A Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) commissioned survey has shown that budget gaps between teams and squads with a high concentration of quality riders have a negative impact upon fans’ enjoyment of the sport.
The survey was completed by 22,364 fans from 134 countries – and 84 per cent said they thought road racing was interesting to watch.
However, half of those questioned agreed with the statement “the outcome of road cycling events is predictable.”
Deeper questioning showed that for most, the dominance of a few rich teams was having a negative impact upon their viewing pleasure.
Asked what factors limit their enjoyment, 76 per cent said that the difference in budgets between the ‘best and the rest’ was a factor and 71 per cent pointed to a high concentration of the best riders being in the same team.
The UCI has considered slapping budget caps on teams in the past, as well as limiting team sizes to six, to help prevent outfits such as Team Ineos from controlling races with the strongest and most well equipped riders.
Team Ineos/Team Sky have won seven of the last eight editions of the Tour de France, with a since boosted budget of around €40 million euros (£34.3 million), compared to around €15-20 million for most of their competitors.
Factors which can make a race easier to control came in as negatives: 48 per cent said they believe the use of ear pieces reduces the attractiveness of bike racing, with power meters next at 40 per cent and team budgets at 39 per cent.
The overall picture of fans’ perception of the sport was good, however with more respondents associating cycling with positive words like “excitement”, “bravery”, “heroes” and “respect.”
Views did not change too much among the age groups. However, 53 per cent of those who responded fell into the 35-64 age category – suggesting that diversity needs to be addressed.
The UCI did not give data on the gender split of respondents. The top six rated riders – Peter Sagan, Julian Alaphilippe, Vincenzo Nibali, Philippe Gilbert, Alejandro Valverde and Mathieu van der Poel – were all male though.
The fact that 69 per cent of respondents said they watch cycling via free TV services implies most were watching men’s cycling, too.
Those watching racing were generally happy with the quality – 75 per cent saying broadcasts were of a high quality. However, they wanted more data and insight – with information on gradients, rider speed and rider power all high on the list.
Commenting on the findings, UCI President David Lappartient said: “The consultation shows us that road cycling enjoys a positive image with the fans, regardless of which continent they are from, and that, generally speaking, they are satisfied with the sport and the coverage on offer.
“They also told us, however, that there is room for improvement, such as making more information and data available during broadcasts and that serious thought should be given to aspects seen as potentially damaging to the appeal of road cycling – domination by a small number of teams or the use of radio communications for instance.”
The survey was stage one of a wider consultation. Next, the UCI will speak with stakeholders, with a draft plan of action to be implemented on 2020 and 2021.