By Tim Maloney, Cyclingnews European Editor
In an interview with Cyclingnews, and also in his weekly column on ThePaceline.com, Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team sports director Johan Bruyneel discussed his take on the current situation of the split between the Grand Tour organisers and the UCI's ProTour. A year ago, when Cyclingnews spoke with Bruyneel about his preparations to bring the new Discovery Channel Pro Cycling team together as one of the key elements of the nascent ProTour, Johan told us, "It's been a lot of work and cost us a lot of money for all the new riders we need and new staff we need to become a ProTour team. But it will be worth it."
Twelve months on, Bruyneel is still positive about the ProTour, but disappointed about the decision of the recent decision of RCS Sport (Giro), Amaury Sport Organization (TDF) and Unipublic (Vuelta) to pull out of the ProTour in 2006. Bruyneel explained to Cyclingnews from Madrid, Spain that, "For 2006, our race schedule will remain unchanged. We will keep focusing on the big races, and especially on the Giro d'Italia with Paolo Savoldelli, and on the Tour de France, because it's the most beautiful race in the world. However, I have to tell you that I absolutely don't agree with the point of view of the three Grand Tour organisers.
"The ProTour is a new project that is planned to change the face of cycling for the better, and new project has pro and cons. But for the ProTour to be successful, we have to give it some time, to be open for improvements and changes. And I believe the ProTour is ready to do this. I know that the teams and riders are ready to do this, because they see the ProTour can bring cycling to a new level."
Bruyneel analysed the business model of professional cycling with an astute observation, saying, "Do you realize that Pro Cycling is the ONLY top level professional sport where teams' revenues are generated only by sponsorship? All other major sports, above all football (soccer), have a huge amount of revenue from TV rights. In cycling, these rights are held by race organisers, and they don't want to share this revenue stream with anyone. But I believe they should, because the main actors on the stage of cycling, the stars and the other riders, are who are generating this TV money for the race organisers. It's the guys who are suffering, the guys who are on the road, trying to win a bike race who make the spectacle that people watch on TV, who generate the ratings so race organisers can have a revenue stream from TV advertising. It's just logical and fair that the cycling teams and riders get a slice of the TV money cake. And this revenue stream to the teams and riders would raise cycling to a higher and more professional level."
Looking forward, Bruyneel said, "For the future of the ProTour, it's high time that the teams and the riders realize who they are and what they mean in cycling. Yes, cycling is a beautiful and traditional sport. But to go to another level professionally, there is only one way. The era of the nice riders who just say 'yes yes yes' should be over. And I believe that as long as the teams don't understand this situation, where pro cycling is now and where it is headed, pro cycling will remain the traditional beautiful sport as it is, an almost archaic sport.
"For an example, we still have chaotic situations at the starts and finishes of ProTour races, where top level athletes have to fight their way through a massive crowd of spectators to get to the start or get back to their team after the finish. We have no fences on Alpe d'Huez; you have seen that cycling is a sport where the spectator can not only touch the athlete, but can also hit him. But, as some people say, that's the beauty of cycling...but it is also a challenge to bring cycling to the next level and that is fundamentally is what the ProTour is all about."
Cyclingnews' recent coverage of the ProTour-Grand Tours split
October 4, 2008 - New ASO chief to maintain values
September 26, 2008 - UCI declares peace, appoints new VP
August 30, 2008 - UCI re-signs five ProTour races
August 22, 2008 - ProTour: Bouncing back or lame duck?
August 19, 2008 - Stapleton analyses 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - Feedback on 'world calendar'
August 18, 2008 - UCI announces 'world calendar'