Basque Country official wants to charge to watch bike races

Money-crunched officials in Spain’s Basque Country say they want to charge fans to watch bike races to help underwrite the costs of funding events.

2004 Vuelta a Espana, stage 3
A spectator at the 2004 Vuelta a Espana, stage 3

Money-crunched officials in Spain’s Basque Country say they want to charge fans to watch bike races to help underwrite the costs of funding events.

In the face of rising costs and the loss of such events as the Subida a Urkiola, Patxi Mutiloa, director of sports for the regional Basque Country government, suggested that fans could pay an admission fee to watch races.

“There’s always a margin between zero to 100. We’re not talking about prices that would be crazy, but it’s obvious that the spectator that attends and enjoys the spectacle will have to collaborate in some manner in its maintenance,” Mutiloa told El Correo newspaper.

Watching bike races has traditionally been free for fans who line the side of roads. Sponsors pony up money in exchange for publicity and TV coverage, but many Spanish races are finding it especially difficult to cover costs.

Track racing, cyclocross and finish-line seats at such events as the world championships traditionally have seen admission prices, but Mutiloa’s idea of charging for roadside access comes in light of increasing pressure on Spain’s regional governments to step up their financial support for strapped bike races.

Much of the budget for the annual ProTour Vuelta a Pais Vasco comes from the Basque regional government, something Mutiloa said might have to change as 20 percent unemployment wreaks havoc on Spain’s economy.

“There are numerous high-level events, such as (soccer), basketball and peloton, that spectators pass for the ticket office,” he said. “Cycling, unfortunately, is a sport that’s very expensive and that the fans that are alongside the road do not support it economically.”

The Spanish cycling community was caught by surprise by the comments. Abraham Olano, technical director of the Vuelta a Espana, called the idea “impossible.”

“In cyclocross, criteriums, they already charge. We haven’t thought about it,” Olano said. “Right now it would seem impossible to pull it off with a road race. Cycling is all about getting close to the public and if we start charging, people won’t come. I understand that cycling is in crisis, just like society at large, but I don’t see how we can charge the public right now.”

Jaime Ugarte, general manager of the Vuelta al País Vasco, said it would be practically very difficult to control access to public roads.

“It would cost more to charge the people than we would get out of it,” he said. “It would be impossible on a road race. What are we going to, charge on the Jaizkibel climb? I see it very complicated.”

What’s sure is that Spanish races are facing tough times. Several races have folded over the past few years due to loss of sponsorship money, including such events as Setmana Catalan, stage races in Valencia, Aragon and La Rioja, as well as one-day events such as Luis Puig and the Urkiola climb.