In mid-April, cycling cannot complain about a lack of attention or exposure. The historical classics still attract a large audience and the classics on medieval roads give our sport a romantic touch.
Yet cycling has a big problem. Cycling audience is indeed ageing rapidly. If we consider the age groups that still watch the live broadcasts, we can see that most of the spectators are older than fifty years. And if we analyse the viewing rates we see that most of the people are interested only in the final kilometres.
In an interview with De Telegraaf at the end of last year, former champion Bernard Hinault explained what he considered the reason of such a problem. Riders are unrecognisable. For safety reasons they started using helmets and in recent years, everybody hides behind enormous sunglasses. “I feel really angry when riders present themselves on the podium wearing sunglasses or one of those big baseball caps,” said Hinault.
Every colour is in fashion but none really helps recognise the riders. For some big riders and teams that means extra money, even if the amounts are still rather low.
It appears nobody is aware of the fact TV spectators are getting the feeling that they are watching bike robots. Most of the cycling stakeholders pay no attention to that problem while it is really damaging our sport. The fact only a few multinationals keep on investing money in cycling is generally attributed to the doping problems and the economic crisis.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) has been working behind the scenes to reform cycling and to give the WorldTour a new start in 2017. For the umpteenth time, we know that it will be very difficult for those reforms to be workable in practice. When the UCI will tell big organizers, like the ASO, that they must shorten some of their races? It seems that one more time, all the good initiatives are destined for the dustbin.
It is now important to concentrate our efforts so that people are able to identify the riders when they see them from TV or in person. A first step could be to give WorldTour riders the same identification back number for the whole year, the same way they do it in the NBA.
It is also a fact that in the last decade almost no improvement was noted in television coverage. How is it possible that at Milan-Sanremo, after the Poggio, the viewers received no information about the composition of the leading group? Nowadays even touring cyclists can be followed all over the world thanks to a small chip. Why not use this to know the order in which the riders topped a climb. The technicians tell us this is very easy to achieve. During the road World Championships, the riders’ names appear on the screen each time they pass through the line. Why don’t they do that also at the top of the Poggio, the Paterberg, the Wallers cobblestones sector and the Keutenberg for example?
These investments must be made now because cycling robots will be unsaleable in the future.
Raymond Kerckhoffs, president AIJC