a different approach this year | The future for professional cycling
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Flying up mountain passes at an intensity that hurts to think about, and winding back down them at an eye-watering speed; being chaperoned through the biggest cities in the world on closed roads, and then having all day to dedicate to training when you’re not racing; all while on superbikes that cost as much as a home loan deposit. There’s a fair bit about pro cycling that can feel unobtainable to your average punter.
The sport itself, and the entire bike industry has had to reckon with this in recent years. How do we keep customers and fans engaged with the sport? How do we keep the sport relatable while still progressing?
There aren’t many activities as ubiquitous as riding a bike. From six-year-olds pushing off without training wheels for the first time, to commuters fitting exercise around a busy work schedule, to those training on the weekends, or staying fit later in life; nearly everybody can relate to the feeling of being on a bike, and that’s what makes the sport what it is.
But many would argue the hyper-sterilized form of pro racing takes the fun out of it. And that what they see on the television, bears little resemblance to the sport’s roots. So how do teams and bike manufacturers bridge that gap?
David Devine is the Product Director of the Pavement Category at Cannondale; he and Cannondale are aware of that very need.
“I think we’re working to make sure we don’t come off as only a racing-oriented brand, or pretentious, or anything like that,” he says. “We’ve been a “challenger” brand, and I think our brand is built on that.”
Cannondale and the remainder of the cycling industry have had to adapt over the past, decade. Previous innovation and consumer habits had focused solely on faster bikes; nowadays your average rider can have a varied range of needs, which brands like Cannondale need to cater to. Your average consumer in 2019 still wants to go as fast as the one in 2009. But they also want to be comfortable on a longer ride, and maybe ride the gravel road home once in a while.
“Our role in that is to be able to make bikes that can handle all those experiences that riders are looking for, up to the real pro experience,” says Devine.
If you’re looking for the best bike marketing that money can buy, get a pro team on your bikes; nothing compares to that finish line shot at Le Tour when the first bike over the line is yours. That’s also why there are a lot of new bikes being released right now; it’s good for everyone if Rigo Uran wins a stage or two on a new SuperSix EVO this July.
Education First Pro Cycling, Cannondale’s team in the WorldTour have had a different approach this year – one that clicks well with Cannondale’s own. They’ve taken on an alternative schedule this year, with riders participating in events that aren’t on the pro calendar.
Several EF riders raced in the Dirty Kanza, an amateur race in the US that’s held on gravel. Noted hardman Lachie Morton has returned to the team, and last week he took part in the GBDURO, where participants rode from the most southerly part of Great Britain to the most northerly.
Tom Southam, DS at EF Pro Cycling believes that pro teams connecting with the fringes of the sport is a positive thing, and helps bridge the gap between the pro ranks of cycling and the average cyclist.
“The team is just responding to what we & people want to see – athletes as people who love racing their bikes, and riders with a sense of adventure,” he says.
That ethos of pushing the sport forward is rarer than it need be in cycling. Coverage has remained fairly unchanged, aside from expanding how much we see, and cycling is having, (and has been having for quite a while) the discussion on how to ensure the sport can continue in the future. TV Coverage has been fairly static, featuring three motorbike cameras, and a helicopter or two. New bike races are pretty similar to the old bike races, just in a different place.
“An advert that worked for Kellogg’s Corn Flakes in 1950 wouldn’t exactly hit the spot in 2019, for example. In Cycling, this could mean different race formats like the Hammer series, people tuning into dot watch the ultra-endurance race events, or in some cases, just riding alongside the guys themselves in Kansa” says Southam.
With all the alternative racing that EF takes part in, they’ve built a strong relationship with Cannondale, and also been able to help advertise a wider range of bikes than most teams are, as Southam notes.
“Now that the team is taking on different events, it is great to be working with a sponsor that has equipment like the Topstone (gravel bike) or the Super X (cyclocross bike), that the guys can race on with confidence,” he says.
The team’s participation in these sort of events is great for Cannondale, but it’s good for the sport overall. As Devine also notes, these events help connect the sport’s upper level with its outer reaches.
“It’s tough to say that riding 2000km or Dirty Kanza is directly relatable for the common cyclist, but there’s a certain humbleness based in the participation, and that these guys are doing events where you don’t have to have it be your occupation in order to participate,” he says
“What we’ve seen on the gravel side of things is that it’s less pretentious, to the rider it feels safer and more adventure based, rather than competition. With that, we’re seeing people stay in cycling longer, or start doing road cycling”
Every rider starting out in the Gravel or Cross or Enduro scenes is another person on a bike; at the end of the day, that’s good for everyone.