Saturday, February 24, 2018

Coming Soon:

In America we don’t really have one-day, point-to-point road races like Omloop Het Nieuwsblad, which ushered in the 2018 European classics season earlier today. But we do have criteriums, and soon we’ll have a new way to watch them.

USA CRITS, our national criterium series, will introduce a new streaming video service on March 15. The service will feature all 11 events on this year’s USA CRITS calendar:

4/28 Athens GA
5/26 Winston-Salem NC
6/01 Oklahoma City OK
6/17 New York NY
7/06 Bentonville AR
7/14 Boise ID
7/28 San Rafael CA
8/04 Littleton CO
8/11 West Chester PA
9/02 St. Louis MO
9/15 Atlantic City NJ (Series Finals)

The service also will include some non-series races on the same weekends, plus on-demand replays and other content. Fans can purchase the whole season for $55 or individual events for $15 apiece. A portion of the subscriber fees will go to the teams that make up the series, giving them a new source of revenue.

It’s an interesting concept and I don’t know how fans will react. In past seasons, streaming coverage was free. But it wasn’t always easy to find. Each race had its own website where there might be a link to the video, or maybe it was available from VeloNews, or maybe on YouTube … it was all over the place. And the coverage was inconsistent: slick, professional production one weekend, high school A/V class project the next. If the new package delivers a uniformly good product without buffering, audio dropouts and other technical glitches, then will be off to a promising start.

But to give its fans an experience for which they will be willing to pay, will need to tell compelling season-long stories. Red did that so well during the 2017 World Cup mountain bike season—not just about Nino Schurter’s quest for perfection, but also on the women’s side as Yana Belomoina emerged as a new superstar. If is successful, then maybe it can be a model for the UCI. The cycling world’s governing body has never figured out how to create a coherent narrative for its WorldTour, an absurdly complicated concept that in 2017 recognized Greg Van Avermaet as its champion, while Tour de France winner Chris Froome placed 2nd and World Champion Peter Sagan was a distant 4th. The advantage for USA CRITS is the comparatively small scope of its mission. It’s not trying to weigh one-day classics against Grand Tours to determine the season’s best cyclist. Crits are crits, wherever they may be held. With the right storytelling on, America’s biggest road racing series could become more than just a collection of races with individual appeal but only a tenuous claim to nationwide interest.

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