Thursday, December 11, 2008

How to Save American Cycling

Hangin' with RC last night. Usually gets the brain turning.

The recent hap's in the US Pro cycling seem to underscore cycling's status as a minor league sport (at best), and show why it's going to stay that way, unless someone steps up with some organization . As usual, I solved the problem pretty much completely. The money necessary to do all this can be deposited in my personal account, I'll take care of it. Just shoot me an email.

1. There really is nothing 'professional' about cycling in the US - As Rock racing is currently exposing, there is really no distinction between amateur and pro cycling. Some guys just happen to get paid. Rock basically has two full teams worth of pro caliber riders. It looks like they're going to be spending the year sending one squad to UCI stage races, and then another to NRC races which any Elite rider can enter. It looks like Rock is going to keep this huge squad and switch guys between squads to get their ideal team for races.

2. Americans don't get the sponsor/team thing - Ever explain how a cycling team works to your Uncle from the midwest, he probably just won't get it. "So even guys with the same sponsor race against each other?" or "Do they always have the same sponsor for every race?"

3. USA Cycling is one of the worst run national sports organizations in the world. Incompetent does not begin to describe them. The most recent dropped balls:

Exhibit A: Leaving Chris Horner off the World Championship team, when the race suited him to a T. He's the only American that can come close to hanging with guys like Valverde and Cunego. He was fit as fuck, he got left out for a bunch of kids and TT specialists.(No disrespect to the kids on the team, but get some mid-week classics under your belt, at least.). Horner was also the American best suited for the Olympic Road Race, though his fitness may have been a (tiny) question mark due to his mid-summer collar bone break.

Exhibit B: Leaving Tom Peterson off the U23 World's team. Tom is the fastest U23 American, hands down. Maybe Phinney might be up to his level, but he doesn't have any of the Euro experience. Tom has, by far, the most Euro racing experience of any U23 and he got completely shafted. USA Cycling wasted a top-10 and sent a bunch of teenagers to the race.

Exhibit C: The 2004 Olympic MTB qualifying debacle.

Exhibit D: Do they even do drug testing anymore? Anywhere?

USA Cycling looks like the AAU did in the '60s when they ran track and field. Political, corrupt, looking out for themselves rather than the sport.

4. Too many fake pro's - Similar to problem #1. There's too many twentysomethings like myself running around saying we might almost be able to be pro. Yes it's cool to race against them a couple times a year, but really, the NRC being ProAm is really not good for the sport.

Being the problem solver I am, here's the solutions:

1. Races are run like the Nascar Circuit - The season's gonna run from March to September. Each team's home city will host a one day race, let's say there will be 15 of'em. Stage races will be on Neutral turf, 4-6 a season. Points awarded accordingly. Only the Pro teams race. Pro Teams have limited rosters of about 20 guys, no goofy age requirements. Crits would stay local and carry on the ProAm tradition in American cycling.

2. Americans like saying 'Los Angeles Lakers' or 'New York Giants'. Now the relation between the team and the place they say they're from is tenuous at best, team members might live in their team's hometown if they choose to, but it really doesn't matter. So think of it like this, we'll use the English Soccer model here: The teams will be identified by their hometown and a mascot they think is cute/tough/cool whatever or a club name. Sponsors will get the jerseys/bikes/same stuff they're always on. Kind of like how a soccer team from Manchester is called Manchester United and has AIG on the front of their jerseys.

3. USA Cycling will be crushed like a toad in the road, we'll develop a transparent process for picking national team members. USA cycling can focus on grass roots development.

4. No fake pro's. I know it might hurt some of us never-were's, but it will be better for the sport.

What this will take:
- MONEY! But not that much. Teams are responsible for paying their costs and hosting their 1 home race per year. The league will host the stage races. There will be TV revenues to split, just like all pro sports. Realistically, you could find a title sponsor for the whole league for as much as it costs to run a Pro Tour team ($5-10 million). If we can find sponsors for pro lacrosse, there's gotta be money for bike racing.

-Teams! Teams will be given like any pro sport, you've basically got to buy a franchise from the league. Prove that you've got the system in place to run it at a high level and the local support to make it fly.

- Testing! Yes, gotta keep it clean. TV revenues will fund the anti-doping before money is split up among teams.

- USA Cycling to do what's best for the sport, rather than what's best for themselves! We can all dream, can't we? When this league takes off and USA Cycling benefits at the grassroots level, we'll all be happy.

Will people watch cycling on TV?
Yes. 2 hour broadcast. First 30 Minutes - recaps, standings get to know the course, riders, whatever. 2nd 30 - Recap the first few hours of the current race. Last hour - live to the race until the finish.

What about the Tour?
Euro cycling will still be the top tier. The population is so much more dense, the sport is better suited for Europe, but that doesn't mean Pro Cycling in the US can't be legit. What could be developed in the US is a cleaner peloton with more dependable teams and more predictable race schedule. More and more Euro pro's have been coming to America for a steady check, maybe this will net a few more. Potentially, a US team could have a TdF squad while competing in the US circuit, if they wanted. I would be like the Manchester U playing in the Premier League and Champions League at the same time.

Will there ever be a Tour of the US?
No! That race they were proposing a couple years ago was rotten from the start. Too big a country, stages are too long. America is full of long straight highways. BORING! 5-6 day stage races are the way to go. Maybe stretch a couple out to 8.

So, I think I'm on to something here. Or maybe I just wasted a good portion of my afternoon. Either way.