UCI President Dav id Lappar t ient faced back lash over h is ideas to curb Team Sky’s dominance at the Tour
Insight, opinion and interviews
It’s not been a year since he took office, but UCI President David Lappartient already appears to be struggling to get the riders onside when it comes to his ideas and reforms for cycling’s future. No sooner had the lights on the Champs-Elysées dimmed, the podium dismantled and the teams had disappeared into Parisian nightclubs, than Lappartient had opened the now annual post-Tour debate about ways to curb Team Sky’s dominance. Some of Lappartient’s ideas include further reducing team sizes to six, banning race radios and power meters, and imposing a salary cap on teams in order to more evenly distribute wealth and talent through the sport.
For six of the last seven editions of the Tour, the race has followed a very similar script: Sky rider takes the yellow jersey early in the race; Sky leader rides behind a train of other Sky riders in the mountains; Sky rider wins the Tour. And the same discussion has followed each time: is Sky’s big budget – reported to be well over 30 million - giving it an unfair advantage? And if so, should its stranglehold on the race be loosened? Lappartient is the latest in a long line who thinks so. He said: “They win, and they’d be wrong to do otherwise, but the public sees things differently. They want a show. Sky are like a football team that plays very well but without exciting its fans,” he was reported as saying in French paper Le Temps.
“When the viewer sees eight riders of the team locking down the race, they quickly change channels to watch a soap opera. It’s up to the UCI to make sure that its races are attractive.”
But feedback from riders suggested they didn’t all agree. Katusha-Alpecin’s Willie Smit wrote on Twitter that Lappartient should “focus on making our sport a better place and create sustainability” rather than continuing a “personal feud”– the latter an apparent reference to Lappartient’s war of words with Sky’s principal David Brailsford during the Tour.
And is Sky’s Tour de France dominance actually a problem? The Giro d’Italia and Vuelta a España don’t suffer from the same ‘boring
racing’ backlash as the Tour does, despite the fact Sky have won the last editions too. Meanwhile, praise was heaped on Quick-Step Floors this spring when they won almost every one-day Belgian race.
Lappartient’s suggestion that banning race radios and further cutting team sizes to just six in grand tours is just another spin of the cycling merry-goround that occurs each season. Team sizes have already been reduced from nine to eight in grand tours and eight to seven in all other WorldTour races this year with the aim of improving safety in the peloton and bringing excitement to races. Yet if Sky were still able to dominate at the Tour with eight riders, who’s to say it would be any different if they were restricted to six in the future? A race radio ban was trialled at the 2009 Tour but teams protested.
One team dominating like Sky does at the Tour is nothing new in cycling or sport. But in a digital world where the landscape in which sport is watched has changed, Lappartient’s eagerness to make cycling more appealing and attractive for viewers – and thus sponsors – is not a bad idea. Cycling’s sponsorship-reliant model is proven time and time again, whenever a team folds, to be on shaky ground. Any way that bring more money into the sport can only be a good thing.
“While I have not been a fan of Lappartient; quite a few of his ideas said here make business sense,” EF-Drapac manager Jonathan Vaughters said, while simultaneously dismissing Lappartient’s ideas of banning race radios and power meters. “The parties in cycling need to stop focusing on their individual needs, and start looking at how to make the sport more competitive in a 21st century entertainment/ media landscape.”
Sky’s reign of Tour dominance will eventually come to an end, but it’s likely that – as has happened before – another team will step in and replace them. Viewing reform through the window of stopping Team Sky could prove worthless. And let’s not forget the UCI is already trying to bring in major reforms to the WorldTour in 2020 by reducing the number of top tier teams from 18 to 15 and introducing a promotion and relegation system. It is something which has caused waves of discontent among team managers. Lappartient’s latest proposals, at least for now, look to be attracting the same level of minimal enthusiasm.
I felt under pressure in the climbs, whereas previously I've felt quite at ease. That was quite a big difference Chri s F roome, see page 122 fo r f u l l s tory
The reduction to eight-man teams at the Tour didn't reduce Sky's dominanceLappartient was criticised for his ideas about how to make the Tour more exciting