A proposed calendar inspired by the Champions League, with Saudi Arabia as its main sponsor, aims to elevate elite cycling to a new level.
The sport of cycling may experience a significant change similar to the LIV Golf movement, as Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF) is reportedly involved in a major overhaul of the European racing schedule.
The 2024 edition of the Tour de France was unveiled in Paris this week, leading to speculation that a Champions League-esque format worth millions of euros could be implemented by 2026. Sources suggest that PIF may potentially be involved as an investor. The Saudi involvement in various sports has sparked controversy and caused divisions in the golf community with the introduction of the LIV Series, which has attracted top players away from the well-established PGA Tour.
Elite cycling, despite a packed schedule, remains reliant on the interest generated by one race, the Tour de France. Much of the European calendar remains underfunded and under-realised. But the Observer understands that the Tour organisation, which also owns several other major races, remains resistant to the proposal, at least for now.
Unfortunately, Saudi Arabian funds have already been used to sponsor other sporting events organized by ASO, the company responsible for the Tour. This includes a significant investment in the Dakar Rally, providing ASO with a crucial financial boost.
One Cycling, a new organization led by Richard Plugge and Zdenek Bakala, has proposed the creation of a season-long league of prestigious events exclusively for men’s racing. Prominent teams such as Jumbo-Visma, Soudal-Quick-Step, Ineos Grenadiers, and EF Education-EasyPost are reportedly in favor of this proposal.
Plugge, whose team this year won all three Grand Tours – Italy, France and Spain – but still struggled to find sponsorship, has become a highly influential figure. He is also president of the teams association, the AIGCP.
During the RadioCycling podcast, Plugge stated that the sport is facing changes and its competition extends beyond other teams to include football, rugby, NFL, and Formula One. To ensure continued growth, the sport must adapt to the future and aim for even greater success within the next five years. This will ultimately benefit all involved in the sport.
Plugge, like many others in the sport, believes that the current calendar is overly complex for the average sports audience. He suggests that a stronger league with fewer races, that are easier to comprehend, would increase the value for everyone involved.
The concept of restructuring cycling and improving its financial stability, even without the involvement of ASO, is not a recent one. In 2012, Czech entrepreneur Bakala, who made his fortune in coal mining, announced his intention to invest €20m in creating a Champions League-style system for cycling. Plugge also shared his own vision for the future in his book, The Plan, calculating that a budget of €600m would allow for the majority of top races to be included in a new structure and also secure television broadcasting rights.
In 2021, it is believed that Plugge has been in discussions with other teams, the International Cycling Union (UCI), and ASO about his proposals. Yann Le Moenner, the director general of ASO, declined to provide any comments on the One Cycling proposals.
The financial stability of the cycling industry has always been uncertain, as sponsorships often fail and riders experience ongoing uncertainty about their contracts. Jonathan Vaughters, the manager of EF Education-EasyPost, has been a strong advocate for significant reforms.
Vaughters stated that the goal is not for individuals to amass wealth, but rather to ensure economic stability and avoid situations like Jumbo-Visma’s near bankruptcy towards the end of the season.
There have been reports of teams, including my own, facing the possibility of disbanding. The focus now is on securing the foundations of the sport, which will benefit everyone. Therefore, we are determined to take action and make progress in this area.