EL VENDRELL, Spain (VN) – Cycling hardly makes front-page news these days in Spain, unless it’s a doping story.
The size of the press corps at the Volta a Catalunya swelled on Thursday on news that the UCI would appeal the ongoing “caso Contador” to the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Journalists from Spain’s top dailies and TV stations parachuted into El Vendrell to document the reaction from Alberto Contador.
Photographers and cameramen shoved and screamed at each other before an impromptu, post-stage press conference. Contador duly answered four or five questions and was quickly hustled off to doping control.
The journalists got their story and packed up. Most said that would not be back to cover Friday’s stage to Tarragona.
“We’re here to hear what Contador had to say,” one radio journalist said. “The only thing our bosses want to hear about is futbol (soccer). I’ll be lucky if I go to the Tour de France this year. Boof! The Giro? No way.”
Soccer is the undisputed king in Spain, but cycling was once one of Spain’s marquee sports, earning big space in the national dailies such as MARCA and AS.
Page dedication to cycling has slowly diminished over the years, however. Not only has the sport been stained by doping, but the emergence of other Spanish sport figures such as Formula 1 champion Fernando Alonso, NBA star Pau Gasol, Moto GP champ Jorge Lorenzo and tennis superstar Rafael Nadal has also squeezed out cycling.
Spanish television pulled the plug on covering national cycling races a few years ago, with devastating effects on smaller, five-day races that used to fill the racing calendar from February to October.
There used to be live, daily TV broadcast of such races as the Ruta del Sol, the Vuelta a Murcia and others. Now, the only TV broadcasts are those underwritten by backing from regional governments, such as the Vuelta a Castilla y León and the Tour of the Basque Country.
With live TV to offer to potential sponsors, smaller races are dying on the vine. Long-running races such as Setmana Catalana, the Vuelta a Valencia, Bicicleta Basca and the Subida a Naranco have all been shuttered. The five-day Murcia tour was reduced to three days these year in a cost-cutting measure to save the race from the chopping block.
The Volta, celebrating its 100th anniversary as Spain’s oldest stage race, almost didn’t happen at all. The regional government had to step in last week with emergency funding to underwrite the race’s operating expenses or the race would have been cancelled.
Xavier Tondo (Movistar) complained to one journalist that his victories last year at Paris-Nice and the Volta a Catalunya barely got a mention in the Spanish media, but when he crashed coming across the finish in the wet, rainy stage earlier this month at Paris-Nice, the national television stations picked that up and featured it in the day’s highlight reel.
The emergence of Contador as a legitimate inheritor to Miguel Indurain’s throne boosted hopes for cycling backers in Spain. Three Tour de France victories and Contador’s winning smile made him a huge fan favorite and helped spur a rekindling of interest for cycling in Spain.