By Tyler Wren
Last month I wrote about the highlights of the domestic cycling calendar, and since then I learned that my squad Jamis/Sutter Home was left off the premier event Amgen Tour of California invitation list. It’s easy to understand how teams left out can feel frustrated by the decision. I was disappointed, like most of my teammates. Sutter Home is a California-based sponsor who has invested a lot of money into our team and the race; we feel that we have been consistently and sufficiently competitive at this level; we had the highest placed domestic rider (Luis Amaran in 16th) in last year’s edition; team member Philip Mooney lives near the start town of Santa Rosa; etc. etc. The truth is that all of the top domestic Continental teams that were left out (Jelly Belly, Kenda/5hr Energy, and Salt Lake City's own Competitive Cyclist) have similar compelling arguments as to why they should have been picked to compete in the country’s most important cycling event.
Professional cycling, to me, is this interesting and beautiful intersection of the sporting and marketing worlds. The truth is, as I see it, that all of the domestic teams bring essentially the same sporting merit to the table at this event. We all can and consistently do put riders in the breakaways, in the ancillary jerseys, near the top five in stages, and near the top twenty in the general classification — competitive, but not for the overall win. While there is an often-distinct hierarchy between us all during the regular season at NRC and smaller UCI races, we all bring a similar amount to the table at AToC from a sporting point of view. Another assumption I will make from this viewpoint is that we all cannot be included in this race, even if there is in fact room for us all on the road and in the hotels. The reason Amgen Tour of California is so successful is because of the World Tour teams and star athletes that it attracts, not because of us Continental teams. It’s a grim reality for us, but the race earns its prestige in large part because it is very selective.
If you take those arguments as given, as race promoters AEG & Medalist may, the discussion naturally turns to which of the smaller teams offer the race the most marketing value. Amgen Tour of California is a sporting event, but also, as its branded name suggests, an expensive, valuable marketing endeavor for a quiver of well-paying sponsors. The supply ceiling created by the promoters, combined with Continental teams’ growing collective demand to participate in the race, naturally creates the sponsor ‘activation’ price that AEG’s Michael Roth commented on in the press. So it seems to me that the collective shock that the promoters' decisions are not purely based on sporting merit is unwarranted.
Amgen Tour of California is a phenomenal event that challenges all the cyclists and brings substantial publicity to all the sponsors, as evidenced by the fact that the world’s and country’s best teams clamor to take part. It’s easy to criticize AEG & Medalist, but the fact remains that they have created a lasting, world-class event that has brought a lot of sponsor exposure and sporting opportunity to each of our domestic squads. I for one am very thankful for that, and recognize that we can’t all take part every year and have it still be a top-level event.
Personally, I can see the silver lining here — Jamis/Sutter Home instead gets to race a world-class event in Spain – Castilla y Leon, and, perhaps I will be better prepared for an assault on the national championships in Greenville the week after AToC without the immense suffering the race inevitably inflicts. That’s the thing about bike racing- there are always more chances to throw down.
Tyler Wren is a professional cyclist for the Jamis/Sutter Home Professional Men’s Cycling Team living in downtown Salt Lake City. He also coaches athletes and is available for cyclocross and road cycling clinics. To find out more information, contact Tyler at [email protected] or 610-574-1334.