How Can Cycling Learn From Other Sports?

By Joshua Donaldson

At We Love Cycling, our adoration for everything pertaining to two wheels is obvious. Across every facet of the sport, we are clear about the joy it brings not only to us but also to you. However, like anything in life, even cycling has flaws and especially the professional element of it could be worked on and improved to a higher level.

We are going to try and learn from other professional sports to see where cycling can make itself a better product. But we also want your input – contact us on our channels to add to the debate.

Tour de France peloton
How could cycling learn from other sports? © Profimedia

Embracing equality

The sport has had a huge disparity in how it treats its male and female riders. Just this year, we have seen how cycling is making some positive changes with the introduction of the Tour De France Femmes.

But there is still a long way to go. One way to improve this could be to follow cricket’s example and implement women’s franchise teams alongside men’s teams. This has been done with success in both Australia and England through short-format competitions. On a recent Lanterne Rouge Cycling Podcast, the hosts discussed how Chris Froome’s reported salary of near 5 million US dollars a year could fund two-and-a-half women’s teams for a year.

This is not meant as a slight to Israel Start-Up Nation for giving him such a contract or to Chris Froome’s 2021 form but with some frugal thinking or some rule changes, the UCI could implement a rule needing each men’s team to compete alongside a women’s team.

This is something that has been up for debate for years and will continue for years to come. Obviously, it is contentious, and the counterpoint would be that plenty of women’s teams exists outside of the men’s vacuum and remain successful – SD Worx spring to mind. But that added security alongside a more aligned calendar could reap huge benefits.

A documentary

We’ve all seen Movistar’s ‘The Least Expected Day’. The rollercoaster ride of two seasons is a compelling watch but it’s not a patch on Drive To Survive. The F1-based documentary has gained the sport plenty of new followers by putting the personalities of the sport front and centre.

TV production may see the sport a bit dramatised but it has certainly added value and fans. Movistar’s documentary and others that preceded it have really just skimmed the surface, only ever focusing on one team. Focusing on the World Tour, whether men’s, women’s or both, would give it the spark that F1 has had in the last couple of years.

Race number changes

This one has been shouted from the rooftops before and it is weird why this has taken so long. Race numbers are a staple of the sport and are given out individually to riders at each race. But, for new and old fans alike, it can get confusing from race to race. Therefore, why don’t riders get a given number from their team at the start of the year that is visible on their jersey and big enough that commentators and spectators can see clearly? The traditional race numbers don’t need to be replaced but adding something that fits the jersey’s style would make riders more visible to the audience. This obviously happens in most sports with squad numbers. It would have to be slightly different from the norm but something that could be a positive addition.

League revamp

As a bit of a secret, the UCI has been running their latest rankings from 2020 until 2023, leaving some teams in danger of losing their licence. The issue is that hardly anyone knows about this.

It could be something that would make racing interesting, as teams battle it out for UCI points (another system that needs a lot of work), sending riders to take on unusual races and strong teams to events that would usually be ridden by less well-known riders.

So, the first move would be publishing the league table, following the example of every other sport. Simple. It gives the audience a chance to follow it and get excited about the battles at the top and bottom. By not doing that, big decisions about the future of the sport come as a surprise or, even worse, are not noticed at all. By using the league table as a narrative tool like other sports do, fans can follow it throughout the year and get immersed in it. It would provide great battles throughout the year and give more talking points, too.

Tech upgrade

When does a Grand Tour mountain stage happen but doesn’t? When TV programmes can’t broadcast. This point is slightly harsh on the sport in general but there aren’t many sports that can’t be shown live due to signal failure because of where they take place.

The mountain stages are the hardest-hit ones as low clouds and poor weather can badly interfere with the race – like during the last year’s Giro D’Italia when Egan Bernal won at Cortina d’Ampezzo. That day, TV pictures were unable to be broadcast due to poor 4G coverage in the area and the inability to use the satellite.

A way around this is to improve technology on the ground. BT Sport have been producing football shows using 5G this year and surely RCS, the organisers of the Giro, Il Lombardia and Milan San-Remo, can’t be far behind. Another way cycling could improve its broadcast and also reduce carbon footprint could be to fly drones on the course with 5G capabilities. Smaller, lighter and you don’t have to fly a fleet of helicopters. You could also get a lot closer too.