Title: Rapha Roadmap – A Vision for the Future of Road Cycling
Authors: Oliver Duggan, Joe Harris, Steve Maxwell, and Daam Van Reeth
What it is: A manifesto for the future of road cycling, from Rapha
Strengths: I’ll have to come back to you on that
Weaknesses: Since Jonathan Vaughter’s 10 Point Plan of 2011 we’ve seen many efforts to change cycling’s structure fail for the simple reason that all the stakeholders with a say on the issue – race organisers, governing body, teams, and riders – haven’t been fully brought on board, rendering manifestos like this a waste of everyone’s time and energy
You can’t fix a problem if you don’t identify the problem. A lot of people in cycling, when it comes to chucking in their tuppence worth on how to fix cycling’s economic model, they don’t start with identifying the problem, they simply dive in with their solutions. So, applause to the Rapha Roadmap for actually beginning at the beginning and identifying the problem:
“There is one conclusion that echoes most loudly from our research, in interview after interview; professional cycling is broken. Despite the obvious passion of countless stakeholders in the sport, and the hugely impressive strides made towards modernisation in some areas, the sport has failed to find new audiences or inspire younger generations of fans. Cycling has struggled to keep pace with the changes that have upended broader sporting, leisure and entertainment industries. The basic structure, format and presentation of the sport has barely changed since its inception. It is regularly argued that those involved have stuck too closely to the sport’s heritage, missing opportunities for innovation.”
Interview after interview revealed this problem to the authors of the Rapha Roadmap. Who include Oliver Duggan, a Rapha staffer and former journalist, along with VeloNews owners Joe Harris and Steve Maxwell, whose Outer Limits blog has, over the last few years, told us time and again that the sky is falling in on cycling’s economy, but fear not, they know how to fix it. The authors also include the Belgian economist Daam Van Reeth, who we’ve met before on the Café Bookshelf, his The Economics of Professional Road Cycling having already trodden this ground. But just who is it these independent, unbiased authors have spoken to, just who is it who, in interview after interview, has told them that professional cycling is broken? It’s quite a telling list, actually. Quite telling.
While the UCI’s Deloitte Report of 2013 drew on testimony from more than 6,000 respondents the Rapha Roadmap makes do with a lot less research and is based on interviews with 53 of cycling’s stakeholders. Thirteen of the 53 interviewees (one quarter) come from countries where English is not the primary language (France, Germany, Italy, Poland, Belarus), the other 40 of them come from the USA, the UK, Australia, Canada, and South Africa. None come from the Middle East, the source of a substantial portion of cycling’s current financing. Asia has no voice, despite the hard-on the Outer Limits dudes have had for billionaire Wang Jianlin. The whole of Africa is represented by one voice, from South Africa. South America, presumably, is spoken for by its northern neighbours.
The British cohort includes journalists from the Guardian (Peter Walker), the Wall Street Journal (Joshua Robinson), and the Rapha-sponsored Cycling Podcast (Richard Moore and Daniel Friebe). The French contingent includes the journalist François Thomazeau, an occasional Cycling Podcast contributor.
Those three Cycling Podcast people are just the tip of the iceberg when it comes to keeping it in-house. Current Rapha people interviewed are Steuart Walton, Simon Mottram, James Fairbank and Alex Valdman. Guy Andrews from the Rapha publishing partner Bluetrain was interviewed. As was the former Rapha staffer Brendan Quirk.
Speaking for the teams, there’s Ronny Lauke, Beth Duryea, and Alessandra Borchi, all from Canyon SRAM, Nick Shuley from Hagens Berman Axeon, and Jonathan Vaughters from EF Education First. Both Canyon and EF, as it turns out, are partnered by Rapha.
From the current peloton there’s Rhys Howells (Wiggins), Leah Thorvilson (Amy D Foundation), Mark Cavendish (Dimension Data), Tiffany Cromwell (Canyon SRAM), Alena Amialiusik (Canyon SRAM), Pauline Ferrand-Prevot (Canyon SRAM), Hannah Barnes (Canyon SRAM), Alice Barnes (Canyon SRAM), Tanja Erath (Canyon SRAM), Lisa Klein (Canyon SRAM), Christa Riffel (Canyon SRAM), Elena Cecchini (Canyon SRAM), Kasia Niewedoma (Canyon SRAM), Alexis Ryan (Canyon SRAM), Trixi Worrack (Trek Segafredo), and Ellen Noble (Trek Segafredo). As well as the Rapha link with the over-represented Canyon ladies (including recent Canyon alumni Thorvilson and Worrack), the Wiggins rider, Howells, is another ex-Rapha staffer and Noble rode ‘cross in Rapha colours.
Representing former riders are the voices of Lance Armstrong, Michael Barry, Dede Barry, Matt Stephens, Dylan Casey, and Marco Pinotti.
From the world of marketing, there’s Bart Knaggs, of Capital Sports & Entertainment, former PR people for the Lance Armstrong Foundation.
From the governance side of the sport, there’s the former head of USA Cycling Derek Bouchard Hall, the former head of British Cycling and the UCI Brian Cookson, and Peter Keen, who’s bounced around between British Cycling and UK Sport over the last few years.
Speaking for all the race organisers, there’s ASO’s Yan le Moenner.
The remaining ten interviewees are Jenn Dice, Jennifer Boldry and Tim Blumenthal from an American campaigning organisation, People for Bikes, coaches Barry Austin and Molly Hurfod, Charlie Cooper from Cooper Bicycles, former heads of the NICA Jerry Pomije and Austin McInerney, Eric Min from Zwift, and Adam Coffman from the House of Commons All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group. Yes, that’s right, the House of Commons All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group.
These are the people who, in interview after interview, are telling the Rapha Roadmap’s authors that professional cycling is broken. This is hardly what you could call a diverse or representative interview pool. You’d almost think the authors had very limited access within the world of professional cycling. Or an agenda.
To get an idea of the sort of thinking that’s gone into the Rapha Roadmap, let’s consider the question of calendar reform. During my occasional trawls through the Gallica archives, I’ve come across complaints dating back to the 1920s about cycling’s calendar and the need to reform it. It’s that sort of issue: a work in progress. The authors here, they propose a reformed calendar that would see a programme of one-day races running weekly from the end of January to the start of May, while the Grand Tours would fill the summer months, with the Tour de France and the Vuelta a España swapping places. Both the Vuelta and the Giro d’Italia would lose their third week: third weeks in Grand Tours, nothing ever happens in them. Save for the Critérium du Dauphiné and two new one-week races, this would be the whole of the World Tour, all other races would be kicked down a division.
The one day series is where the thought that’s gone into the Rapha Roadmap is at its clearest. From the Great Ocean race in January you’d go to Il Lomabardia in February, followed by the RideLondon Surrey Classic and Omploop Het Nieusblad. Then would come Strade Bianche, followed by an empty slot for a new race in Asia or the Middle East. These would be followed by Milan-Sanremo, Ghent-Wevelgem, the Ronde van Vlaanderen, Paris-Roubaix, the Amstel Gold, and Liège-Bastogne-Liège. The series would end with two vacant slots for new races in North America in May.
Forget the practicalities of racing around Lake Como at the start of February and forget the likelihood of the French moving their annual fête to August. They’re just detail and you really shouldn’t let yourself get bogged down in detail when assessing things like the Rapha Roadmap. I want you to consider the actual thinking in place here. I want you to look at the RideLondon Surrey Classic. This is an event built on the modern model of binding a race to a community by attaching to it a sportive. It’s part of the new funding model employed by race organisers. How well do you think that sportive is going to go when held in February, with ice on the roads and the Freds still carrying their Christmas kilos?
I wouldn’t go so far as to suggest that the Rapha Roadmap authors haven’t considered the damage they’d be doing to RideLondon’s funding model by all but killing the sportive. I’d actually say they’re fully aware of the damage they’d be doing. And simply don’t care.
We have actually seen a version of this manifesto before, back in the days of the Gifted Group’s World Series Cycling project and the attempts to form a breakaway league, with or without the UCI’s backing. And that, a breakaway league, is more or less what the Rapha Roadmap is proposing: a restructuring of cycling so that the sport can be sold to the private equity firm with the deepest pockets, lock, stock and barrel. What the Rapha Roadmap is asking for is that “organising rights for a revised World Tour (One Day and Grand Tour series) be licensed as a whole to a single organiser or a consortium of organisers. In a bid to introduce much needed stability, efficiency and uniformity in the organisation, format and presentation of professional bike racing, the sport could seek to award organising licenses for a whole series of events to a single organiser.”
Essentially, everything is for sale to the highest bidder. Because the business of cycling isn’t cycling. The business of cycling is making money. That that is the way a company like Rapha sees the sport – not as a sport, but as a profit centre – tells you all you really need to know about the Rapha Roadmap. It’s also all you need to know about Rapha.
Like each of its antecedents, from Vaughters and his failed 10-point plan to the Gifted Group’s aborted attempt to take the sport over, the Rapha Roadmap is doomed to be a waste of everyone’s time and energy for a very simple reason: it hasn’t considered what cycling’s stakeholders really want. But that’s what you get when you ask a couple of dozen of your mates for their take on the situation.