A new type of professional racing will be held the day before the Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec in September, with sprinters taking part in an elimination competition called Sprint Challenge.
According to the L’Equipe newspaper, the new format has been devised by Quebec race organiser Serge Arsenault, who has the backing of the UCI. 24 riders would compete in a qualification round and then sprint against each other to reach the final. The whole event would last an hour and Arsenault, whose Canal Evasion channel broadcasts the Tour de France in Canada, claims it would make cycling much more television friendly.
“Television has a huge problem because it can’t control the length of the race. However, you can format the sprint. It’d last one hour maximum, twenty-four riders would be entered, with qualifications, quarters, semis and finals. There would be rounds every two minutes with the racing being in the final kilometre of the route.
"Lets make it happen! And let them fight for it. It’ll be huge for the teams and huge for TV! We have a duty to innovate. If you don’t change the menu of cycling, the restaurant will be empty. Skiing was going to die but was rejuvenated with skicross.”
The UCI has given the green light to the project, knowing it could attract higher crowds to the races and boost television coverage of cycling. Arsenault hopes to extend the concept around the world to other races.
“We could establish a world ranking and create a distinctive leader’s jersey. The sprinters dream of a world championship for them every year but that will never happen. They can only go for stages at the Tour de France but with this challenge, they would have a permanent event," he said.
Farrar and Freire remain skeptical
The Sprint Challenge format was tested at last year’s Grand Prix Cycliste de Québec and contested by US-based riders. This year the big-name ProTeam sprinters and attacking riders have been asked to ride by technical race organiser Charly Mottet.
"I hadn’t heard about the plans for a sprint challenge for road riders but there are small races like this called Street Sprints which are over 200 metres from a standing start,” Farrar said.
“I don’t think I’d be very good in a sprint like this. I’m a good sprinter after a hard stage and a few climbs. This kind of event is more for riders who are really explosive. For example it’d be perfect for a guy like Francesco Chicchi. He’d kill everyone.”
Freire said: “I love sprinting for everything it means: the race distance, positioning and tactics. After 250km of racing, a sprint is something else. This concept is a different kind of sprint which has more in common with the track. I know cycling needs revitalise its image, and sport in general are always looking for new ideas. But not every idea is a good one.”