Who's watching all this cycling?
While I’m catching up on the Vuelta and the battle Froome appears to be losing with Nairo Quintana, closer to home Sir Bradley Wiggins has got off his bike and started running up a hill and Mark Cavendish has pulled over to ‘have a few words with’ a selfie-taking spectator, all on the Tour of Britain.
It’s a nightmare having two races going on at once. Which one do I watch? Where do my allegiances lie and should it be with a race at all? Shouldn’t it be with a team? Or a rider?
And if it’s with a team, and the same team is riding two separate races, which race do I pick? I suppose from a patriotic point of view it should be the Tour of Britain. But Spain is sunny. You don’t get fog-drenched summits on the Vuelta. The mind is boggling.
I was having enough trouble keeping up with the Vuelta, let alone adding a new tour to the mix. Thanks to some serious other stuff that I had to do - like go to work and generally having a life - I was already a few stages behind. This led to some head scratching as I watched wrong stage after wrong stage expecting to see the one where it all kicked off. “Destruction” as David Millar described stage 16, the one where the race is blown apart in the first 8km and Froome is the only member of Team Sky to finish within the time limit, the one where 90-odd riders should officially have been disqualified.
There’s really not enough hours in the day to watch it all and right now, despite the sun and the scenery and the drama of the Vuelta, I’m veering towards watching two of our biggest cycling stars basically having a bit of a laugh around the lanes of this green and pleasant land.
To be a devoted follower of pro cycling does lead to painful decisions. As it is, stages by their nature will take place during prime cycling hours, at a time when, if you actually enjoy the pursuit of cycling, you’ll be out there doing it. Going to work could also prove difficult considering cycle racing tends to clash with that, too.
Such is the nature of professional cycling. It’s a daytime sport and the whole point of stage races is their length and their difficulty. It’s what makes the sport interesting.
It is also what poses the eternal dilemma for those attempting to make professional cycling more accessible to the viewing public. Racing is complicated enough as it is with its point system and its various jerseys and its specialists and its tactics.
Calendar clashes don’t help matters, especially when it comes to races that are going to divide viewer loyalty. Of course scheduling dilemmas are not unique to cycling, but the business model of cycling is different to anything else apart from perhaps motor racing.
But there is no team loyalty, how can there be when teams change by the season? Which brings us back to the scheduling - without the TV viewers, the sponsors don’t want to spend the money, and there’s a lot of money to be spent in running a team, just over £20 million per season in the case of Team Sky.
Even billionaires get fed up with running a world tour team - Oleg Tinkoff is pulling out of cycling after this year, spelling the end of Tinkoff Saxo.
Women’s cycling receives a fraction in sponsorship compared to men, simply because the women’s sport is not deemed to receive the same level of coverage. And it doesn’t; you’d struggle to find a women’s tour on the TV from one week to the next.
Will things ever change? There are now so many races on the pro tour calendar that there will inevitably be overlaps, and the Vuelta and the Tour of Britain have always clashed. That doesn’t make it any better for sponsors or viewers but does lay bare an underlying issue.
In the meantime at least the sponsors will be happy with Wiggo - running up that hill has got him more exposure than anything anyone in the Vuelta has done so far.
Maybe there should be a wacky rider jersey, that should draw some attention. Everybody loves a clown.