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Does Cycling Need Reinventing, and in Whose Interest is a World Series?

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With the news this week that Jonathan Price's Gifted Group, backed by Omega Pharma-QuickStep owner Zdenek Bakala, have been given a memorandum of understanding to work with the UCI on "the development of the professional road cycling calendar" alarm bells have been ringing throughout the sport.

"We're working with the UCI and Zdenek [Bakala] to build a competitive product that we think cycling fans worldwide want and which is good for the sport," argued Price in an interview with Cyclingnews.com.

But as Daniel Friebe argues in this week's issue of Cycling News HD, we've not heard one single cycling fan call for a series of 10 identikit races around the world to the detriment of races with some of the longest histories in the sport, nor one who has even responded positively to the notion now it is out there. And make no bones about it, that's what Gifted Group is offering.

Much has been said about a cycling 'breakaway league' following the Formula 1 motor racing model, and it is easy to see why given the money that Bernie Eccleston manages to keep rolling in, but how can this be a realistic plan for a sport that has nothing like the budget of top level motor racing? And anyway, isn't Formula 1 a sport under attack from its own fans for selling out its heritage in pursuit of mammon? Heritage is cycling's biggest selling point.

The other touted model is that of tennis, and in many ways this does translate better. The Grand Tours are your Grand Slams, the Monuments are the most historically significant of the Masters 1000 events - to which Gifted would hope to shackle its inventions - and everything else is a Masters 500 or lower, attracting a lesser quality field devoid of the biggest names. But who wants that for Paris-Nice or Gent-Wevelgem?

The Tour of the Med has already been placed under unbearable pressure by the Tours of Qatar and Oman, but just wait until Het Nieuwsblad, Paris-Nice, the Tour of the Basque Country, the Critérium du Dauphiné and Paris-Tours are erased from the calendar - or reduced to feeder races - to make way for 'Grand Prix' in China, Qatar, the US, Australia and Argentina. There is a lot of talk about "growing" or "globalising" the sport, but all these countries already have UCI races, and they are all distinct from each other and are all showing signs of growing naturally over time.

It is true that cycling's current calendar is very Eurocentric, but it is not Europe's fault that it is where the sport was nurtured and grew throughout the last century. And it is cycling's links with its past, and it's sense of place, that sets it apart from many other sports.
If Gifted and the UCI truly care about cycling; care about it as the romantic sport the fans know and love, a sport with a living breathing soul that makes legends of its hallowed venues - think Ventoux, Alpe d'Huez, the Arenberg Forest, the Poggio, the lost Kapelmuur, the Col d'Eze - as much as of its riders, then how about investing in the races we already have.
The fear, of course, is that these people only care about cycling as a means to make money at any cost. But if they think an audience of millions is waiting to tune into a series of 10 identical four-day stage races they might find that it is not just cycling that takes an irreparable hit but also their wallets. Perhaps someone should tell them to put World Series Cricket into Google...

• Issue 33 of Cycling News HD is out now. In addition to our analysis of the proposed World Series Cycling project, we also report on the shock omission of Team Katusha from the top division of the sport and conclude our review of the 2012 season by looking back on the Lombardia and Paris-Tours autumn classics, including an exclusive interview with Paris-Tours winner Marco Marcato.
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