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Cycling needs the Tour de France in 2020 for its very survival. Nathan Haas gives his viewpoint

Photographs: Offside / L'Equipe and Laura Fletcher
Nathan Haas
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Oh, hello there, and let me take this minute I’ve got with you to take you through my absolutely brilliant new core workout I can do from under my bed, the place I go and hide mid-morning to escape the incessant monotony of my own thoughts.


Not interested? Me neither. In-room exercise videos were so six weeks ago. Where we all are now, in this microcosm of our sport, is anxiously awaiting what comes next, where our sport goes and how it survives. How we can support each other, and come out okay from this? Above water it seems is enough, but will we even have that?


Let’s just start with the big one: The Tour de France. Will it happen? Will it not? Is it safe or reckless? Everyone has their opinion and their own two cents.


For me personally, it’s nice to keep hope alive for now. It keeps interest in the sport, it gives us a goal to work towards. Keeping motivation up right now for those long, sweaty virtual km’s is harder than it might look. We’re all smiles online, but inside it’s tears. Not to be overly melodramatic, I’ll move on. I keep hope for the TdF because, quite frankly, we need it. 

Tour de France 2019
Keeping the dream alive


I won’t cast blame on the cycling economic model, but not having a Tour is, to this sport, like finance not having a trading floor. It still exists but it doesn’t flow. If we have a TdF the chances of sponsors (loyal for now) staying onboard are much higher. It’s all about return on investment and who are we to disagree with this? The Tour is essential and I’m here to champion the efforts to keep it on. Allez. 


Next tricky situation: There are a lot of teams cutting rider and staff salaries right now. Some have been mild, with others more drastically up to 70%. The rumours fly, the this and that, but should we be surprised? I’ve spoken to a lot of friends on different teams, and the truth is, it isn’t companies and teams just trying to save a few bucks. The companies are hurting. If they are laying off staff internally, how can they justify sponsoring a sports team that isn’t actively racing? (And no, the digital races don’t count, sorry.) 


I can personally say I am super impressed with Cedric Vasseur and the Cofidis company. Their communications have been really clear and straightforward, and French employment law is good to us. My managers at SEG cycling have filled me in on some of the process too: the teams and sponsors are required to be audited or send financial statements before reductions of salaries, to stop any rogue team owners just saving a bit on the side. 

Paris Nice 2020
Cofidis, last seen at Paris-Nice in March


But sportsman’s egos aside, if companies are laying off workers, or governments, lotteries and such have peoples’ mouths to feed instead of paying out some athletes who aren’t even able to be in their arena, who are we to complain? This situation, sadly for athletes, goes a little beyond contract agreements.


I’ll also take the unpopular standpoint at the moment that the UCI is not to blame here. There’s a lot of finger pointing going around, and I have to say, I think they are doing a good job trying to unite all the stakeholders and to help finding the best possible solutions for all. It is indeed an almost “impossible mission” as they have to balance all sides. They have race organisers, promoters, rights holders, media outlets, teams and riders all banging down the door. We all depend on each other, and now’s the time to lean into it, no?

“How do I feel? Like a million bucks!”


Does everyone know about start money? Most people are now aware of the rather absurd figure paid to Lance Armstrong many years ago to race a certain Antipodean calendar fixture [$1 million US for the Tour Down Under in 2009 – Ed], but that’s not a standalone. It’s actually a funny side hustle and reason why a lot of teams are hurting right now, even with reduced travel and race costs. Those big-name riders, the top ten, the real star power, their teams are paid a sizeable amount of money by certain races, generally non-WorldTour ones to attend, to be at the press conferences and to get the local crowd pumped. This budget line for a lot of teams is significant, and now it’s gone.


So how do we survive into the future? What happens next whether it’s in August, or October, or January 2021? The sad reality: some teams won’t make it, but maybe we will see some opportunists come in and pick up the pieces. Some brands within the industry have been really fortuitous right now: bike sales are booming, e-platforms are blossoming, and you can’t find a turbo trainer for love nor money on this side of the Atlantic. 


It would be brilliant to see some of these companies step up, and put more support in when it’s really needed. Because no one is going to watch an e-race if the riders aren’t actual road racing pros. But then again, the one constant is change, and we are mad to think things won’t be changed forever. Well, at least the kind of forever that means not within a few months, which is generally the longest forward-thinking a cyclist like myself considers. 


So on that note, what was I saying?


Nathan Haas is a pro cyclist for Cofidis

 


 
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