Voicing concerns over UCI and sponsorship, Tour of the Battenkill withdraws from UCI calendar
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Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Voicing concerns over UCI and sponsorship, Tour of the Battenkill withdraws from UCI calendar

by Shane Stokes at 3:03 PM EST   comments
Categories: Pro Cycling, Doping
 
Drake states that UCI has been inconsistent in its message and needs to accept some blame

Tour of BattenkillHaving returned to the UCI calendar this season and attracted two Pro Continental teams, eight overseas squads and a clutch of US Continental teams, the Tour of the Battenkill will now not be a UCI 1.2 race in 2013.

Anthem Sports, the organiser of the event, have announced that it has taken the decision not to sanction the race with the UCI. The stated reason is because of concerns over the UCI’s handling of recent doping scandals and other issues, and the uncertainty that this has generated. The organiser has also said that the sponsorship situation is currently very difficult, both due to what it says is indecision on the part of the governing body and also because of the damaged image of the sport.

“We’re disappointed in having to make this decision,” race organiser Dieter Drake he told VeloNation. “The climate with respect to sponsors and public perceptions with the UCI are very negative right now and it makes perfect sense to withdraw. We’ll continue on the National Racing Calendar, however, and the race will be virtually unchanged. It remains the toughest one day race in America.”

He said that there are no intentions at present for the race to assume 1.2 status again. “We currently have no interest in returning to the UCI level. Sponsors generally are not interested and our fan base isn’t either. To go through that effort and expense again would be a mistake, given the conditions.”

According to Drake, running the race at UCI level and doing that ranking justice imposes a very considerable additional expense. He said that while dropping the 1.2 status will mean that Pro Continental teams such as Team Type 1 and UnitedHealthcare will be unable to take part, that the race would continue to host Continental teams and also hopes to again invite overseas squads in 2013.

“We had Raleigh and IG Sigma Sport last year and they said they enjoyed the race a lot. We are hoping that they come over again for the next edition. We’ve already told many of the teams our decision in relation to the race ranking and many of them understand.

“The situation right now is impossible. I have had sponsors tell me flat out that we are not going to do any sponsorship in cycling, at least for the foreseeable future. Continental teams in the US have had similar discussions with their own sponsors too; its very hard.”

Drake is clear that a big reason for the tough climate is down to the findings of the USADA investigation, specifically that Lance Armstrong and the US Postal Service team used doping in the past, and the public perception as a result of that.

“Professional cycling has such a negative image globally,” he told VeloNation. “Especially in the US where the focus is really, really sharp [on the image of cycling], because we are competing with other sports for sponsors.

“We have got some great races in the US and I’m sure they are all suffering at this point. Unfortunately I think that this could see some races shut down and if that happens, there is a chance that they won’t come back again.”

Fortunately Drake states that the Tour of the Battenkill’s future is itself not threatened. The event has a very considerable support from the amateurs who take part in connected events and that revenue generated means that the race has a much greater stability than events which focus on professional riders alone, and which need title sponsors to provide much of the budget.

“We have got 44 different races over Saturday and Sunday. That helps us, that is our model,” he explained. “Amateur racing is very, very popular and obviously the Tour of the Battenkill, which is the biggest amateur race in the US, benefits from that.

“This race is not going anywhere…there is just very little return on investment for the pro race. It comes to a business decision about the UCI status.”

Drake said that he used his own personal funds to ensure the race had sufficient budget for the UCI ranking in 2012, but that it didn’t make sense to do that two years running.

UCI position not helpful:

The UCI has come under considerable criticism from some quarters over its handling of the Armstrong affair. Drake believes that the governing body has not acted in the right way, and that this has generated much of the uncertainty that is current afflicting the sport.

“I think they have stumbled along, in terms of handling some of the findings and how to deal with it,” he said. “I generally have had a very good relationship with the UCI in the past, but the way they have handled this particular situation is not good and it has had a negative effect on us.

“I understand that it is in the past, some of these allegations and findings are five or six years ago or perhaps even older. But the UCI has not been clear in what it is trying to convey. It seems that the message has been inconsistent and stumbling along. Nobody knows where the sport is right now. There are outstanding doping cases, lawsuits and more, and that doesn’t give sponsors the sense that the sport is a worthwhile investment.”

UCI president Pat McQuaid has repeatedly insisted that the UCI is blameless in relation to the Armstrong case, and that the failings are down to the anti-doping laboratories and others who didn’t have the tests to catch Armstrong and his team. However Drake believes that the governing body needs to admit that it too erred in allowing things to develop and that unless it shoulders some of the blame, that the sport will continue in limbo.

“They need to come out with clear and definite solutions, and also an acknowledgement of what went on in the past,” he said. “They must make a clear statement that they made mistakes, and here is what they are doing to change it. That may happen at some point, but it just not happening soon enough for the sport not to be affected right now. Basically, we can’t sell sponsorship if the sport is seen as inconsistent.”

Drake also believes that sponsors and the public need greater certainty that what they are watching is real. For that reason, he agrees with the growing sentiment that the sport needs to be policed by a separate body, much as the US Anti Doping Agency rather then USA Cycling conducts the testing in the USA.

“Testing needs to be outside of the governing body – outside of any governing body,” he said. “That is the way it is in the US. That is what we have here and seems to work well. It doesn’t make any sense that the UCI itself is carrying out the testing.”

Although now no longer a UCI race, the Tour of the Battenkill will continue as a top-level National Racing Calendar event in 2013. As was the case in previous years, it will continue to hold the successful amateur races beforehand, which this year attracted almost 3,000 riders from more than 40 states and 20 countries.

The ninth edition of the race is scheduled for April 13-14 in Cambridge, New York.

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