• With so many team changes, identifying your favourite rider gets that little bit trickier - unless it is Peter Sagan. (Getty)Source: Getty
With umpteen changes of name each year, are you better off following the rider than the team, wonders Anthony Tan?
Cycling Central
17 Jan 2017 - 9:52 PM  UPDATED 18 Jan 2017 - 12:19 AM

Even for the seasoned commentator, keeping up with which rider is on what team isn't easy, especially the first day of the first WorldTour race of the year.

Out of the 18 WorldTour teams in 2017, seven have either undergone name changes, or are completely new outfits: namely, Bahrain-Merida, Bora-Hansgrohe, Orica-Scott, Quick-Step Floors, UAE Abu Dhabi, Team Katusha–Alpecin, and Team Sunweb. As for the Pro Continental and Continental squads, well, I won't even go there.

"No, the headline sponsor wants to be just that: in the headlines."

Little wonder, then, Messrs Liggett, Sherwen and McEwen had a little trouble identifying who's who during Tuesday's broadcast of the opening stage of the Santos Tour Down Under. In fact, it's testament to their professionalism and assiduous preparation they didn't slip up more. I certainly would have, which probably explains why I don't get offered those plum gigs and nowadays am designated the lonely and innocuous status of 'blogger'. Columnist sounds far more prestigious, and I was once that (occasionally still am), but alas, there are no jobs for such types in the Australian newspaper media who wish to report on the professional cycling scene, or at least none I'm aware of. (It's a minor miracle if cycling makes its way into any of the metro dailies on the eastern seaboard, save for a doping scandal; that's a moan for another day.)

Another thing I noticed on this "stinking hot" day, as stage winner Caleb Ewan called it, was more so than in the past, the absence of roadside fans wearing trade team kit. Okay, you still get the die-hard Orica-Scott fans who are still mostly wearing Orica-GreenEDGE stuff (they never made it to the store in time to get their Orica-BikeExchange party duds before that was made redundant). Without doubt, it is a consequence of what I first mentioned and more broadly, is symptomatic of the fragility of professional cycling as a whole.

What is the point of spending $200 or more on trade team kit when, to use Orica-Scott as an example, their last iteration had a shelf life of six months or less? Why invest emotionally in a team whose existence is determined by the whim of a billionaire Sultan or Russian oligarch and who considers it as much a plaything as his Bugatti Veyron Super Sport? And when he gets tired of it, just like Oleg Tinkov did last year, he dumps it - but not before blaming the sport's basketcase milieu and, astoundingly, the very riders he employed who, only months earlier, he praised more than Martin Luther King Jr did the Holy Bible.

In pro cycling, unlike European football (that is, soccer), the NFL and the NBA, marquee sponsors can put their name into the team's name, either wholly or partly. Great for the sponsor, but when you do that, invariably, said team's existence becomes inextricably linked to the sponsor. To go back to simply GreenEDGE or Slipstream Sports would be nigh on impossible, because nowadays, the sponsor is no longer satisfied with having their logo plastered all over the shorts and jersey and team buses and cars and off-the-bike garb and wherever else you can think of. No, the headline sponsor wants to be just that: in the headlines.

There is also a growing band of brands who have managed to cultivate a sense of elitism into a once working class pastime. According to them, it is not cool to wear trade team kit. Yes, that's right, you now pay more for less: a stripe on the arm; a modest logo on the chest - or maybe not a stripe or logo at all; like-minded wearers should be able to identify with Lycra's houses of haute couture or f*** off. And if you can't, you might as well buy some of that naff trade team kit now sold at general sporting stores, because proper bike shops don't carry such garish, unfashionable, hubbard-revealing wares.

You see how one feeds the other?

Thankfully, for the most part, it's still acceptable to be a fan of the bike rider - except if you're on Team Sky and riding the Tour de France, in which case you'll be punched in the guts and get pee hurled at you while riding at 180 BPM and grinding up a hors catégorie ascent. I guess that's why Richie Porte left; he signed up to be a bike rider, not a pugilist. Barring serious injury or death, the professional cyclist can expect to have a career lasting 10 years or more - a good deal longer than the lifespan of your average WorldTour mob.