One day after the debut of the Velon business group, of which Patrick Lefevere's Omega Pharma-Quickstep team is a member, the Belgian had less than complimentary words to say about the newly-announced 2015 Tour of Flanders route.
Velon aims to make the sport of cycling more accessible to the fans, and wants the sport to grow in a sustainable manner. The group supports fewer racing days with all of the top riders facing off against each other more often. Lefevere sees the increased difficulty of the Tour of Flanders as contrary to those goals.
"19 hellingen in de Ronde? I don't think that is a good evolution," Lefevere said to Sporza.be. "Cycling is a televised sport and it is beautiful to look at. But it won't be very exciting if the riders stop attacking because of the difficult nature of the parcours."
Lefevere said that making courses harder also goes against eliminating doping from the sport. "The riders are all better athletes than they used to be. There is a level playing field. But making the courses harder is not necessary.
"De Ronde should stay de Ronde, just like the new climb in Milan-Sanremo should not be added. Look at Liège-Bastogne-Liège. In the 70s there were 11 climbs and there was suspense. Now there are 27 hellingen and it is no longer exciting. Enough is enough!"
Lefevere supports the ideas proposed by the Velon group, a joint venture of 11 WorldTour teams, saying that changes to the calendar can make for more exciting racing. "I think we should shorten the Grand Tours," he said. "21 days is no longer modern. I think 17 days would be better."
Lefevere previously said the Grand Tours would have to be shortened in order to have all the favorites race against each other in all three Grand Tours, in response to a challenge waged by Tinkoff-Saxo owner Oleg Tinkov, who waved a €1 million incentive to the riders to compete in all three.
In addition to changes to the calendar and races themselves, Velon seeks to incorporate more technology into the coverage, including on-board cameras and microphones as well as more professional structures to the teams themselves.
"Sustainability means that teams do not come for a few years and then disappear," Lefevere said. "This sport needs to survive. We must not lose the young customers. With Velon we go with the times and we anticipate. It is our responsibility to think about the future."
There has been talk for years about how the sponsorship model is not sustainable, and that the UCI's current structure of the WorldTour is not the solution. A previous attempt to form a 'breakaway league' was eventually scrapped, and earlier this year 13 teams came together with Project Avignon, which evolved into the Velon group. Of the 13 teams, Cannondale ended with the 'marriage' to the Slipstream organisation of Garmin-Sharp, and Movistar has not remained on board with the group.
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