April 19/11 8:14 am - Serge Arsenault Interview
Posted by Editoress on 04/19/11
Last fall, Serge Arsenault brought the ProTour to North America, with highly successful one-day races in Quebec City and Montreal. The two races were the first year of a five year sanction by the UCI for Arsenault and were praised by the riders, the teams and the media. So, the question becomes: How will Arsenault expand and improve upon his events in Year Two?
We spoke with Serge Arsenault from his Montreal headquarters, and he says that his team learned three things from last year. First, make the Quebec race longer.
"The teams have told us that last year was a huge success; we had a [positive] response from 90% of the teams to return by January this year. But they asked us to add one lap [in Quebec] to make it more difficult, so the best riders can express themselves. This [extra] lap will transform the race."
The second decision was to drop the Quebec City bid for the 2015 Road World Championships, which Arsenault announced late last month.
"Our long term program is to present one-day races. To put $20 million into a one-time six day competition is too expensive, and there is no opportunity for revenue. With that kind of money, we can build a festival of cycling for every year."
"If [we] don't have a World Tour [the replacement for the ProTour] event, then I could understand going for the world championships, but we have two races, and we can bring the top guys in year after year."
The third update is to expand upon the Sprint event held in Quebec the day before the main race and, hopefully, eventually make it a race that the top sprinters will be lining up to enter. He plans to introduce a second Sprint race in Montreal in 2012.
"We will have two sprints in Quebec; one for Canadian teams and a Professional Sprint that includes the top three Canadian teams. I believe that this is an evolution in cycling. The UCI has given permission for riders to participate [it falls outside the standard definition of a road event], and the concept has been well received by the teams and the riders. Television needs an explosive event combined with the World Tour race."
Arsenault points out that the two current races are not attractive for sprinters, but that a Sprint series could eventually develop to the point that it could attract the top riders.
Arsenault is also talking about integrating a Sportif event for cyclists in 2012, that could eventually see thousands of riders participating in one to four day rides that culminate in a cycling festival in Quebec City that leads into the World Tour race. He also hopes to work with the CCA and Quebec federation [FQSC] to introduce supporting projects that will help develop Canadian riders and teams. Arsenault views this as a more intelligent program then a one-time world championships.
"We are comfortable with the decision to withdraw from the Worlds, and put the resources into our program. The problem with the world championships is that you need huge participation of public money. I feel that year after year we need to decrease public money, and bring in more private sponsors if we want to exist long term."
Arsenault also admitted that he has abandoned his plans for a third event or stage race that includes the U.S.
"After we talked [with American cities], we realized it would be very difficult, because they did not realize the costs involved, and we would not have the participation of public money. To go to the U.S., will require the UCI to change their views. Now, the organizer is responsible for travel, accommodation, food, etc., and the cost is about four-times what it is for a European race. To expand, the UCI needs to invest also. Right now, North America is being asked to adjust to the European reality, which is wrong."
"The income from television is much less, because cycling is not a major sport here. So, we said that the only way to succeed [in the U.S.] is with a four day Tour, and the cities or regions could split the expenses. But the UCI said we could have only one day. The city of Boston, who we have been talking with, is a wonderful city, but it doesn't need cycling, especially at that time of year, and it would be tough to shut down the city for the race - they were not open to an urban circuit."
"So, the plan is clear, it is fixed now; and we will focus all the tools on our product in Canada. I cannot weaken the races in Canada to develop a race in the United States and, at this point, it is impossible to secure a top World Tour race in the U.S. with the rules of the UCI; they [UCI] have to adjust the rules for each continent. I do not want to work alone on this, pulling the table by myself, so, right now, we will wait."