Meeting AIJC – Vuelta a España 2019

At the end of October  the AIJC held its annual meeting with Unipublic in Madrid to discuss working conditions for the media in the Vuelta a España. Alasdair Fotheringham represented the AIJC, whilst Laura Cueto, Unipublic press officer, and Sergio Fernández from the Unipublic Production department, and Alvaro Vilches, Vuelta a España press room director where present for the race.

2019 Review

Overall: the Vuelta continues to provide a very satisfactory and well-planned environment for working in, from accreditation through to the website, press rooms and starts. However, the sudden worsening from one year to another in working conditions at race finishes was notable and needs to resolved urgently.

Accreditation and general media handling: straightforward as ever.

The media Wattsapp group in English as well as in Spanish: designed to keep press up to date with logistical changes and press releases/results continued to work well. Particularly appreciated that we get full results and commissaires/medical reports every evening! A great idea and a pity other top races don’t bother doing the same…

Starts: generally run well, with the notable exception (for logistical reasons to do with excessive distances between different events at the start and not the organisation’s responsibility) of Benidorm on stage two. Parking for buses was generally pretty close. The question of whether signing on area needed more work done on it to make it easier to do interviews is an area which needs more checking up on by the AIJC.

Finishes:  clear indications on general access with one or two notable exceptions in the first week. Particularly, the finish at Torrevieja on stage one had very difficult access and poor signalling and the press parking was a disaster. Fortunately, after that, it improved.The distance between team buses and finishes and/or press rooms, which has caused some logistical nightmares in the past for media as well as considerable time losses, was improved compared to 2018. However, we hope for more improvements in the future.

Working at finish areas: probably the area that most needs resolving, and where after several years where there has been general improvement, in 2019, things took a significant turn for the worse.From Unipublic’s point of view, the main problem is an excessive number of media and other race staff at the finishes, which in the Vuelta are often very limited in terms of space causing problems of safety and excessive pressure on riders.Unipublic argue that journalists, in particular the radio media, did not respect riders enough after finishes, and that teams are also bringing in too many staff to the finishes.  Some stages, particularly in the second week, ended up being excessively crowded and it was all but impossible for some sections of the media to work.From the media’s point of view, there was also not enough space in the media tents at the sides of the finish. Access to riders was very patchy and needs clearly establishing.  Also the types of journalists and team staff  authorized to be present at the finish needs re-organising and the access to the team buses, if improved, would reduce the necessity of journalists at the finish line. Unipublic and the AIJC have agreed that a further meeting is necessary in April when the protocol for finishes is clearly established, and that the AIJC will attend the pre-race meeting in September between team press officers and Unipublic.The AIJC appreciates the major efforts being made by Unipublic/ASO to resolve these questions, but also sees an urgent need for ongoing contacts,. Access in some format  at the finish is not a luxury for journalists, it’s a professional necessity and in a sport which lives off sponsorship, where the line is drawn between access, safety and other questions is one which needs considerable discussion.

Signalling: satisfactory. If we get a hors cours signalling it would be wonderful…

Press rooms: generally very good, with the notable exception of Toledo, which was terrible. Working in an auditorium is ok, but the seating arrangements and seats themselves in Toledo were too cramped and small. Unipublic have agreed that in future years they will try to resolve this issue if an auditorium is used again.
The mobile press room worked well in general, with the exception of Alto de la Cubilla, where it was too far from the finish, but logistically it would have been impossible to get it any closer!
Buffets were mostly excellent, there was plenty of free water, the free coffee machine was great til it broke (thankyou TVE journalists), and space was generally acceptable. Wifi worked very well.The question of the quality of video conferences was resolved after a first few difficult days, and to their credit, Unipublic worked very hard to get it resolved.

Press avant – press arrierre at starts: Introduced this year and only patchily successful. In need of improvement.

Media questions/translations: it was agreed by Unipublic that in future priority in press conferences would be given to journalists rather than the current situation where there is no distinction between organisation media officers and journalists.  Translations were excellent.

Race website: satisfactory and very fast with results.

Route book: no complaints. The media guide, in English and French, is a hugely useful complement that other bike races would do well to introduce.

Roglic: This year’s overall winner of the Vuelta a España was notably extremely uncollaborative in his press conferences, refusing to answer more than three questions on any single day to the written press on any stage. From the AIJC’s point of view this attitude is understandable if say, there is no change in the leader for several days, or there is a long transfer after the stage. But the situation reached a ridiculous point after the second last stage when, having won the Vuelta, Roglic refused to take more than four questions, making this the shortest ever winner’s press conference in a Grand Tour that this correspondent can recall in 30 years and showing a general lack of collaboration/interest which is anything but beneficial for both the media and the race. Apart from insisiting to the teams that they must ask for a greater degree of collaboration from the riders, the AIJC will try to investigate with the UCI what can be done to ensure this doesn’t happen again.

Shuttle buses: barely used this year and absolutely fine when they were, on the second last day.

Zone mixte: innovation in the finish area in 2019 and although very occasionaly there were some problems with security for journalists trying to access there, notably less than in previous years. It was noticeable that when not in areas covered by Spain’s Policia Nacional, apart from Andorra, security at the finish was not as effective. Like, for example, in Igualada in Catalonia.

Changes for 2020

A detailed pre-race meeting between Unipublic, their press officers and the AIJC to try and resolve the problems over access at finishes will be held in April. The AIJC will also attend the pre-race meeting between Unipublic and the team press officers each September to explain journalists’ needs at finishes.

Press rooms: Unipublic have agreed that in future years if an auditorium is used again as a press room they will double check on the conditions before giving it the green light.

Press conferences: Trying to ensure a greater degree of collaboration between teams and riders when it comes to press conferences.More mobile toilets when the mobile press tent is used. This is the third year we’ve asked for this.

Press avant-press arriere: Unipublic promise to continue to build on improvements here from this year.

Media questions: it was agreed by Unipublic that in future priority in press conferences would be given to journalists rather than the current situation where there is no distinction between organisation media officers and journalists.

Press conferences: More discussion needed on how to ensure press conferences last longer than two minutes and three questions.

History section: A new search engine for the Vuelta’s history section is expected to be introduced into the website.