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NASCAR and Pro Cycling – Different, but Similar

The Outer Line reached out to former pro bike racer Kristin Labonte – one of the few people around with a foot in both camps – to discuss those similarities, and to ask what pro cycling might be able to learn from NASCAR. One would be hard-pressed to find two sports that appear to be more different than NASCAR motor racing and professional cycling. One is gasoline-powered, fast, noisy, and played out on a track with hundreds of thousands of spectators watching; the other is human-powered, quieter, slower, and played out on sinuous mountain-top switchbacks with a few fans standing on the roadside. Cycling sees NASCAR fans as backward, unsophisticated, pickup truck-driving simpletons, while NASCAR sees cycling fans as wimpy trust-fund babies sporting Greenpeace bumper stickers. NASCAR is a favorite of the conservative deep south of America, while cycling is more popular in the liberal...

Episode 4 of the “Retrospectives” Podcast — Catching up With Phil Liggett, Part One

The name Phil Liggett is one of the best recognized in all of professional cycling. First introduced to American audiences in the 1980s through CBS’s Emmy Award-winning Tour de France coverage, Liggett is the person responsible for first introducing many of us to pro cycling.  From the first wave of coverage, with Greg LeMond’s three wins, and on to the domestic popularity of top American races like the Tour DuPont, Amgen Tour of California, and the USA Pro Challenge in the 1990s and 2000s, Liggett has left an indelible mark on America. He is on the same pantheon as LeMond and Lance Armstrong when it comes to celebrity. His animated commentating style and Liverpudlian accent coupled with his unique fan accessibility over the decades has endeared him to all generations. In this two-part episode of The Outer Line’s “Retrospective” podcast, Phil sits down from lockdown in London and talks...

Why Was Tour de France TV Viewership up in 2020?

As VeloNews recently reported, interest in the Tour de France seemed to be up this year. Some broadcasters, for example, Eurosport, indicated audience strong numbers for 2020 – though its reach is small compared to Europe’s free public channels, which most spectators watch. But an analysis from Professor Daam Van Reeth of KU Leuven in Belgium – the preeminent economist studying television trends in pro cycling – shows that overall TV audiences across the traditional hotbeds of cycling in Europe were actually down this year.  According to Van Reeth, the only European country which saw an increased audience this year was Slovenia – not surprising, since two of its native sons were battling each other for supremacy in an exciting race. The confusion results from the fact that there are several different ways to measure sports television audiences. The primary metrics vary around the issue...

UCI Expands WorldTour Teams Sizes for 2021 and 2022

In a little-noticed development, the Pro Cycling Council – the UCI body that oversees road racing – has approved a temporary expansion of the allowable WorldTour team sizes for 2021 and 2022. In 2020, teams were allowed 30 riders, assuming that at least two of those athletes were neo-pros. The comparable team size figure has been expanded to 32 for next year, dropping to 31 for 2022 and then back to 30 in 2023.  UCI spokesman Louis Chenaille told The Outer Line that this exceptional authorization was approved within the context of the on-going COVID crisis, in order to support the employment of a greater number of riders during these challenging times. The change was apparently announced earlier to the teams as part of the registration specifications for 2021. While the official WorldTour team size has been limited to 28 riders in the past, teams possessed the ability to...

The Death of Sprinting?

Dylan Groenewegen of Jumbo-Visma was handed a nine-month suspension for his role in the horrible crash on the opening stage of the Tour of Poland in August. The crash saw Deceuninck-Quick-Step rider Fabio Jakobsen sent into the barriers at high speed, leaving him with serious injuries to his face, head, and chest. In addition to this unprecedented UCI sanction, Jakobsen’s team is proceeding with legal action against Groenewegen in the Polish court system. These are virtually unprecedented punitive actions since aggressive positioning tactics are common in sprint finishes and there are multiple examples of controversial sprint finishes just during this condensed 2020 season. However, such tactics are rarely punished beyond relegation for the individual stage or, in more egregious cases, disqualification from the race. The highest-profile penalty prior to the Groenewegen decision was...