‘Tour, Giro and Vuelta must go abroad every year’

Opinion

Le Grand Départ in Denmark has proven how popular the Tour de France is. Rarely have so many thousands of people lined the course and cycling was such a big party again. Memories of the Tour starts in Brussels (2019), Utrecht (2015), Leeds (2014), Rotterdam (2010) and London (2007) come back spontaneously. Perhaps Denmark is the superlative. It also proves how unprecedentedly coveted the Tour de France is outside the French borders.

This year the three Grand Tours will start abroad. The starting gun of the Giro d’Italia sounded in the Hungarian capital Budapest. The Tour de France has its overture in Denmark, while the Vuelta a España departs from the Netherlands on 19, 20 and 21 August. Utrecht, ‘s-Hertogenbosch and Breda are the host cities that will receive the Spanish round.

In cycling there are voices that the Grand Tours only belong in their own country. I in no way share this opinion. We have to recognize that the Tour, Giro and Vuelta are above cycling. No stage race comes even remotely close to these three rounds in popularity. These are the catalysts to make cycling more popular.

That’s why I’m also an opponent to shorten the three big rounds. According to a number of teams, the WorldTour calendar is too overcrowded and more space needs to be created. However, in my view, reducing the number of WorldTour days should not be at the expense of the Grand Tours. You only have to consciously use the Tour, Giro and Vuelta to increase the popularity of cycling.

Last spring I had CyclingFlash an interview with UCI president David Lappartient in which he stated that the calendar should be reformed to avoid course overlaps. According to him, a reorganization of the calendar will certainly be discussed in the short term.

As the UCI international cycling union, I would therefore implement the rule that a grand tour may last 24 days, but on the condition that at least four stages take place abroad. That way you can give cycling in other countries a huge boost.

photo: Cor Vos

In the Netherlands, cycling enthusiasts have been spoiled enormously in recent years. Every time a big round came to the Netherlands, I was amazed what this brought about. The Tour in ‘s-Hertogenbosch in 1996. The Giro in ‘Gironingen’ in 2002. The Vuelta in Assen in 2009. In 2010 the Giro in Amsterdam and the Tour in Rotterdam. In 2015, the Tour came to Utrecht again, while the Giro in 2016 had a ‘Grande Partenza’ in Apeldoorn.

From that last lap I also remember how many people were in line along the course in two stages. Certainly in the finish places of those sprinters’ stages to Arnhem and Nijmegen. It was distressing to see the Eneco Tour (later BinckBank Tour and Benelux Tour) with an almost equal peloton later that year in August. There were at most a handful of spectators in the finishing places, while you could count the people along the route on one hand. It emphasizes the magic of the grand tours.

Cash amounts
Of course, the high amounts of money that foreign cities are willing to pay are the main reason for the organizers to make these ‘trips’. In 2015, Utrecht had to pay four million euros to Tour organizer ASO to get Le Grand Départ. The total budget amounted to 15.6 million euros. In retrospect, however, ING calculated that the Tour start stimulated the Utrecht economy by around 34 million euros.

Denmark would have paid a fee of 5.5 million euros to ASO this year. And with the upcoming Tour starts in Bilbao (2023) and Florence (2024), the French continue to look abroad.

With the Tour start in Denmark, ASO has pushed its limits. The French circus had never been further from France than it is now in Denmark. In that regard, RCS, the organizer of the Giro d’Italia, really dares to take steps. In 2012, the Italian round already started in Herning, Denmark. In 2018, the start of the Giro even sounded in Jerusalem and the cycling circus stayed in Israel for three days. RCS would have received an amount of no less than 12 million dollars for this.

photo: Cor Vos

For almost fifteen years, the Giro d’Italia has been flirting with a start in Washington DC. A plan that is still alive at the offices of RCS. Although there is also talk aloud about a ‘Grande Partenza’ in Dubai, with which the Italians hope to get Tadej Pogacar (employed by UAE Emirates) at the start of the Giro d’Italia.

The Grand Tours therefore seem to map out their routes more and more globally. These foreign adventures offer enormous opportunities for cycling. Further expanding globalization is simply a must for cycling.

Cycling is a strong sport with many fans along the way. But in the major world markets with huge populations, it has only a small share. In terms of worldwide TV rights, Floris Weisz previously announced on behalf of IMG Media, cycling is comparable to handball and judo. And the economy of cycling is still very small compared to other sports.

Lappartient confirmed in the aforementioned interview with CyclingFlash that he is convinced that the UCI must continue to invest in making cycling more popular worldwide: “If we can take steps in that area, it will benefit not only the sporting struggle but also the economy of our sport.”