By Amy-Jo Crowley, Anousha Sakoui and Julien Pretot
LONDON (Reuters) -A number of major European cycling teams have been exploring plans to create a new competitive league in a move that could reshape the sport's landscape and allocate more funding for participants, three people familiar with the matter told Reuters.
External investors could help finance the project, two of the people said, speaking on condition of anonymity because the discussions are private. The venture could amalgamate new and existing races, one of the people said.
About five teams around Europe including Ineos Grenadiers are involved in the early-stage talks and more could join, the people said. Tour de France champion Jonas Vingegaard’s Jumbo-Visma team is also involved in the talks, one of them said.
Spokespeople for Ineos Grenadiers and Jumbo-Visma declined to comment.
Big Four accounting and consulting firm EY is seeking expressions of interest from potential investors for the project and has set a deadline for indications this week, two of the people said. A spokesperson for EY declined to comment.
Reuters was not able to ascertain how long the discussions have been going on for. An agreement is not imminent and a deal may not proceed, one of the people said.
Among those showing interest is CVC Partners, the former owner of Formula One motor racing, two of the people said. A spokesperson for CVC declined to comment.
The project aims to distribute some of the gains from cycling events amongst the teams, which currently rely largely on external sponsorship for funding, the people said.
It is a response to the teams concerns that the lion's share of profits from the main cycling races including the Tour de France, La Vuelta and the Giro d'Italia go to their organisers, people familiar with the plans said.
"It's obvious that cycling is a sleeping giant and deserves an improved business model," Jumbo-Visma team manager Richard Plugge, who sources say is involved in the discussions, told Reuters on Thursday. Plugge would not comment directly on his involvement in the talks.
"For all the stakeholders, but especially for the World Tour (top) teams. The only way to get there, is cooperation."
Amaury Sports Organisation (ASO) controls the Tour de France and La Vuelta while the Giro d'Italia is controlled by RCS Sports.
Any deal would follow a trend in other global sports such as golf and tennis, where investors have poured in new capital and attracted players and clubs to compete with the older, established events.
This is not the first time cycling teams have explored a new cycling league project. Eight teams founded a league project called World Series Cycling (WSC) at the end of 2012 but the plans failed to materialise.
The reason, some believe, is that any plan that would not include the Tour de France is seen as doomed to fail.
"Outside of the 3 Grand Tours and a small handful of one-day races, there are no profits from organising bike races. In fact most races are struggling to cover their costs," former UCI president Brian Cookson wrote on social media platform X on Thursday.
"Those companies that do make a profit, specifically ASO, aren't going to share it with the teams, as previous attempts to reform pro road cycling have shown.
"If "investors" are to be brought in to make this happen, where is their ROI (Return On Investment) coming from, given that the profitable events won't share and the other events have nothing to share?," Cookson, who was UCI president from 2013 to 2017, added.
(Reporting by Amy-Jo Crowley, Anousha Sakoui and Julien Pretot; Additional reporting by Andres Gonzalez; Editing by Elisa Martinuzzi and Hugh Lawson)