What ‘Velon’ means for cycling
There’s a movement in professional cycling that’s likely to change how we see the sport in the future. Here is a brief overview of ‘Velon’ and what this breakaway league hopes it will achieve in the years to come…
Breakaway. That’s a common term for cycling. The escape. The break. Echappée… Etc. It relates to those willing to take a chance. They may go early or they may go late. The move might succeed or it could be doomed. But it represents a commitment to animating the action, making the race, starting something without knowing what the result might be.
Velon. This is a new term for cycling. It means nothing but, according to the CEO of a new joint venture for professional sport, Graham Bartlett, it’s an amalgam of ‘Vélo’ and ‘onward’. And it’s now out there trying to change the way cycling is managed. From the outset, 11 WorldTour teams have signed on to be part of this ‘breakaway’ league: Belkin Pro Cycling, BMC Racing Team, Garmin-Sharp, Lampre-Merida, Lotto-Belisol, Omega Pharma-Quickstep, Orica-GreenEdge, Team Giant-Shimano, Team Sky, Tinkoff-Saxo and Trek Factory Racing. And the aim is to create a better foundation for all involved.
The official beginning wasn’t exactly ideal. The Velon announcement came with a broken media embargo but it is clear that its establishment is likely to have major ramifications for professional cycling.
For some time now, RIDE Media has been vocal in the media about the need for change in some aspects of how cycling is managed. This is the time when the sport needs to tap into new technologies to allow better coverage, to integrate on-bike cameras into equipment – such as stems, seatposts, helmets and more – and to properly divvy up the revenue stream so that there’s more equity for all the partners involved.
One of cycling’s biggest downfalls is that most of the parties involved believe that they are the critical element that makes the sport successful. But this selfish attitude is exactly what has been holding cycling back while other sports prosper. For a professional sport to succeed, there needs to be cooperation and consideration for all involved: the participants, their employers (ie. the teams), the race organisers, the sport’s administrators, the media, the fans… everyone can benefit from a proper collaboration.
According to Bartlett, this is what Velon is hoping to achieve. “What we’re trying to build,” he said, “will hopefully create a virtuous circle where it’s easier for fans to engage with the teams and riders and gives the teams even greater incentives to maintain credibility.”
It’s a break from tradition, a shift away from how the sport has been managed and broadcast for decades. It’s necessary, for if cycling doesn’t evolve, it risks becoming just another historic also-ran gazumped by new media entertainment.
And Velon’s stakeholders agree. “We’ve already made a difference, giving fans better insights and exciting views from inside the race,” said Belkin Pro Cycling’s Richard Plugge. “We want to bring the sport where it belongs in the hearts and minds of the fans.”
The teams involved are confident that Velon is the way forward and that the formula for this initiative is correct. Still, it needs cooperation from all involved.
L’Equipe is the media outlet that broke the embargo on the press release and it’s a sign that one of the traditional stakeholders in cycling isn’t necessarily going to play by the rules of the breakaway league. A representative from Shift Active Media in the UK, the company that issued the release, said that it may be a genuine mistake and that L’Equipe may have been confused by the timing for the announcement as it had been “reassigned three or four times”.
Onward. One pedal stroke at a time.
RIDE spoke with Gerry Ryan, owner of the only Australian team of the group of 11, on the morning of the announcement and he insisted it was something that had serious traction. “We’ve been looking at this for some time now and it’s going to be good for cycling,” he said.
More will be revealed in the coming days but the announcement of Velon marks a new beginning for a sport that was in desperate need of resuscitation.
The 2014 season offered glimpses of renewed vigour. We got to see inside the peloton and experience what it was like to be part of a sprint, speed down a hill, bounce over cobbled roads, and generally get a first-hand perspective of what cycle sport can be. It is exciting. It is compelling. It is also confusing.
The machinations of the politicians are part of professional sport in modern times, so too are results attained well beyond the competition itself – laboratories and courtrooms have been known to alter the record books. This has happened a lot of late and such confusion, or deliberation, can be off-putting. Even if fans are lured to cycling because of all that’s good about it, they can just as easily switch off or turn away because of the bad.
Let’s hope that the news about Velon – even if it’s just the spark it gives to existing stakeholders – provides the impetus cycling needs to break away from the bad and move onward to a new and exciting era.
“A group of like-minded teams have been talking for some time about how to better shape the future of the sport,” explained Jim Ochowicz of BMC Racing in the release issued by Shift Active. “We’ve already made a difference, giving fans better insights and exciting views from inside the race. Now, we’ve formally come together to help develop ways for professional cycling to grow.”
In the release, a representative from each of the teams offered their thoughts on the Velon initiative. There seems to be a sense of optimism and a hint that a cooperative effort is going to be the key to the future of the sport.
At least a portion of one of the many groups that make up the cycling family is in agreement on how things should progress.
“Collaboration is the cornerstone to positive change,” said Sir David Brailsford, “and as such this is very exciting for professional cycling and a big step towards the sport reaching its full potential.”
The news was officially to be announced later today but the story is out there and, as the representative from Shift Active explained, “obviously I can’t stop you publishing anything now if you wanted to.”
There have been furphies before and more are likely to follow when it comes to how cycling is managed but for now the breakaway is making a strong bid for glory. We’ll wait to see if it wins but at least some systems are in place to make the race a little more exciting. I, for one, look forward to seeing more cycling. If it can be done professionally, then surely that’s better for everyone.
– By Rob Arnold