During the build-up to the Gran Prix Cycliste de Quebec, race organiser Serge Arsenault used a suite in the Fairmont hotel as his base and meeting room. The same suite was used for key meetings during the second world war as U.S. President Franklin Roosevelt, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill and Canadian Prime Minister William Lyon Mackenzie King discussed plans for the invasion of France and subsequent occupation of a defeated Germany.
This year Arsenault held his own strategic meeting, inviting Yann Le Moenner - the General Director of Tour de France organiser ASO, and Gilbert Van Fraeyenhoven, the Managing Director of Flanders Classics - the organiser of the Tour of Flanders and five other major spring races. They discussed the future of professional cycling and the current proposal to reform the race calendars and overall team structures for 2017. What could be a decisive meeting regarding the reforms is due to be held later this month.
Arsenault is working to ensure his Gran Prix Cycliste de Quebec and Montreal have a slot on the future WorldTour and is also looking to add a third one-day WorldTour race in the USA, possibly in Philadelphia or another city on the East coast as part of the reforms of the WorldTour calendar for 2017. While the Tour of California and the USA Pro Challenge are established stage races on the America Tour, Arsenault believes it is vital the USA hosts a WorldTour event.
"It's important to understand that without a major race in the United States, it's difficult to pretend we have a real WorldTour," Arsenault told Cyclingnews in an exclusive interview.
"I think the riders could do what I call a 'North American break' much like they have in golf. We know that it has to be on the East coast so that it's shown on prime time European time, and so that the traveling is not too tough for the riders. We'd have three one-day WorldTour races in September. It'd be before the world championships."
"This sport has to become truly international. It's been European for a hundred years and we were the first to have a WorldTour race during the peak season. We've proved its a success and can be done. Now we need a true world circuit, so that we have the best riders in the best races."
While ASO dominates the sport due to the economic and historic power of the Tour de France, Arsenault is fighting to truly globalise professional cycling. His background in sports broadcasting in Canada means he knows what he is talking about and his determination and ambition quickly cuts through the politics to find solutions. He sees the planned reforms of professional cycling set for 2017 as an opportunity for change and improvement.
"We'll have to act and make some big decisions in meetings in November and I want that we all agree together to settle the important things. Everyone will have to make a compromise: the riders, the teams, the sponsors, and the organisers, so that the product of cycling grows. If cycling gets the sponsorship money it deserves, it can be huge," he explains.
"Some races will no longer be part of the WorldTour, some new races around the world will get in and other races will perhaps be shorter or moved earlier in the calendar. The big objective is not to have two WorldTour races on during the same weekend, that's important for a lot of reasons. It's a complete reform but it's needed to attract money into the sport. A lack of money could destroy cycling if things don't change."
"The UCI is backing our efforts, so too is ASO, RCS Sport and Flanders Classics. We're talking, understanding each others' needs and desires. We have to work together and pull in the same direction. If that happens, then everyone will be a winner. If ASO is against change and we start another turf war, cycling will be killed off. Fortunately I think the stars are aligned now and in two years time I think we'll have a positive development for the sport."
The long-term future of the Gran Prix de Quebec and Montreal
Arsenault watched Simon Gerrans (Orica-GreenEdge) win both the Gran Prix de Quebec and the Gran Prix de Montreal in September. The two races have secured dates of September 12 and September 14 in 2015, sitting perfectly just a week before the Road World Championships in Richmond, Virginia. Arsenault has also secured long-term backing for the races until 2018 from the public authorities.
"When we started in 2010 it was a big challenge to ensure we could prove to the riders, the fans and the media that we could organise a great race. After five years, I'm quite happy where we stand. I think we've done it," he says.
"I have public partners: the Canadian government, the Quebec government, and the two race cities: Quebec and Montreal. They cover 25% of the public money that comes to the race. We have a budget of between seven and eight million Canadian dollars. It seems unreachable for other organisers but when we look at the product, I'm happy. The public and business partners did an independent study of the economical impact of the races and they discovered that they get back five dollars in tax for every one they invest. That doesn't include the profits the local business make or the boost for tourism the races provide."
Arsenault looks after the riders and teams during the week they spend in Canada. They stay in four-star hotels, fly together on a charter flight from Europe, with team leaders given business class seats. He is not in favour of giving teams part of his television revenues but would be keen to share the risk and profits of organising the races.
"The teams have to understand that we all have to share the costs, so that we can all share the benefits," he explains.
"The television coverage for the Gran Prix Cycliste de Quebec and Montreal costs $1.6 million Canadian dollars, while my TV rights income are only $80,000 Canadian dollars. Do the teams want to split the bill? I'd be very happy to do it."
At the moment I'm giving the teams visibility worth $1.4 million. I'm not saying the teams don't deserve a share of the TV rights and any future money, I'm saying lets look at the whole picture and do a deal. We can split the net profit or the net loss."
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