
Use the worldcup as a way to reach that goal of making cyclocross a big international sport again and bringing it completely to Belgium or in Belgian hands won’t be the way to go. The UCI should be in touch with the riders and the organizers to come up with a plan together.
Some deeper thoughts and explanation:
Before you start reading this essay it is important to know that I am not writing this to be on an academic level or with the exact setup that a paper needs to be. This essay, paper, article or what you want to call it is written to speak out my personal concerns about the sport I love the most and I want to keep calling my job for as long as possible. All views are my own.
How the storm started
Last weekend a storm of criticism has come up after the worldcup in Switzerland. It was EKZ Crosstour organizer Christian Rocha who spoke out about the new revolution in the cyclocross world that was about to happen for the race organisers. A few days before the worldcup in Switzerland a concept calendar got publicised with all the dates where a worldcup should be held… we saw 16 worldcups on a calendar without knowing anything about it. Talking about development in cyclocross has been done already for a few years but this calendar with set dates came out of the blue with no information given or concept plans.
In my opinion cyclocross, just like any other sport, can been seen through the concept of a trias politica. John Locke came up with the idea of the trias politica, his ideas where that a state (in our case a sport) should be set up through a separation of power. The three pillars should be the laws, the executives and the court system. The base of a good function state would be if there is a balance between those three.
On of the main concerns I have about the new plans is that there won’t be any balance in our sport anymore. The three pillars of cyclocross are the UCI, the race organizers and the riders. With the current plans with the worldcup the balance is gone, and when forming these plans there has not even been a balance. Because the UCI wrote out an assignment in which different organizers could sign in to do the job. In the end it was Flanders Classics who got the job. In my opinion the UCI has sold the worldcup circuit to the highest bidder! The job that had been offered to make an inquiry for was one they already knew would only attract a few big Belgian companies. Because who else in this sport would be powerful and financial strong enough and have all the resources to take on the job of getting 16 worldcups.
A discussion that has been going on for many years now is that there are too much classifications. Now the UCI has sold the organisation of the worldcup circuit to one of the organizers of one of those circuits. From the sidelines it starts to look like one of the three pillars who make this sport has been split up. The pillar of the organizers has been cut in two parts, on one side the organising company that has a deal with the UCI to make a worldcup circuit besides their already existing races with their dates on the calendar and on the other side the race organizers who are getting pushed out of the calendar or the ones who don’t want to organise their races anymore since the top riders are at a worldcup every weekend and don’t come to their race anymore.
Do we really have a problem with internationalisation?
The answer to this question is simple and it is: no. There is not a problem with internationalisation of cyclocross but there is a problem with the UCI having a hand on international cyclocross. The amateur and youth races are growing bigger then ever in countries like England, Germany, America etc. The big difference is that most of these races are all being organised without the UCI or sometimes even without a federation. Local league races are growing bigger and bigger, whole series are getting set up in Eastern Europe and Australia. National Championships are being held in New Sealand and even in Chile.
Cyclocross is alive and international.
Is professional cyclocross alive and international? Then I am afraid I have to say that I don’t know the exact answer. Professional sports has changed a lot last years and branding for athletes has become very important if you are in a ‘’small’’ sport. It is really important to note that there aren’t big teams outside of Belgium where you can turn full time professional as a cyclocross rider. Most of the riders without a big contract with a Belgian team have to be very selective in their racing program because budgets simply don’t allow to pay for all the trips every weekend.
An important part in making an income out of professional cyclocross are the starting fees pro riders are starting to receive when they reach a certain level. It is important to note that this covers most of the times only the costs of travelling to a race for a mid level pro. The main concern I have with this new worldcup plan is that the ‘’pack of riders’’ will disappear. The big group of riders who fill up the race from place 15-40 will be extinct in a few years. Worldcup racing will be then with a handful nof top riders who have a big team behind them to cover the trips and a handful of worldcup tourists who just want to be in the circuit but are being pulled after 3 laps. And of course the riders who happen to live in the country or close by to where the race is being held.
I have been in this world long enough to know how the financial balance is and the top guys who are racing top 10 at almost every race are not the ones who will be concerned the most. Lets say that if you receive a few thousand of euro’s of startmoney for a race the prize money gets less and less important. And if you signed a six figure contract with a team on top of that then there is no need to be concerned if the costs for travelling will go up a bit for the races.
Without making to much of a assumptions I think the worldcup startlists of the races in America will speak for themselves. But, be aware that I am not saying that it isn’t a good thing that there are worldcups in America! If we want to grow this sport it is important to do this. The American riders also have to come to Europe if they want to race the other worldcups so if you want to have a shot at a good overall worldcup results you have to go to America and make that investment yourself. Because let’s also not forget that almost every rider has to pay for its own trip, except for some riders who are in certain teams.
Because let’s do some quick calculation:
Last year it was Koen Monu (organizer of the Zilvermeercross in Mol) who claimed that Wout van Aert would cost 10K to get to the startline and that Mathieu van der Poel would costs 8.5K. This was the year where Wout had the WC jersey so let’s say now it is Mathieu his turn to receive 10K a race. Winning a C1 race is 1400 euro now-a-days and a C2 is 350 now-a-days, winning a worldcup is 5.000 euro’s but there is no starting money.
Now we take a quick look at the worldcup prizemoney. From place 1-20 it is going down every spot with a certain amount. Place 20-30 gets 450 euro’s and place 30-40 gets 300 euro’s. Last weekend I got a 33th spot in the worldcup, starting from the last row because I am currently 61 in the ranking and didn’t go to the USA which the UCI punished me for with the new startline rule at worldcups (sorry UCI I didn’t had to 4000K to make the USA trip for two races). This 300 euro’s was bruto so with Swiss taxes I got 265 netto, I drove over with my camper and it was a 1500km journey. For quick calculation let’s say the camper does 10/100l so that makes 150 liters of diesel at a current prize of 1.25 a liter makes it: 187.50 euro’s. The the Swiss highway sticker costs another 40 euro’s so that makes it 227.50, and then I am calculating in the cheapest way possible. I can’t afford to pay any of my mechanics or what so ever so I had less then 25 euro’s of earnings that weekend. We did a coffee stop on the way there, and I had to feed my mechanic.
For a rider like me, and there are quite some of that level, that would mean that any worldcup that would be more then 1500km of total driving would not really be an option anymore. With this we come back to one of the things stated before, in the worldcups there will be only for the first 15 guys who make decent money and some local riders who happen to be living in the area and plus of course the top riders of the country where the worldcup is being held in.
If we would go to double worldcup weekends where there would be double earnings and maybe a bit more driving the window keeps open for a lot of riders to jump in this opportunity to we racing a worldcup. When the races are being held closer to each other and there will be set worldcup weekends with a Saturday and Sunday race it will stay a lot more interesting for international riders to keep travelling with the circus because the costs stay lower and you’re not away from home for 16 weeks a year only to do the worldcup.
Spectator based sport in Belgium
Cyclcross is a spectator based sport in Belgium, almost all races are on TV and there are no amateur races on the courses and the courses are made for top riders to be ridden. For the people who have come to a race in Belgium they probably have seen the big white tents and the small red and yellow and blue and yellow food stands. The spectators pay 10-15 euro’s to get in to watch the race and then spent another 10-25 euro’s on food and drinks while there. So on a basic race every spectator spends at least 20 euro’s each. The big white tents are the ones where the VIP’s are being held in. On facebook I read a lot of bad comments about those VIP tents everywhere but without them the sport would have been dead already. Those tents bring in the most money because they are hosting the sponsors and their guests during the races. Those sponsors make it possible that the big guys can be payed to the races and the normal spectators can watch them.
If we move the sport outside of this country you see the numbers of spectators going down very very quick. Races with a rich history still have a lot of spectators like the ones in Pont Chateau or Nommay in France. But I also remember a worldcup in Lingneres on Berry in France when I was a U23 rider and there was hardly anybody watching. Or that time the worldcup was brought to Germany where we had to race in a flat farmfield in Zeven (where do I need to send the reminder for the prizemoney?).
Upgrading the worldcup to 16 races and 8 races in Belgium and the other 8 outside of Belgium will only be good for the Belgians (not sure where ‘’Flanders’’ Classics is based…) and will have the opposite effect on internationalizing cyclocross.
The money is flowing in in the sport in Belgium from the events with the VIP’s, the spectators and the TV rights and broadcasting. The first two won’t be big if there will be a worldcup in Germany, Italy (how many people did you saw in Fiuggi) or anywhere else.
Every weekend again I see big rants online of people being unable to watch the live streams of the races due to geoblocking. I understand that a big truck doesn’t drive for free and that a live stream of a big race costs a lot of money. Where there is a businessmodel then the TV rights should be sold to a specific broadcaster or tv channel in a country. Seems logic to me, so I apologise to everybody with the crappy livestreams or the VPN servers that make the streams buffer all the time. But when was the last time you took on a job for free? These streams are also being made by professionals with families back home. So in the end it also depends on the interest there is from the public to watch the races and the companies who make the broadcast. The streams aren’t being made if there isn’t money to be earned from them.
To go to 8 worldcups outside of Belgium and 8 worldcups in Belgium we won’t see big international changes because for the most races the international riders won’t be able to cover the costs. If there would be 4 worldcups planned in two weeks and that will be done twice then there will be a possibility to make two trips of 10 days so the Spanish, Italian, Czech, French, American and other foreign riders only need to come twice and a total of 20 days. That could be possible.
But then the reverse problem will occur because then all the top Belgian and Dutch riders need to make big trips almost every weekend but also the other foreign riders will need to travel with this circuit. So in the end this doesn’t solve any problem for the riders it only blocks out a lot of organizers from other UCI races all over the world to host a race. Some of the Belgian races will be held under a new flag but probably on the same course, the Koppenberg cross would for example then change to Worldcup Koppenberg. And just some stuff to think about: will a someone really shut down his TV is the race on the Koppenberg is held as a worldcup, a superprestige or as an individual race?
In then end people are watching because of the riders who are riding and because they love to watch this sport too.
Forcing riders to race
When Flanders classics can switch a few of their races from a GC race or a non GC race in a Worldcup they try to force the to riders to ride their race for free. Because if Mathieu van der Poel would otherwise earn 10.000 plus 1400 for winning a superprestige they now only have to pay him the 5000 euro’s prizemoney for a worldcup instead of the 11400 euro’s he otherwise would receive. And then let’s say Would van Aert got second for 8500 euros start money and some extra prizemoney so that cost them also over 9000 euro’s while the prizemoney for a worldcup second is 3500 euro’s.
Enough about the financial part now:
The rules of the UCI also state that if there is a worldcup organised at a specific date it isn’t allowed to organise a C1 race anywhere else. With 16 worldcups there is almost every weekend a worldcup which will force a lot of other organizers to downgrade their events or not even organise anymore. This will for example put a huge pressure on the most international cyclocross classification called the EKZ crosstour. These races are all very well organized and every rider who has ever ridden one of them will say the same thing. The starting fees are all fair and make sure that the riders can come and race, but they don’t pay the insane amounts that some riders now a days ask to come to a race. They rather pay 20 riders 500 euro’s to come then 1 rider 10k to come.
In my opinion it is the biggest shame on the UCI that even while they are based in Switzerland they are killing the actual most international cyclocross series out there. The example has been set already years ago in Switzerland but apparently it is hard to see what is happening in your own backyard when you only keep an eye on the neighbours.
Forcing to come due to UCI points:
Some other quick and simple counting. For me as a mid-pack rider in a worldcup I earn around 30 UCI points every race. If I would do 16 worldcups then that would give me 480 points. It is hard to say the exact amount of points you will need to get in the top 50 by then but the lowest level of points you need will go up. Because getting the same amount of points in a C1 or C2 race is almost impossible. You will have to win 12 C2 races which will give you 40 points each to come even with my 480 points. Let’s say that that will be pretty hard, but on the other hand you will only need to win 6 C1 races so that could be the faster way… But when was the last time you saw anybody from outside the top 50 win actually one C1 race?
The new calendar got published almost halfway the season. As I said I am currently 61 in the ranking and the rest of this season could determine the rest of my career…. If I would not get in to that top 50 by the end of this year to start the new season in the top 50 and get on the train of the worldcup points if I would do all 16 of them, I will be gone from the worldcups for the rest of my career probably. And this does not only count for me but also for a rider who has lost a big part of the season due to an injury or a U23 riders who comes over to the elites…
Unfortunately, we don’t know anything at the moment as riders and a lot of careers are on stake. Also for personal sponsors or teamsponsors it is a big deal to have a rider in the worldcup circuit.
In the worldcups the national federations are allowed to select a ‘’b team’’ for the country which is organising the worldcup. Where a junior men and U23 men selection normally contains of 6 riders in the A-team and 6 riders in the B-team this will profit the Belgian federation the most. They can race 8 worldcups with 16 riders, but the countries where we try to grow the sport can only use a second team at their own worldcup (if that country gets one).
Going to 16 worldcups isn’t the solution to grow this sport and will have the opposite effect. The current number of 9 worldcups is a good one and I would even say to go down to 8 or at least move one away from Belgium. If we want to grow and improve this sport we have to keep traditions alive but we have come with the new format.
Cyclocross has already made a huge transformation if you see at the way the races are now-a-days. This transformation also made that races have moved away from legendary grounds where a lot of cyclocross history still remains. The sport has a lot of respect and history in Switzerland, people in Basque Country go crazy for the racing. And what about the Olympic stadium in Münich where ones an epic battle between Sven Nys and Bart Wellens has been that might even have started the new generation of racing because, they where first ones to jump the barriers during a race. Historical cyclocross racing in Milano, and what about the legendary stories that all riders took home with them from Pilzen, from Tabor or the tears of Erwin Vervecken in Poprad!
The UCI should take responsibility for keeping cyclocross international. Their name says it all, Union Cycliste International. Cyclocross has been moved away from the international stage and it has been planted in Belgium but it is time to come back!
I would suggest to bring the worldcup back to those legendary grounds from the past. Then there will be new racing going on, on the old grounds. Restoring cyclocross history with showcasing the current standings of the sport will be the way to grow the sport back in these countries again. Local races will grow more and more, kids will becoming cyclocross racers again and the level in the countries will grow. Local races grow to national races and national races will grow to international races.
Cyclocross is not dead, and cyclocross is not a sport only from the Belgians. The Belgians have made the sport in a business so it could reach its current standings. We should also be grateful for that because otherwise we wouldn’t even have been talking about professional cyclocross because it wouldn’t have been possible anymore. Cross in Belgium will stay alive because there are to many stakeholders now-a-days and there is too many money involved.
But for a sport that once was much more international and has been pulled towards Belgium it is time to come home again with the races of the highest level being held in the fields where they used to be held.
Pic by: Andy Rogers