Words by Peter Cossins | Photo by Peter Cossins
The new RadioCycling podcast investigates the reaction to One Cycling’s plan to revamp racing, puts a focus on the climb that’ll be the launchpad to Olympic glory, and highlights the return of split stages to Grand Tours
Road racing may now have ceded centre stage to cyclo-cross, but there’s still plenty of major stories and issues for the RadioCycling team to pick over in our latest podcast. We begin with One Cycling, the project that could rock world road racing. Since lifting the lid last week on the scheme put together by Jumbo-Visma boss Richard Plugge and Soudal-QuickStep majority owner Zdeněk Bakala, we’ve been gauging reaction and opinion across the sport, attempting to assess who the other players in this project might be, where the finance could be coming from and where the stumbling blocks are likely to be.
When similar Champions League-style revamps have been proposed in the past, Tour organisers and owners ASO have always rebuffed them. The French company is one of the few stakeholders in cycling that earns significant amounts from the sport and is, understandably, reluctant to see its revenue diminish. Its profits come primarily from the Tour de France and we hear from Alex Duff, author of Le Fric: Family Power and Money, the business of the Tour de France, who explains why Tour organisers ASO won’t easily relinquish control of the Tour and why they’ll be supported in this by the French state.
“The French are, of course, very proud of their culture, their cuisine, etc. And there’s a whole lot of French heritage that cannot be touched under French law,” Duff explains. “Even in business when French yoghurt maker Danone was part of a takeover approached by Pepsi in 2005, the French government intervened and thought it was scandalous that an American company could own a French yoghurt maker. So imagine if a foreign owner was to buy the Tour.
“It’s not officially on the list of protected assets, but unofficially, it’s fair to say is very much protected asset and the government would have a considerable say in any buyout. I think they would have to give their approval on a buyout. And remember, every year the government issues a national decree to close the roads to let the Tour pass, so they have effectively some control over the race and who owns the race. And I don’t think any sale would go ahead without the government’s approval.”
We also hear from Stephen Delcourt, manager of the FDJ-Suez women’s team and president of the women’s union, UNIO, who tells us that none of their members have been contacted about the project. “It’s always the same problem with men’s cycling. They never call us,” says Delcourt, who goes on to explain why women’s racing needs continuity at the moment rather than wholesale change.
We turn then to Paris 2024 and provide the lowdown on Rue Lepic, the key climb that could decide destiny of the medals in next year’s Olympic road races, which has a many-storied history. Eulogised in song by legendary French actor Yves Montand (and, yes, his accordian-backed crooning paean to the street does feature), it starts next to the famous Moulin Rouge caberet and rises past the former home of artist Vincent van Gogh and the cafe where Amélie worked in the eponymous movie as it climbs the Butte de Montmartre, a Flanders-like hill that will have the cobbled Classics specialists salivating.
While in Paris for the Vélo d’Or presentation and the Tour launches, we dispatched Peter Cossins to Montmartre to get a flavour of the climb, once bedecked by 13 windmills but now topped by just two. In between stops for coffee in the Café des 2 Moulins where Amélie worked and in a bakery close by to buy macaroons, he details the climb that looks set to launch riders towards Olympic glory.
The episode finishes by looking at the unexpected renaissance of split stages. Largely absent from major events since that late 1980s, the split stage will make its Grand Tour return at next year’s Tour de France Femmes. We hear from Audrey Cordon-Ragot on the very particular challenge of racing twice in one day, recall the day that a defiant Bernard Hinault led a rider protest against split stages at the Tour, and assess whether the TDFF’s experiment might lead to their reintroduction at the Tour de France.