Further details of the One Cycling project have emerged, with a report in Het Laatste Nieuws in Belgium, saying that eight teams and race organiser Flanders Classics are involved but that the French WorldTour teams and Tour de France organiser ASO have opted out of becoming shareholders.
Cyclingnews understands that ten teams are needed for the One Cycling project to work, while multiple race organisers are needed to create a new race calendar that is somehow avoids clashing with the Grand Tours. The UCI would also have to approve any changes to the structure of the sport.
With the teams and organisers divided, it is unclear how the One Cycling project can develop and so try to shake-up professional cycling’s antiquated business model.
The Reuters news agency revealed at the weekend that SRJ Sports Investments has begun exclusive negotiations about a potential investment of around €250 million ($270 million). Reuters also said that a source “cautioned a deal may not be sealed and talks are ongoing.”
SRJ Sports Investments is owned by Saudi Arabia’s Public Investment Fund (PIF). The company suggested SRJ should be pronounced ‘Surge’ and was created last year to “invest in acquiring and creating new sports events IP (Intellectual Property), commercial rights of popular and prominent sports competitions and hosting major global events in Saudi Arabia.”
Sport is part of the Saudi Arabian government’s Vision 2030 economic diversification plan but critics have called the strategy a form of sports washing as Saudi Arabia looks to gloss over its human rights record.
Richard Plugge of Visma-Lease a Bike appeared to be the initial driving force before the idea of One Cycling. EF Education-Easypost, Lidl-Trek, Ineos Grenadiers, Bora-Hansgrohe and Soudal-QuickStep also seem to believe One Cycling can finally change professional cycling’s business model and reduce the dependency on sponsorship income.
HLN reported that Astana Qazaqstan, Movistar, Jayco-AlUla, dsm-firmenich PostNL and French WorldTour teams Groupama-FDJ, Arkea-B&B Hotels, Cofidis and Decathlon-AG2R are not interested in becoming stakeholders in the One Cycling project. However, HLN revealed that that Alpecin-Deceuninck and Intermarché-Wanty have attended meetings with SRJ Sports Investments and could also become shareholders. UAE Team Emirates is reportedly monitoring the development of the project.
The One Cycling project would start in 2026 after the current cycle of the UCI’s WorldTour team and race organiser licences.
It appears that a business plan and details of the project are still under development. A new commercially driven company is likely to be created and owned by the shareholder teams, organisers and SRJ Sports Investments.
It could involve a new calendar and perhaps even new races, with all the shareholders sharing any profits and television rights fees but also sharing responsibility for the success of the project and any eventual losses. Other teams and organisers could be invited to take part in the races but would not be shareholders.
Cyclingnews has contacted a number of teams but has yet to verify which teams are involved or have opted out. Some teams have refused to comment on their involvement in One Cycling in the past but Patrick Lefevere recently confirmed that Soudal-Quick Step are behind the project.
Speaking to Cyclingnews and other media at the Tour Colombia, Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzué suggested that the Spanish WorldTour team shares some of One Cycling’s desire for change.
“There are concerns from teams who are understandably thinking about the future of the sport,” Unzué said of the One Cycling project.
Unzué sparked debate by suggesting that Grand Tours should be shortened from 21 to 15 days to attract more big-name contenders and called for substitutions in Grand Tours if a rider crashes during the first week.
Teams had to sign non-disclosure agreements before seeing details of the One Cycling project. One source told Cyclingnews that a number of teams backed out of becoming shareholders because they were not happy with the terms of the possible deal, including a risk of having to pay back funds if the project fails to generate significant new revenue.
HLN suggested that further meetings will be held in London this week. Cyclingnews understands that the teams will meet on Wednesday, while SRJ Sports Investments will be involved on Thursday.
International consulting firm EY was hired by the teams to search for investors, with SRJ Sports Investments apparently offering a better bid than CVC Capital Partners, who have a wide portfolio of international investments in sports.
$270 million would be a significant investment and one never before seen in professional cycling. It is not clear what equity and control SRJ Sports Investments would receive for their involvement.
PIF has spent around $3 billion to create the disruptive LIV golf league, with Jon Rahm reportedly promising more than $550 million just to join LIV. They also paid more than $300 million for 80% of Newcastle United football club and huge amounts to soccer players such as Cristiano Ronaldo as it developed the Saudi Pro League football tournament.
HLN highlighted that $270 million represents about 20% of the total annual turnover of professional cycling and 50% of the total sponsorship of the 18 men’s WorldTour teams. However, HLN also suggested $270 million was ‘peanuts’ compared to the sums invested in other sports.