Inside cycling with the road race world champion
Belgian cyclist Philippe Gilbert, who races for Swiss-American ProTour team BMC and who won the road cycling world championship in September, was at the Sportel sports television market near his home in Monaco on Tuesday. Speaking exclusively to SportsPro, Gilbert gives his take on the business side of cycling.
How much attention do you pay to the commercial side of cycling?
Every contract is different; in cycling, a lot of the contracts include image rights – you give your image to the team and the team’s sponsors. So it’s difficult to find other deals. Of course it’s nice to sign personal deals because your image goes up and you can work with a nice company. You can make your image better, and have some money of course. But you must also remember that you must give one or two days a year working for those contracts. The thing is to sign some nice contracts. I’m racing from February to October and I do one or two grand tours a year so I’m racing and travelling a lot and I can’t really find too much time to work on contracts. I don’t do a lot of sponsorship.
In your current deal with BMC, how much space is there for you to make your own commercial deals?
We have to look at it with the team together to make sure that it’s not in contradiction to the team’s own sponsors. And then if the team is fine, it’s up to me to accept or not.
"I think we’re all pretty clean and we have a new style and a new image with riders like Wiggo, who’s pretty special, and it brings some new interest to cycling"
Are you satisfied with how cycling is set up commercially, or would you prefer it to be set up like a more commercial sport like football?
Cycling is not as big as football. I think the big thing with football is that they play in a city. They have a lot of politics behind them. We are all owned by companies so for example the seat of BMC is somewhere in California, the seat of Sky is just outside London. We don’t have our headquarters in those big cities so it’s hard because you don’t have those politics behind you like football can have. We don’t play in big stadiums so you can’t have as many big sponsors either.
You have just become world champion, what does that mean to you in terms of becoming a spokesman or a figurehead for cycling?
I was before on quite a high level; I had quite a lot of pages in the newspapers. I think maybe the difference is that now media from other sports might come to me, because they always want to take the number one or the world champion. I have to be careful with what I say because it will go more to different parts of the media.
With the recent and continuing USADA revelations in mind, what do you think are the biggest challenges currently facing the sport?
I always say we are a new generation. I think it’s up to us to prove to the world that cycling is more clean. I think the big problems are behind us. It’s the older generation. Of course there are still some problems sometimes but it’s maybe less than one per cent of the new cycling generation. I think we’re all pretty clean and we have a new style and a new image with riders like Wiggo, who’s pretty special, and it brings some new interest to cycling. We are a new generation and it’s good for our sport.
What are your thoughts on the so-called ‘breakaway league’? Do you discuss it among the riders?
I think it’s just a few managers behind it really. We never heard much about it. I don’t think any riders have been involved in any of the discussions.
Who are your favourite race organisers?
My favourite races are the one-day races in general – the big classics like San Remo, Flanders, Liege-Bastogne-Liege, Amstel – it’s the same parcours where I became world champion so for me it’s very special. My favourite organiser, in terms of safety, is ASO. But there’s still a lot to do. We can do a lot better in other races. A lot of the races are very dangerous. I did the Tour of Spain this year, for example, and it was so dangerous. We had cars parked on the road in the last five or six kilometres when we’re going full gas and everybody is taking a lot of risks. In 2012 I would have thought this wouldn’t happen.
"If it’s true what I saw in the newspaper about Hein Verbruggen being so involved in those problems, for sure he has to leave"
There’s a lot of pressure on UCI president Pat McQuaid and especially UCI honorary president Hein Verbruggen to take responsibility over the Lance Armstrong affair. What’s your take on the political situation behind it?
I don’t know, but if it’s true what I saw in the newspaper about Hein Verbruggen being so involved in those problems, for sure he has to leave. I don’t know the processes though, and I heard this report is about 1,000 pages so it’s pretty hard for me to say something specific about this.
What does the future hold for you?
I have a contract until 2014 and then I hope to sign another three-year contract, maybe with BMC but I don’t know yet. And then we will see. But my family situation and my motivation will decide. We have had Sagan coming the last two years and we have six or seven like him coming in the next few years then it will be hard for me to fight against them. It would be great to stay in the sport world after I finish.