Rapha roadmap chapter 10: Making a difference

The final installment of the Rapha roadmap provides a conclusion to the 10-part series

Photo: Getty Images

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Research for this project took us all over the world. We have conducted interviews with more than 50 of the sport’s most experienced stakeholders, snatching conversations at races, at training camps, at sportives, at music festivals, on university campuses, on planes and beyond. We have researched the state of the sport for almost two years for this work and we have barely scratched the surface. There are hundreds of opinions we would have been lucky to hear and thousands of points of view that could not be included. Each section outlined above could form its own study. Each interviewee deserves their own platform. Each recommendation belies the true scale of the potential.

But beyond the substance of these discussions, beyond the specifics of reality and reform which have formed the spine of this work, it is the meetings themselves that form the most compelling sign of the incredible symbol for change. Professional cycling is overflowing with talent on and off the bike and there is no shortage of passion for the sport at every level of involvement.

That passion, whether it was presented as anger and frustration or optimism and reflection, was evident in every interview for this work. Riders past and present agitated for a voice without exception. Team managers and owners all spoke candidly of their struggles for survival. The organizers of the biggest events revealed in unison the pressures driving their business. Governors, lobbyists and politicians have detailed as though scripted their shortcomings as well as their successes.

We have spoken at length about the demand on riders, the structure of races and calendars, the value of media and sponsorship, the pressures of oversight, the realities of doping and the systemic, relentless failures to change perceptions. Nothing has been off limits and we have been presented consistently with the same image of the sport; it is too beautiful, too exciting, too completely bewitching to be so small, to leave so much on the table.

At the very least, it is a sport filled with people eager to talk and to talk candidly. With the fewest of exceptions, senior officials and figures throughout the world of cycling were willing to talk openly and at length about the challenges they face and the opportunities they see. In all, the eagerness to help with this research from each of those we met is amongst the most encouraging findings of this work. The viability or appeal of any one suggested reform in the text above could be contested and will likely form the basis of our debates going forward, but the appetite to work for those solutions across the sport is beyond discussion. Entire organizations of people appear energized to bring professional cycling to more people and connect more meaningfully with fans and participants. That is a remarkable asset and the only question, the central question for the Rapha Roadmap, is how.

Each chapter has attempted to frame the answer. There are fundamental challenges to reaching new fans posed by the very structure of the sport; the format of racing, the calendar of events, the organization of teams and the process of reward. In Talking Shop, specific recommendations for reform to the sport itself detail the potential for a better organized race program, a new approach to teams and more compelling formats.

There are equally difficult questions surrounding the presentation of the sport; its broadcast on television and digital platforms, its presentation as a live spectacle and all its associated media. Dressing the Window attempts to locate some of the opportunities for connecting with new fans in new places and building meaningful engagement between the public and the sport, including the potential to enhance coverage across genders and disciplines in a bid to change the image of professional cycling.

The undeniable financial weakness of the sport at almost every level is considered in Making Money and potential advances in sponsorship targeting, cost reduction and revenue diversification are outlined. Finally, the gulf between participation and those involved in racing at the highest level is addressed. Breaking Away suggests how riders, teams, events and sponsors could get closer to the cycling community and add value to their experience, shaping how cycling could learn from the successful initiatives of other sports to connect with more people.

In each of these areas Rapha has sought to identify chances to help. This research was commissioned at the end of our relationship with Team Sky to orientate Rapha’s involvement in the professional sport and has led directly to a series of major business decisions. The Rapha Roadmap project was among the first steps towards a major 2019 teams project that will see Rapha working with a host of partners to create a truly revolutionary force in the sport, the concept and ethos of which are linked inextricably to the Rapha Roadmap. With these activities and more, Rapha is committed to helping grow the sport as a whole, connecting with more fans and building more meaningful connection with those already engaged.

The implications of this work for Rapha are already being felt. As we seek to take a new position on professional cycling we are changing the way we work and will continue to champion reform at every level of the sport. Its impact, we hope, will be seen in a growing number of fans, an increasingly engaged audience and a willingness to pursue radical innovation. Professional cycling must be made more accessible and more engaging. In reaching that destination, we will have to take the road less travelled.

Please send us your thoughts at roadmapreport@velonews.com.

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