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Cycling's Pulse Rate

Is anyone else blown away by the news of the last week or so? To sum:

  • Team High Road is now Team Columbia Sports, through 2010 at least
  • Quick Step re-upped for another three years, extending Tom Boonen's contract even in the midst of his worst week ever
  • CSC just secured its own immediate future with Saxo Bank
  • And ASO keeps extending its reach around the globe (Spain, California...)

The first three are easy to understand: a lot of sponsorship deals for Pro Tour teams are expiring at the same time, and the teams are carrying on. Three new big sponsors (for the #1, 3 and 6 teams in the world) seems like big news. A more cautious reading is that the sport has successfully pulled back from the sponsorship abyss, a real possibility given the cyclical nature of the investments combined with the doping problems of the last few years. Is this the start of a massive new wave of investment into the sport? Eh, I don't think we're there yet. But Cycling will almost surely remain viable at the top level long enough for the anti-doping era to take hold. And once that happens (assuming it does), the sport should truly thrive again.

The fourth bullet represents a different kind of realignment: the consolidation of the races into a race-organizing superpower. Obviously, this is part of Le Tour's primary goal of crushing the UCI and permanently barring them from messing with ASO's crown jewel. ASO's continued rise is a serious blow to the UCI and its own mission of taking charge of the sport's organization, for both entertainment and doping enforcement purposes. That said, this realignment doesn't necessarily portend chaos.

For starters, ASO are not unjustified in wanting control of their race, including all its revenues, as a simple matter of property law. It would have been nice for the sport to take on the structure the UCI had in mind, but some kind of structure will eventually take hold. Doping control requires it, and nothing threatens the value of ASO's property more than doping. I'd guess that ASO wants a structure to exist, but in their eyes working with the UCI is like bringing your car to a mechanic who paints it a new color, makes the engine worse, and sends you a bill.

Anyway, perhaps ASO wants to partner with enough races to run its own circuit, along with its own rules and controls. Maybe this will work: ASO deserve a lot of credit for rescuing races like Paris-Nice and Paris-Roubaix from oblivion, along with running Le Tour pretty well. Setting aside their external flame wars, they're good at what they do. Now, having the races in charge is a little one-sided, lest we forget the days if Henri Desgrange (the first Tour manager who delighted in driving riders inhumanely), so at least one other structure along the lines of a teams or riders union will be needed to keep things balanced. Of course, ASO hasn't officially taken control of the sport yet, but we should know more about the status of things by the end of the month, when half of the 18 Pro Tour teams who don't yet have a Pro Tour license for 2009 are due to apply for their renewal ... or decide not to.

Who the hell knows? I guess all I can say is, if ASO is going to win their war with the UCI, let them get done with it ASAP and start working on repairing the future. The sport itself is just about ready.