The Power in Cycling Wants to Change Hands, © Getty Images

Can you imagine if Real Madrid or Manchester City had to seek alliances of sponsors because their main sponsor decided to leave the project? The fact that sponsoring the best football team in the world may not be entirely profitable could be a symptom that something is happening behind the scenes.

This not what is happening in football yet. However, it is happening in cycling, where Jumbo-Visma, the most powerful team in recent seasons and the team with the best results in 2023, has had to seek the help of other sponsors to maintain its structure, as Jumbo decided not to lead in 2024. Cycling is becoming increasingly professional and handles staggering figures; however, when it comes to distributing the pie, the true protagonists are left with crumbs. 

The astronomical figures moved by competition organizers are nothing compared to those used by the teams, with the actors, the cyclists, having very limited power. Perhaps that's why the idea of building a Super League that brings together the best teams and challenges the power of the current organizers, the International Cycling Union (UCI) and ASO, is still on the table. Three-time road cycling world champion Óscar Freire states, "I see it as very complicated. Everyone looks out for their interests, and they arrived first, making it difficult to reach an agreement that can satisfy all parties."

Former Spanish triple world champion Oscar Freire spoke to Inside The Games. © Getty Images
Former Spanish triple world champion Oscar Freire spoke to Inside The Games. © Getty Images

The possibility of creating a Super League is not something that arises overnight but has already garnered support from some teams such as Jumbo-Visma, Soudal Quick-Step, Ineos-Grenadiers, EF Education, and Lidl-Trek. However, other powerful teams like UAE Team Emirates have not taken a position, and many others are in the same boat. 

Any move by teams to move forward with this possibility will face opposition from UCI and ASO, who currently hold the power. However, that power can be bought. Everything has a price. According to The Guardian, the idea that this emerging Super League could be funded by Saudi capital through the Saudi Sovereign Wealth Fund could change the scenario completely. This could reshape the foundations of cycling and leave many traditions behind. 

This possibility is similar to what happened with LIV Golf, where there is currently a growing trend among top players leaving the PGA circuit in search of lucrative contracts offered by new organizations.

Rugby organizes events worldwide, Formula 1 is a millionaire attraction, football is leaving behind the old national concept of competitions for international tournaments. Cycling is facing many competitors, and teams, being the weakest links, know that they must either adapt or perish. 

In the current sports landscape, it is not sustainable for over 80% of cycling team budgets to be provided by commercial firms. This dependence imposes a dictatorship too strong to survive for the big teams and would force the smaller ones to disappear.

The Tour de France is one of the most important cycling races. © Getty Images
The Tour de France is one of the most important cycling races. © Getty Images

The numbers speak for themselves. While races like the Tour de France have revenues exceeding 200 million and profits of around 70 million, they allocate just over 2 million for prize distribution. These numbers become significant when compared to the budgets of the teams. The most powerful teams can have budgets between 35 and 45 million euros, like Jumbo-Visma, UAE Team Emirates, or Ineos Grenadiers, approximately. Moreover, small teams do not exceed 10 million euros, and many of them struggle to complete the seasons.

The dependence that teams have on sponsors is another problem that the Spanish cyclist sees as a potential obstacle to the creation of the Super League. "Cycling changes, teams change, and sponsors change. This year there are some, and next year they might have to change because the agreement is ending, making it even more difficult for everyone to be included in a closed competition."

Another obstacle, as pointed out by Freire, would be "an alternative calendar because competition is increasing, dates are limited, and finding room for more races would be difficult."

It is evident that teams are playing their cards "because they are the most important," but finding a solution is currently complicated. The multitude of interests prevents cyclists from realizing the true strength they have because without cyclists, there are no races, just as there are no movies without actors. However, they cannot compete with time, as organizers, UCI, ASO, or those responsible for some of the most important classics like Flanders Classics and others do not have an urgency for income, and teams and riders must survive.

Paris-Roubaix, one of the world's great classics. ©  Getty Images
Paris-Roubaix, one of the world's great classics. © Getty Images

The so-called petrodollars are knocking on the door. It's not a bluff, far from it. It is something that is present. The actors in this story seek to seize the power they truly have and are not enjoying competing in the existing races. The creation of the World Tour, the obligation to earn points to remain part of the current elite, achievable only in their own races, currently leaves them little maneuverability. However, if they secure the necessary funding, everything that is now a problem becomes a reality. 

No one could imagine that players like Jon Rahm would leave the PGA circuit to join a newly created league, nor that Cristiano Ronaldo would pave the way to prefer competing in countries with much less football tradition. And what about boxing? 

On December 23, a event with some of the best boxers of the moment is taking place in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, very much in line with Las Vegas or Los Angeles, traditionally the meccas of boxing, which are lately losing power to other areas of the planet where petrodollars are calling the shots. The fight of the fights between Tyson Fury and Oleksandr Usyk, where the heavyweight belts will be unified for the first time in decades, will also take place in Riyadh. If all this is happening, why would cycling stay behind? It's not something for now; it will take time. Still, just as 2024 and 2025 threaten few changes, it cannot be ruled out that changes will occur beyond that. Cycling is changing.