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Rapha x Cycling Tips: The Future of the Sport Podcast

In unprecedented times for the sport, when every race on the calendar is postponed or cancelled and men’s and women’s WorldTour teams face extraordinary challenges, Rapha and Cycling Tips are revisiting the Rapha Roadmap and its contributors to ask how the future of cycling could change forever.

Episode One: How lockdown is shaping the future of cycling

This first episode includes insight from Ineos’ Dave Brailsford, EF’s Jonathan Vaughters, and Rapha’s Simon Mottram. We discuss the pandemic’s impact on the race calendar, on teams, and on riders. Is there a silver lining to this cloud?

Episode Two: Bikes are booming, can pro cycling boom, too?

Bikes are booming. Countries are paying for bike repairs; cities are shutting down roads to cars, making them safer for cyclists and pedestrians; bike sales are near holiday levels.

One of cycling’s greatest strengths, and most confounding weaknesses, is the gulf between participants and fans. Can pro cycling take advantage of the bike boom?

Episode Three: How to make heroes

We begin with the calendar. Last week, the UCI formally released the 2020 calendar, slamming dozens of races into about three and a half months. It’s a testament to the conflicting stakeholders involved. We hear from EF Pro Cycling’s Mitch Docker and Mike Woods, as well as the Cyclist’s Alliance Iris Slappendel, for a pro perspective.

Then, we look forward. As outdoor racing disappeared, virtual racing took over. We speak with the founder and CEO of Zwift, Eric Min, about his platform’s place in pro cycling now and in the future.

“Love the sport.”

Of the four values that drive Rapha, “love the sport” sits above all else. It is stitched into every jersey and every pair of bib shorts, creates every film and photograph, motivates every RCC ride and Clubhouse talk, informs every pro team we sponsor and rider we work with. We are cyclists before anything else, and we are true fans of the sport. In the last fifteen years, we have worked to grow its appeal, connect it with more audiences and create long love affairs with the stories of panache, courage and commitment that captured our own imaginations. In the midst of the current crisis, we are more committed than ever to driving meaningful change and development.

“Cycling stands apart.”

Published in Spring 2019, the Rapha Roadmap followed more than two years of research into the state of professional cycling. Its 40,000 words were intended as a guide for the brand’s own efforts to make cycling the most popular sport in the world, and to spark an open conversation around its future. The text continued:

“It is a means of travel; a mode of transport ubiquitous around the world, unbound by creed or class or gender that connects millions of people to their communities every day. And it is an elite sport; a global entertainment industry built on an unparalleled history of perseverance, suffering and achievement. In sport and activity, these two identities collide. Arenas erupt on roadsides in Europe, the Americas, Asia and beyond as cyclists - professional and amateur - gather to ride and race. Occasionally, they create enough noise that the world takes notice. Grand Tours, great races and gold medals are won or lost; new feats of human achievement are written into history and old scandals return to undo them; stories of personal triumph, collective commitment and sheer force of will are written, and cycling’s incredible appeal is restated.

“Rapha was founded with a deep respect for that appeal. The company believes cycling can and should be the most popular sport in the world and has worked since 2004 to demonstrate its commitment to the activity, inspiring participation and loyalty around the world. We love the sport and have dedicated significant energy in our business to working with professional teams and athletes to promote its growth. Since 2016, Rapha has embarked on an unprecedented research project in an effort to further refine our relationship with elite road cycling and define our strategy moving forward. The Rapha Roadmap was commissioned to help the business understand the state of the professional sport, and inform our involvement in the future. We believe there is an incredible opportunity for growth in the sport, and this research is our attempt to chart a radically new path for Rapha within a radically reformed sport.

“We also want to encourage honest and open debate about the state of the sport we love. Thousands of riders within our community are deeply passionate and with this research we have sought to find and reflect opposing views on the opportunities and challenges facing cycling. We hope interrogation, counter-argument, feedback and robust debate will reveal new, unexplored areas of contention and potential reforms inevitably overlooked in this work. It is our belief that we can help to create momentum behind that discussion, ensuring the voice of the fan is heard when considering the future of the sport.

“There is one conclusion that echoes most loudly from our research, in interview after interview; professional cycling is broken.”

If it was broken then, surely now it edges towards disrepair. Among the great upheavals to global sport caused by coronavirus, the temporary pause of the cycling calendar may seem unworthy of special mention. And while it is true that every stadium in the world - every field and court and pool and ballpark - sits empty, cycling continues to stand apart as a sport with such inbuilt fragility - such consistent instability - that it may well be the most damaged by the ongoing hiatus. Even as the UCI announced a new 2020 calendar with all its crown jewels still largely intact, teams and riders face dire financial realities that could see swathes of the men’s and women’s pelotons without a ride next year. Say it quietly, the business model of the sport has put its very existence at risk.

But just as the challenges become clearer and more immediate, so to do the opportunities and the urgency to consider them. The Roadmap concluded:

“Beyond the substance of these discussions, beyond the specifics of reality and reform which have formed the spine of this work, it is the meetings themselves that form the most compelling sign of the incredible potential for change. Professional cycling is overflowing with talent on and off the bike and there is no shortage of passion for the sport at every level of involvement. That passion, whether it was presented as anger and frustration or optimism and reflection, was evident in every interview for this work. Riders past and present agitated for a voice without exception. Team managers and owners all spoke candidly of their struggles for survival. The organisers of the biggest events revealed in unison the pressures driving their businesses. Governors, lobbyists and politicians have detailed as though scripted their shortcomings as well as their successes. We have spoken at length about the demand on riders, the structure of races and calendars, the value of media and sponsorship, the pressures of oversight, the realities of doping and the systemic, relentless failures to change perceptions. Nothing has been off limits and we have been presented consistently with the same image of the sport; it is too beautiful, too exciting, too completely bewitching to be so small, to leave so much on the table.

“At the very least, it is a sport filled with people eager to talk and to talk candidly. With the fewest of exceptions, senior officials and figures throughout the world of cycling were willing to talk openly and at length about the challenges they face and the opportunities they see. In all, the eagerness to help with this research from each of those we met is amongst the most encouraging findings of this work. The viability or appeal of any one suggested reform in the text could be contested and will likely form the basis of our debates going forward, but the appetite to work for those solutions across the sport is beyond rebuke. Entire organisations of people appear energised to bring professional cycling to more people and connect more meaningfully with fans and participants. That is a remarkable asset and the only question, the central question for the Rapha Roadmap, is how.”

It is to that central question we now return. A year on from the initial publication of the work, cycling finds itself in the most extraordinary circumstance. The great pause - with all the threats it brings to the future - is also a moment to consider how we emerge stronger; how we meet a changed world with a changed sport. Over the coming weeks, Rapha will partner with Cycling Tips to publish a limited series of podcasts to discuss exactly that, interviewing stakeholders across the sport to better understand the current pressures and future opportunities.

Subscribe to the podcast here. and join the debate at #RaphaRoadmap

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