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ASO ‘saves’ Catalunya, expands Spanish reach

ASO continues to expand its cycling empire, announcing a five-year deal Monday to provide TV rights and production as well as sponsorship for the Volta a Catalunya.

It’s a win-win, both for Spain’s longest-running stage race and for the ever-powerful Amaury Sport Organisation, which already owns the Vuelta a España. The deal, announced to coincide with Monday’s opening stage, gives the Paris-based company another foothold in Spain.

The agreement provides the Catalan-based stage race with a stronger financial footing. The race has been struggling over the past decade under the weight of larger Spanish economic problems, but the ASO deal will bring stability to the operation, which is largely run by volunteers and leans on financial backing from already-pinched local governments. ASO already brought the Carrefour supermarket chain on board this year as a sponsor.

What does it mean for cycling fans? From the outside, not too much. The race will retain its spot on the WorldTour calendar. Most importantly, the deal will give the race more stability in an ever-changing media and sponsorship world, perhaps assuring that Europe’s fifth-oldest stage race will continue well into its second century.

The changes behind the scenes are more interesting. TV production quality and viewing access will certainly improve with the deal. ASO has struck similar deals with the Amgen Tour of California and the Santos Tour Down Under, and the French bring to the table a lot of resources and experience that a once-a-year organization cannot offer.

Strategically, the Volta becomes another card in the expanding international portfolio for ASO. The deal gives the French race promoters one more chunk of the WorldTour calendar and further bolsters its overall position as the leader within professional cycling.

ASO owns and operates the Vuelta, Tour de France, Paris-Nice, Critérium du Dauphiné, Paris-Roubaix, Flèche-Wallonne, Liège-Bastogne-Liège, Paris-Tours, Tour of Oman, Tour of Yorkshire, Tour de l’Avenir, the Arctic Race of Norway, and other women and gran fondo events.

The move also marks further consolidation within cycling. Rival organizations include RCS Sport, which runs the Giro d’Italia, Tirreno-Adriatico, Giro di Lombardia and Strade Bianche, and Flanders Classics, which now runs six one-day races during the spring calendar.

Only a handful of races WorldTour calendar, such as Friday’s E3 Harelbeke, the Clásica San Sebastian and the Tour of the Basque Country, are not owned or linked to these three major companies.