Intriguing story by Neal Rogers at CyclingTips. He’s writing about EF-Drapac’s decision to change up their focus on races and do more cool, grass roots events that connect them with cycling fans.
It’s an admission that the old school approach isn’t working any more in pro road racing. People in the United States don’t care about obscure one week stage races in Europe but they get excited about the Leadville 100 or Dirty Kanza.
I’d have to agree there are a lot of factors that are lowering the appeal of WorldTour bike racing. The sponsorship model is broken, the extreme inequities in team budgets mean a handful of teams dominate, the continual power struggle between the UCI, ASO and teams prevents the sport from moving forward.
Did I mention doping, WADA, Froome’s stunning acquittal on his salbutamol case, a wildly unrepresentative riders union? It’s hard for people to connect with a sport with so many issues. If it wasn’t for the extreme star power of Peter Sagan, only true diehards would tune in for races.
The sport has lost its way — a point made again and again in Roger’s interview with Jonathan Vaughters of EF-Drapac. Leave it to the eclectic squad from Boulder, Colorado to shake things up and build a new relationship with fans.
Vaughters teams have always been big on personality — from Dave Zabriskie to Alex Howes to Taylor Phinney. And no surprise, it’s the young guys like Phinney and Ex-Dimension Data rider Lachlan Morton who are changing things from the inside. They know the sport doesn’t work for them on their terms — they need more variety, more fun and more adventure.
When Morton and his brother Angus started their own little adventure film series called Thereabouts, it seemed two hippy guys on the fringes of pro road racing. Intentionally or not, they’re now a smarter vision of what the sport could be and where it might go.
The Thereabouts films drew plenty of attention and a wider audience and new fans. They connected with people over the simple and personal joys of riding a bike, exploring the world around them and opening themselves up to discovery. It was a huge breath of fresh air — and a revelation. You don’t always have to win a bike race, to win fans and attract sponsors.
The gravel scene in the States is exploding. All kinds of events are spring up — from fondos to endurance races to quirky challenges like the Belgian Waffle Ride and Crusher in the Tushar. That’s where the energy is, that’s where the fans are and that’s where the sponsors want to be.
Morton, Phinney and EF-Drapac have figured that out. I wonder when the rest of the sport will.