How can smaller races survive in the modern era? The Tour of the Alps may have the answer

The Tour of the Alps' new look highlights the problems traditional races face on the ever-shifting UCI calendar, but also offers reason for hope

Traditionalists may hate it, but there’s sound thinking behind the Giro del Trentino’s rebranding as the Tour of the Alps, in addition to the fact that the long-standing stage race now roams well beyond the Italian Trentino region.

“Quite simply, everyone knows what and where the Alps are,” says the race’s general manager, Maurizio Evangelista. “It makes it much easier for us to raise the profile of this race and the regions in which it takes place on the international stage. Achieving that should ensure the event’s survival in the longer term.”

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Evangelista, who runs the Vitesse communications company that represented the Mercatone Uno, Saeco and Barloworld teams in the past and still works with Bianchi, Northwave, and many other renowned companies, took over the management of the Giro del Trentino prior to last year’s 40th edition, when the previous team of organisers, who were largely volunteers, was struggling to keep the race afloat.

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“They were finding the increasing complexities and rising financial requirements of running the event hard to deal with,” Evangelista explains.

“They had tradition on their side, but that isn’t a characteristic that the UCI particularly values in many long-standing events. As we’ve seen, new events that have significant financial backing can quite easily find a place on the calendar, often to the detriment of well-established races.

“Italy has lost several in this way and other countries have suffered similar losses.”

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A number of races have had to announce that they will not run in 2017, with the Critérium International, the Tour of Qatar, and  La Méditerranéenne all disappearing from the calendar.

Trentino was struggling because, in addition to the habitual clash with the Ardennes Classics, it also found itself up against the Tour of Croatia and the Tour of Turkey, the status of the latter rising rapidly until it achieved promotion to WorldTour level this season, now being postponed until October.

As one of the few Italian races that is not part of the portfolio of Giro d’Italia organisers RCS, Trentino also struggled to get TV exposure. Coverage tended to extend to no more than a highlights package each evening on Italian TV.

In a world where TV exposure is everything and the battle for attention with other brands is relentless, Evangelista set about making significant changes.

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Last year, the race was broadcast live, and this year, more radically, the race has a completely new look, which as well as the name change includes the addition of a fifth day and an expansion into new racing terrain.

“That’s come about because of the support we are now getting from Euregio,” Evangelista says.

Comprising the three regional governments of Trentino in Italy, and Tirol and Südtirol in Austria, the greater Euregio region depends heavily on tourism and is launching a series of initiatives to boost its international profile, which explains the link to the Tour of the Alps.

Looking to boost the region’s profile and touristic pull, Euregio has put its weight behind the Tour of the Alps, adding an extra day to what was previously a four-day event. The initiative is the first step in what the tourism departments in Euregio hope will be a successful future bid for the Winter Olympics.

Could Mikel Landa and Team Sky be racing the Tour of the Alps as a WorldTour race in the future? (Credit: Watson)

Evangelista acknowledges that a possible next step for his race would be seeking a place in the WorldTour. However, he’s not convinced it’s the right way to go.

“Naturally, we’d need greater investment to do that, and we’d also be unable to invite smaller teams from Italy and Austria that form a significant part of this year’s peloton,” he explains.

What he hopes is that Trentino’s established status as a pre-Giro preparation race, its new backers and, ideally, greater support from the UCI will set the Tour of the Alps on the path towards 40 editions of its own.

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With this in mind, he adds that one of his first tasks when the race concludes will be to meet with the UCI to discuss this issue.

“I think the UCI need to do more to protect traditional races like ours,” he affirms. “We’ve already seen that some of these new races that have a lot of money come in for a few years, fatally damage other races running concurrently, and then disappear, leaving a hole on the calendar. In the end, that doesn’t benefit anyone.

“Of course, the Tour of Turkey’s move to the end of the season has made this less of a problem for us, but we’ve got no idea what will happen to that race in future.

“Will they move it back to April next season? We need an answer on this very quickly because we’ll soon be planning our 2018 edition.”

For now, though, Evangelista is happy with the Tour of the Alps’ vitality.

“The key was to get the race off to a good start, and I think the field we’ve attracted and the course we’ve designed should ensure that. All in all, we’re very happy with this new beginning.”