In March 2011 the UCI launched the Global Cycling Promotion (GCP), its arm of the governing body charged with promoting cycling in a global sense and acting as a race organiser. In October the GCP's first event, the Tour of Beijing, will take place. In what could be the first of many similar events Beijing throws up a number of possibilities over how races are organised, managed and monetized. Cyclingnews spoke to Alain Rumpf, once of the UCI, and now heading GCP.
Cyclingnews: The GCP is a project going back to 2009 but was launched earlier this year. Can you give us a summary what led to its introduction?
Rumpf: It was present in a certain form since 2002 and 2004 when the UCI made a review of professional cycling and identified certain strength and weakness and addressed them with the reform of cycling and the ProTour and the Continental calendars. One of the weaknesses at the time was the lack of globalisation. In that period 70-80 per cent of the riders, teams and UCI races were in four countries: France, Italy, Spain and Belgium. That was great for those countries and those races but from a global point of view it wasn't enough for a number of reasons. Firstly, a number of sponsors walked from the sport because it wasn't global enough, Motorola a good example.
This was also a weakness from an Olympics point of view because 'universality', as the IOC calls it, is an important criteria to evaluate Olympic sports and road cycling compared to other sports didn't score well. For professional cycling that might not seem like a big issue because the Olympics aren't a key element for teams and riders but for the amateur part of the sport it's absolutely vital because most of the money that goes into national federations comes from national Olympics committees. And this money is determined by Olympics status.
The UCI identified this as a strategic objective to make the sport more global. So in 2005 the answer to that was the reform of professional racing with the ProTour and the five continental calendars in order to stimulate growth in each continent.
At the time the UCI started to add more events at the ProTour. The first event was Poland, then the Tour of Germany and then the Eneco Tour.
In 2007 and 2008 the UCI started to think further a field and really stimulate the growth of new events and that's where the idea of GCP came from. A dedicated unit to help the creation of news events.
Cyclingnews: New events have sprung up across the globe, but is it a difficult balance because many established races in Europe have been lost or marginalized, some due to economics, some to doping but also because of date changes and scheduling?
Rumpf: If you compare the evolution of road cycling in Europe with those on the other continents there are certainly different trends. It's growing rapidly in other parts of the world, in Asia, America and Africa. In Europe the overall number is actually stable. Some events disappeared but some were created. I agree the trends were different.
Cyclingnews: There are events, though, big events, that have vanished in Europe. Is there a concern that the new races are perhaps only there for the short term? For a number of reasons that could harm cycling.
Rumpf: I don't think we should think in terms of new races threatening established races. The fact that some races disappeared isn't because of new races. Yes, the reality in Europe is that it's not easy to organise a race. Many organisers are struggling but this is due to economics, maybe the business model of some races, so we should be happy that in other parts of the world it's doing better and that new and strong races are replacing the ones that have disappeared. There's no threat and I'd even go further to say, if there's competition, why not. Then it will push us to have better races. Competition isn't bad.
Cyclingnews: Let's look at it from a different angle and the example of the Giro and California. There's competition there now and we've seen that the Giro has tried to react by raising the bar but at the same time there's still a dilution of the peloton so you're not perhaps seeing the best riders competing against each other.
Rumpf: We've seen California and the Giro together for two years. There were some concerns but the Giro still works and California is doing well. It can work. Having said that cycling is special compared to other sports because you have events on the calendar that clash and sooner or later you have think, 'is this good or should we organise the calendar differently?' At the end of the day there's not that much space left on the calendar for new events but if we want to keep making the sport even more global the UCI will have to sit down with the teams and organisers and ask how we can move forward. I can't say what the answer is to that because it's not my role but it will become an issue, but a good one because it will mean the sport needs to find a solution to having too many events.
It's also partly why the GCP was created, because the UCI was aware that there wasn't that much space for the events left so instead of waiting for them to come and not having the best dates and riders the UCI said it was better to be strategic and to create a unit that is dedicated to creating events.
Cyclingnews: So would you rather see fewer but better races?
Rumpf: That's for the UCI to decide. They set the strategy for the development of the calendar. I don't know the answer but I'm curious and that discussion will have to happen. If we do a good job with GCP we'll actually have created the problems for the UCI to solve.
Cyclingnews: Does the UCI and GCP have to be careful of the boundaries and remits of both organisations? It seems that there's a cross over because as well as being a governing body you're a money making race organiser. For example, who will the backers for Beijing be paying, the UCI or GCP?
Rumpf: First of all, I've read some stories about potential conflicts of interests. GCP has been created for the good of the sport to make it more global for the teams for and the riders so I don't want to talk about conflict when it's about developing the sport for everybody. Secondly, I think it's a very cycling centric discussion. If you take a bird's eye view and see what other sports are doing, no one questions why UEFA is organising the European Championships and they're the governing body and the event organisers.
Cyclingnews: But UEFA don't manage national leagues.
Rumpf: Another element though is why this GCP and not the UCI Road Department? It's because there's been a lot of thinking about that and there could be an element of potential of conflicts of interests but by creating a separate company we manage this in the best possible way. I have nothing to do with the UCI Road Department. GCP had to apply for a UCI WorldTour license just like the Tour Down Under or Tour de Suisse is doing. It's the same rules and I can tell you it wasn't an easy task.
Cyclingnews: But your offices, they're in the UCI headquarters, right?
Rumpf: GCP is a company which is created by the UCI and controlled by the UCI so the shares are owned by the UCI so there is a link, and so the office is in the UCI building. It's the same as the anti-doping foundation and the World Cycling Centre, which are separate entities from the UCI. Obviously there are close links because it's a tool but it's been structured so that the governing part and the race organising role are separated. There were lots of theoretical discussions about this but now that I'm actually doing it, frankly I'm not experiencing any of this conflict.
I've not heard of any race organiser who has complained that the GCP is a bad idea because we're working for them and we're working for the teams and were creating an opportunity for them and as long as the calendar is managed correctly by the UCI we're just one race organiser amongst others.
Cyclingnews: Potentially you're a strong revenue stream for the UCI. The backers for this race will pay directly to the UCI?
Rumpf: Of course and the UCI is the international federation and there's one sector that's doing well from a financial point of view and that's the professional side of road cycling. The rest of the sport is either breaking even or it's an investment. The UCI is investing a lot of money into smaller disciplines, into amateur cycling, into anti-doping. The World Cycling Centre is a great tool for the development of but it costs a lot of money and the UCI needs recourses to fulfil its mission for the good of cycling. This is a source of revenue so for a long time the UCI has subsidised professional cycling. 15 years ago it had very little revenue from organisers and teams while the UCI was already making investments.
So it was a weird situation where the UCI was assisting and investing. So part of the thinking of GCP was that we wanted to make the sport more global and there is a great opportunity at the moment because we can see that countries are hungry for events and sport. There is a potential here so let's use that for the good of the sport.
Yes, the city of Beijing is paying a certain amount of money to GCP to have and host the Tour of Beijing. This money is used to organise the events, the consultants, the organisers, the promotion, you being here to see the event, the flights of all the teams from Europe, the prize money, and there's a portion that goes to the UCI that will help finance the non profit areas of the body.
Cyclingnews: Can you tell me how much the Tour of Beijing costs?
Rumpf: I'll tell you when we've done it.
Cyclingnews: Can you tell me what the backers are paying?
Rumpf: No. I think you can calculate basically by the fees, the flights, the communications, and the promotion. It's several million Euros. It's significantly less than 10 million but I can't tell you how much and it's on a yearly basis. The costs are significant for putting on a bike race. Just flying the teams here is a lot of money and there's no cycling expertise in the country so we're bringing them in as well.
Cyclingnews: How much of a threat is the potential boycott over race radios?
Rumpf: As a race organiser I have to stand by the UCI regulations and that the teams are guaranteed. So it's not a threat. The question should be to the UCI. Also, of course, I regret the situation we're in and I can't understand it because I have a lot of teams that are in touch with me and that are excited to have information about the event. They want to hire Chinese riders, they want to get in touch with potential sponsors, so the race is definitely in their plans. So it's not a huge concern.
Cyclingnews: There are teams that have made significant statements that if a radio ban goes ahead then they will not race.
Rumpf: I still stick to what I've said and at the same time I think there have been signs recently that there has been compromise. I don't want to elaborate too much as I'm not speaking on behalf of the UCI.
Cyclingnews: But we're talking about blurred lines again because as a race organiser, as GCP, you obviously want the best teams and riders here. That's what you've guaranteed to the city of Beijing. But really the pressure is on the UCI to get those teams here in order to fulfil an agreement that has financial incentives for them. It's difficult to see whether the UCI would do that for a race they didn't have financial ties to.
Rumpf: Yes and no. It's about the WorldTour regulations. I think the situation would be the same if this threat was over another WorldTour race. It's about implementation of rules. These regulations were created by the UCI ProTour Council, so for me it's about respect for a key element of the sport. The teams are threatening to break key principle of the UCI WorldTour. They're taking a big risk but it's pure theoretical because I'm confident that everyone will be in Beijing.
Cyclingnews: Assuming the race does take place, with the WorldTour teams what calibre of riders can you expect here? The race does come late in the season.
Rumpf: It's a very attractive race for the teams so they'll be keen to race here and I already have good information from teams to support that. We've talked about who might be coming but rosters don't have to be made until September 15, 20 days before the race. It's also a race where points are at stake so that's why teams will be keen to send good rosters.
At the same time we have to be reasonable and realistic. This is the first year on a four-year project. For me a good example is the TDU where every year the calibre of the field has really improved in the last few years and it's comparable with any other WorldTour event. We're not promising the best race or the best field, we just want to show that we're doing a good job and making progress.
Cyclingnews: In 2008 when the Olympics took place there were voices that called for the Games to be boycotted over China's record on human rights. Was that ever a factor in your consideration for putting on this race?
Rumpf: No, and for a simple reason. Neither the UCI nor GCP get involved in political matters. It's not our jobs to get involved in those debates. Also if you look at the Olympic Games it showed the progress made by China and it's a strategy of the city to host more events.