Cycling's Civil War
The battle for ownership of professional cycling is heating up.
The battle for ownership of professional cycling is heating up.
Do you remember earlier this year when the ongoing Lance Armstrong investigation was going "full gas?" It seemed like every week we were getting leaked updates regarding the activity of federal investigator Jeff Novitzky. He was in Europe, he was questioning professional riders - Novitzky was everywhere!
To battle the onslaught of negative information aimed at Armstrong, public relations person Mark Fabiani, AKA the Master of Disaster, was brought onto Team Lance. In addition to helping the San Diego Chargers football team, he assisted with Goldman Sachs as they prepared for a congressional subcommittee meeting and even served as special council to President Clinton. Needless to say, when your public image is circling the drain, Fabiani is your guy.
In response to the damaging 60 Minutes television program Fabiani launched a web site called Facts for Lance. Its purpose was to debunk the episode which featured the interview with Tyler Hamilton, spilling the beans about his time on the United States Postal Service cycling team and the doping he claims was part of the squad. Unfortunately the website didn't quite go as planned.
Fabiani might have bought the FactsforLance.com, but he neglected to snap up the .org and .net. He also forgot, or perhaps hadn't heard of, the social media platform called Twitter and didn't claim the FactsforLance Twitter account. While Fabiani might have made that elementary mistake, someone else didn't. The hijacked FactsforLance Twitter passed itself off as a legitimate account but then started to make a mockery of the FactsforLance.com site by directing people to a porn site. Check and mate ...
While everyone sat back and laughed at Fabiani's public relations blunder the UCI obviously took note and was patient. Now fast forward and the greatest threat to the UCI is no longer a pissed off Floyd Landis going Rambo on them or team directors hopping mad about race radios being banned, but the possibility that the rumors of a breakaway cycling league might become a reality.
The financial group Rothschild put together a proposal to create their own professional cycling league. As reported by Cyclingnews.com, the Rothschild proposal was to put "teams at the heart of the event." This new proposed calendar had 40 days of racing but left room for the three Grand Tours because, as everyone knows, without them you have nothing. It's like college basketball without March Madness, NFL without the Superbowl, hockey without that cup thing they get excited about winning - you get the point.
To top it off they even had a proposed name for this calendar of races, "World Series Cycling." I'm not sure how Major League Baseball would feel about that title as they own the phrase, "World Series" for their championships. Ironically the series doesn't include any teams outside of North America - not truly a "World Series" but I digress.
To quote Carl Spackler, groundskeeper in the classic movie Caddyshack, "To kill, you must know your enemy." Wiser words related to warfare have only ever been said by Sun Tzu. The UCI must have been taking notes from the Fabiani faux pas because when they caught wind of the Rothschild group's proposed name, "World Series Cycling, " someone in Aigle quickly went on-line, whipped out the corporate UCI American Express black card and according to Cyclingnews bought the domain names worldseriescycling.com, .org, and .net. While the UCI hasn't learned from their own mistakes, they are certainly a quick study when it comes to the mistakes of others.
I have to say - that was a master move by the UCI to screw over an opponent. In this Internet age, a web site is a major piece of the public relations and media puzzle. Another example of a domain name already owned is tourofcolorado.com, which caused grief to the USA Pro Cycling Challenge - the wildly successful stage race in Colorado. But what does that name even mean? It makes me think of a "Fear Factor" type competition that requires professional cyclists to do stunts like jump their bike through a flaming hoop or in the case of the Schlecks ride a bike downhill. But the organizers of this Colorado stage race had their hands tied - someone owned the phrase, "Tour of Colorado" and they weren't about to give it up. I'm not sure why they didn't name their stage race the "Tour of the Rockies," but I'm guessing that had legal issues too? I'm just thankful that we didn't get "presented by Quiznos" tacked onto the end of that mouthful of a title.
So in cycling's civil war it looks like Rothschild made the first aggressive move of trying to storm the UCI castle. However, they made the strategic blunder of failing to do any reconnaissance on the target. Sure Rothschild made the psychological move by trying to win the hearts and minds of the principal players (owners and riders) by offering a percentage of the media revenues - something team owners would love to get their hands on. However, that only goes so far, and victory usual comes down to who has the biggest f'ing gun on the battlefield. So what is that BFG? It's the Grand Tours and they're part of the UCI calendar.
From here on out I predict the Rothschild proposal will continue to be a sore subject with the boys in Aigle. There will be more sniping from the bushes as team owners will continue to apply pressure. In return for following the UCI plan and not joining the rebel alliance there will be a relaxed stance on the race radio debate (remember that?) and the concept of charging teams for the biological passport program will fade away like a bad dream.
As mentioned this new WSC has room in the calendar for the three Grand Tours but doesn't name them explicitly. For this new proposed race calendar to become a true threat to the UCI regime it needs the ASO on board. The Grand Tours are the atomic bomb in this analogy. You can claim to have any type of breakaway league you want, offer all sorts of revenue structures and promise free ponies to everyone - but without the Grand Tours all you're left with is an annoying guerrilla warfare that will drag on for years. That said, some major wars have been won due to the determination of the few. I just wonder how determined the few really are.