Road

Traditional European races wither as top teams head abroad

Lower-tier European races are feeling the pinch as early season races in warm climates draw top pros away from traditional tune-up events.

FLORENCE, Italy (VN) — Organizers in Europe say that the amount of simultaneous racing, including the warm-weather races abroad in Australia and the Middle East, is killing their early season races.

The GP Costa degli Etruschi or what is known to many as the GP Donoratico has a weakened roster compared to its glory days when Alessandro Petacchi or Mario Cipollini were sprinting to victory.

For its race Sunday, it attracted only one top WorldTour team, UAE Abu Dhabi. UAE Abu Dhabi was Lampre – Merida, the last Italian WorldTour team until this year when Middle East sponsors took over.

“So the answer to the question is easy as to why Donoratico does not have the big champions,” race director Adriano Amici told VeloNews. “You can arrive at the answer yourself. There are too many races going on at same time and you can see the economic conditions take hold.”

His GS Emilia group organizes 11 days of racing in the year, including Trofeo Laigueglia, February 12. Trofeo Laigueglia is ranked just below the WorldTour level, 1.HC. GP Etruschi is one level lower at 1.1.

The 190.6-kilometer race Sunday cuts through Tuscany’s famous southwest coastal region around Bolgheri and Castagneto Carducci.

The iconic Italian opener counts on stars Diego Ulissi of team UAE Abu Dhabi and Filippo Pozzato of Wilier – Selle Italia. Besides WorldTour team UAE Abu Dhabi, it has all four of Italy’s Professional Continental teams: Pozzato’s Wilier – Selle Italia, Nippo – Vini Fantini, Androni Giocattoli, and Bardiani CSF. Beyond those, it welcomes a handful of foreign Professional Continental teams and both foreign and local Continental teams.

Petacchi holds the record with six wins. Cipollini won twice and recently Elia Viviani, now with Sky, claimed the 2011 and 2012 titles.

Only 10 to 20 years ago, Italian teams, and some foreign outfits, held their training camps along the famous coast near Bibbona. To start their season, they would drive to north to Laigueglia or just minutes away to Donoratico.

Today’s stars, however, are beginning their seasons in Australia with two weeks training and the Santos Tour Down Under or the Herald Sun Tour, or this week in Middle East at the Dubai Tour, and on to Oman and Abu Dhabi. The Tour of Qatar used to be a stopping point in February, but this year it was cancelled.

“It’s the evolution of cycling, evolution of the dollar. It’s the evolution of the UCI that gave the possibility to Australia and those hot countries to have the races at the same time when there are races in Europe,” Amici added. “At the same time the races in Europe cannot have a high participation level.”

France’s Tour Méditerranéan reduced the race to two days and then, citing problems with securing police to close the roads, cut the race completely from the 2017 calendar.

The economic crisis, what locals call “la crisi,” is partly to blame for races like the GP Larciano or the Giro del Lazio disappearing in recent years. It is the same in Spain, where stage races in Madrid and Aragon, the Setmana Catalana and the Euskal Bizikleta, have vanished.

Those races struggle to find money in a recovering Eurozone crisis, space on the calendar with warm-weather races that offer greater UCI points — or both.

The European races that remain like the GP Etruschi or Spain’s Ruta del Sol fight for their calendar space. The UCI meanwhile searches for balance between cycling-hungry and rich countries like Australia and its European heartland.

“We are trying to achieve a balance here,” UCI president Brian Cookson said. “Some of the races in the heartland have disappeared, but there is massive interest in other parts of the world.

“Cycling cannot always can be in northern Europe, and it has to expand. It’s a balance, and we are in a period to see what happens in the next three years.”