Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Tour Of Miscellaneous

“And the crowd goes … wild?”

One of the great things about the Tour of America’s Dairyland is that all of the venues are in Wisconsin. And, at least for now, all of the stages of the Tour Down Under are in Australia. I appreciate the purity of a tour that is confined to one state or country. It’s a way for that region to say, “Look at the cool stuff we have.” There’s nothing wrong with being proud of your home.

I can live with the occasional Tour de France stage that skips across part of Belgium or Italy or Switzerland or Andorra. As neighboring countries, sometimes it makes more sense to take the route into them and not around them. But this year’s Tour will begin in northern England, and in 2007 the Tour began in London. The intervening years included starts in the Netherlands (2010) and Belgium (2012). What once was a novelty is now a tired gimmick. The Vuelta a España started in the Netherlands in 2009 and admitted in 2011 that it had looked into the possibility of starting in Washington DC! The Giro d’Italia has begun in Denmark (2013), the Netherlands (2002 and 2010) and Belgium (2006). And it’s not just the Grand Tours: the week-long Tour of Poland began in Italy last year. What kind of sense does that make?

The 2009 Tour de France started in Monaco, which technically isn’t part of France but it’s French enough. The original plan for 2009 was a prologue time trial in Dubai. That plan fell apart but just last week Dubai held its own stage race, won by Taylor Phinney. Dubai now wants to make its tour bigger for 2015 and it wants to host the start of the Giro! Have you ever watched a stage from Dubai, Qatar or Oman? There’s a climb or two in Oman, but Dubai and Qatar are almost pan flat, and in all three countries the desert landscape is bleak. The competitors just use these events to train for the races they really want to win once the European season begins. But worst of all, there’s no crowd. Most of the spectators are tourists; the locals don’t show up in large numbers.

The UCI loves to talk about the globalization of cycling and the need to promote races in areas that have no culture of road racing. So, we’re stuck with events in the Middle East and China where the promoters have big egos and deep pockets but no particular desire to attract fans. Their races are vanity projects and the UCI, the ASO and the other big dogs from Europe are only too happy to walk away with the easy money. That does nothing to grow the sport.

Someday there might be a Tour of America’s Dairyland race in northern Illinois—the fifth stage of the 2014 Tour of Utah will start in Wyoming, so don’t think it can’t happen here—but cycling does a disservice to its fans when it looks too far afield for new venues.

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