In his November 26 blog on Cyclingnews, FDJ team manager Marc Madiot wrote:
"People who have been told that the world's best riders would compete in Adelaide, Montreal and Beijing have been fooled. Most of the top champions haven't attended those events and the way the Tour Down Under has attracted Lance Armstrong and Peter Sagan had nothing to do with the WorldTour. ASO does the same for criteriums in Japan and China."
Madiot said when the concept of a WorldTour (then called ProTour) was presented back in 2004 by then UCI president Hein Verbruggen, "it was a source of hope".
"In the talks between the UCI and the stakeholders, we were full of hope that a better organization of our sport and our teams would bring about better ethics, more efficient controls and more transparency."
Yet, while he feels the WorldTour has allowed the competing teams to improve, the business model surrounding cycling hasn't. Consequently, sponsors, both large and small, have come and gone all too frequently. "They've had to pay much more for pretty much the same thing they had before. It has led to companies pulling out of cycling and being replaced by a few rich benefactors," Madiot wrote.
This isn't like match-fixing; appearance money on its own has no effect on the outcome of a stage or race.
On the last point it's hard to disagree. The top-performing teams are at the mercy of uber-rich benefactors; there is no real return revenue stream for teams and their sponsors (for the most part, it's an exercise in brand awareness); and there is little correlation between success and longevity, as demonstrated by the team now known as EF Education First–Drapac p/b Cannondale, which almost folded despite finishing runner-up at this year's Tour de France.
As for ethics, one could say the outsiders' perception is much better than when the ProTour began in 2005. Yes, there are still doping positives - there always will be. But in the cases of Chris Froome and Bradley Wiggins we are talking about salbutamol and corticosteroids, rather than EPO and blood transfusions administered by nefarious doctors with little to no care for the outcome of their 'patients'.
More efficient controls and more transparency? Well, it depends on whether we're talking about governance, drug testing, race organisation, administration of the WorldTour, team budgets and rider salaries, ethics, or something else.
Madiot was never particularly keen on the recently departed Verbruggen's idea to globalise cycling and probably never will be. His Euro-centric perspective therefore shapes much of his thinking, and largely explains why he said the world's top riders haven't attended the races like the Tour Down Under, the Grands Prixs de Québec and Montréal, and the Tour of Beijing, which lasted four editions before ending in 2014.
Only they have. Okay, some weren't so keen to be there but others found it genuinely refreshing to see the WorldTour move beyond old Europe and experience something a little different.
"WorldTour events work pretty well in Australia and Canada but cycling is nothing new there. Like in traditional countries, their success comes from the crowds on the road, but watching the Tour de France on TV has done more for these fans to embrace cycling than the WorldTour coming to them," he said.
Yes, Le Tour has an effect everywhere yet the belief that it drives everything is misguided. Not only that, if cycling is to prosper globally, events like the Tour Down Under and the GP Québec and Montréal must be able to stand on their own two feet, with or without the Tour's influence, and certainly in the case of the former, I believe it has done that. The TDU is not just a WorldTour success story, but a cycling success story.
Armstrong was reportedly paid US$1 million for his three appearances at the TDU; Sagan probably a quarter to a half that for coming this year and again next. Until we learned of his adverse analytical finding at the Vuelta a España, Chris Froome was said to be receiving 2 million Euros to ride next year's Giro d'Italia, according to a report in Cycling Weekly. (This was denied by organisers RCS Sport, but not by Froome's team).
Top athletes have been paid appearance money for as long as I can remember. If it guarantees you a Grand Tour champion or world champion or superstar on the start line, drawing greater media and fan interest as a result, who cares?
This isn't like match-fixing; an appearance fee on its own has no effect on the outcome of a stage or race (the obvious exception being post-Tour criteriums). The only gripe I have with the TDU is that given it's essentially a taxpayer-funded event, it is a matter of public interest any appearance money be disclosed.
The most successful WorldTour races are now relying on drawing crowds via Gran Fondo-style rides before or during the event and capturing the tourism dollar, in addition to revenue earned through the sale of broadcasting rights. And yes, there's a bit of 'cash-for-comment' going on but only in the sense a local reporter asks the deeply probing question: 'How do you like South Australia?' - to which Sagan enthusiastically replies, 'I like it very much!'/ 'The people are so friendly!'/ 'I will come back here one day for holidays!'/ etcetera, etcetera.
Previously, the Tour de France may have been able to rest on its laurels. Though as we've seen with the recent introduction of shorter mountain stages, time trials starting in a velodrome, broadcasting of a rider's telemetry during the race, and as of this year, reduced team sizes, even behemoths like them need to reinvent themselves or at least move with the times to stay relevant and engaging in the modern era.