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Spanish stage race Volta a Valencia returns after hiatus

The Volta a Comunitat Valenciana has been off the calendar since 2008 because of Spain's economic crisis.

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Next week, the Volta a Comunitat Valenciana returns to the Spanish racing calendar despite the odds after an eight-year hiatus triggered by economic woes in Spain.

Ex-pro Angel Casero is proud to revive his “home race” — which includes five stages from February 3-7 — but he admitted it wasn’t easy. He confirmed that the price tag is nearly 1 million euros ($1.2 million), and it’s up to the organization to underwrite television production for the race. Just as the sport’s big players bicker over sharing TV rights from the major races, Casero said smaller races like his don’t receive any TV rights. In contrast, they must give it away.

“This isn’t football [soccer]. This is cycling, and that’s the way it is,” Casero told VeloNews. “We have to pay for everything, and that’s about 50,000 euros per day in TV production.”

Casero’s comments underscore the huge gap between races like the Tour de France and Giro d’Italia, which can earn millions annually from selling TV rights, to the smaller regional races that must offer a ready-made product to broadcasters if they want their races beamed over the airwaves.

Races like Ruta del Sol, Volta a Catalunya, and other second-tier races across the European racing calendar face this harsh reality of underwriting TV production costs, or having no TV coverage at all at their events.

It’s worth it for sponsors to pay for equipment, staffers, and helicopter images that are part of the television production, however, because the races are largely backed as promotional vehicles by local governments and tourism agencies. Sponsors want the images of their sunny beaches and historic villages beamed to countries across Europe and beyond. The bottom line is without TV, bike races have limited value to sponsors.

The fact that the race is back on the Spanish calendar speaks volumes about the depth of the economic recovery in Spain, where unemployment topped 25 percent at the height of the crisis. In 2015, the Spanish economy rebounded, growing faster than any nation in the European zone. Regions such as Spain’s Valencia, which sees millions of tourists each summer, finally has the money to reinvest in cycling.

The Volta a la Comunitat Valenciana dated back to 1929, but died on the vine in 2008 when public funding evaporated in the wake of the economic crisis that swept Spain in 2007-08. The recession led to major cutbacks and austerity programs across Spain, leaving regional governments with little money to back such events as bicycle races. The Spanish calendar shrunk as a result, with races such as the Vuelta a Murcia reduced from five days to one day, while others, like Semana Catalana and the Vuelta a Aragon, simply disappeared.

“This is big news for Spanish cycling,” Casero said. “It wasn’t easy, but it was a big effort by everyone involved. I am the public face because I am an ex-pro, but there is a big team working on this to bring it forward.”

For Casero — who won the Vuelta a España in 2001 and retired in 2005 — reviving the Valencia race began a few years ago. His team began reaching out to local and regional government agencies as well as private businesses to secure funding. Piecing together the 1 million euro budget was far from easy, but the race is back on the UCI calendar in its old slot in early February with five stages.

“We made a big bet to return with five stages, and maybe we could have started a little bit less, but we decided to go right from the beginning with an important race of five stages,” Casero said. “We have a mix of public and private sponsors. The governments are helping us across the region. It’s an important base.”

The five-stage race features a good mix of terrain across the Valencia region, a popular training area for the top teams in the peloton. The race opens with a 16-kilometer individual time trial and hits a summit finish to Fredes the next day. Stages 3 and 5 are ideal for the sprinters, while stage 4 tackles the short but explosive climb at Xorret del Catí, featured before in the Vuelta a España.

“We have a good mix of stages, for sprinters, climbers, and a time trial,” Casero said. “It’s like the old times. We are situated in a perfect place, right after the Mallorca Challenge and ahead of Ruta del Sol, so it fits in perfectly for the teams to train and race for one month here in the Spanish ‘sol.’”

Teams are backing the race big-time, with several squads bringing some of their top riders to the return edition. Riders confirmed to start include Tom Boonen and Daniel Martin (Etixx – Quick-Step), Nacer Bouhanni (Cofidis), Joaquim Rodríguez (Katusha), Pierre Rolland and Davide Formolo (Cannondale), Fabio Aru (Astana), and Nicolas Roche (Sky).

“We cannot complain about the level of participation. The teams are backing us with some big names,” Casero said. “We have Banco Sabadell onboard as a major sponsor, and that gives us a solid base to build on this year, and hopefully for many years to come.”

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