Have race reports become redundant?

The appetite of media outlets to produce lengthy race reports appears to be have been in decline in recent years. Has demand for retrospective pieces on how the race was won sunk below the breakeven point of publishing them?

Is knowing how the race was won still interesting long after the results are known?

For pre-internet cycling fans living beyond the European borders of professional cycling, chances are good an imported cycling magazine (likely originating from the UK) was the first if not the only means of accessing in-depth coverage of a UCI race; albeit a few weeks (or perhaps a couple of months depending on the timing of the print run) after the riders had packed their bags and left.

When the world wide web was eventually switched on and started filling up with content, it was Cyclingnews.com that many turned to for information about what was happening on the cobbles and roads of cycling s heartland. Depending on the reporter and status of the event, race reports could either be forensic or poetic in their delivery of the day s events; or somewhere in between:

Atop the 9.2 km, 5.3 % grade ascent, Da Cruz took the points as the road shimmered in the afternoon heat.

A few years into the new millenium, major broadcasters in parts of Oceania and Asia began televising live stages of Le Tour and even some of the Spring Classics. Falling asleep before the race ended or a bungled TV recording was the only reason to navigate to a cycling website to discover what happened afterwards. Speaking for myself, this normally involved scrolling down to the GC results first, then the stage results and, only if time allowed, maybe a quick perusal of the reporter s account of the day.

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That now seems like a distant memory and I cannot personally remember the last time I bothered to read a race report.

Things began to change when pro teams started to think more like media outlets and ownership of writing about the day s events transferred to sporting entities interested in broadcasting their own controlled narrative. Obligatory press conferences aside, careful stage-management of riders made it even harder for reporters to obtain exclusive soundbites post-race. Instead, team press officers now interview their own riders and publish team-issued race reports in record time to ensure share of voice before apathy sets in and eyeballs begin to wander. It has become a race inside a race to be first; only the traditional cycling media are getting fewer opportunities to participate.

Expedient delivery of race results has also been a factor in the demise of race reports.

Prior to the advent of social media, cycling media had time to construct and file an exclusive report with stage results embedded before they were more widely disseminated. Thanks to the haphazard, ill-defined and archaic pipeline that fed into the UCI s results page, there was certainly no competition from the governing body, whose regulations (still) state:

List of starters and results 2.2.083
The list of starters and complete results, set out according to the UCI model shown in articles 2.2.087 and 2.2.088, shall be made available to the press as soon as possible.

Reporting results 2.6.035
(N) The organiser must distribute the results to teams at the finish or, failing that, send them by fax as soon as possible.

Notice there is no obligation for the UCI to publish the (faxed) results as soon as possible, let alone in a defined number of hours after receiving them.

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Even post-social media, Cycling iQ received race results by email, SMS, Skype, MMS, Twitter, Instagram and virtually every other means of communication well before they became pixels on the UCI s results page. Being able to break the news first on Twitter was one of the day s small pleasures, and it seemed to be appreciated especially for obscure UCI2.2 AsiaTour races, which often didn t have a functional website, let alone a Twitter feed.

But it was still a drip-feed approach that was only possible for some races in Asia. Chasing results is a time-consuming process with no guaranteed return. Often, the one person at the race who could send full results through would go off the air for hours due to being stuck in a convoy deep in a mountain range which no signal could penetrate. The upside to such delays was it afforded additional time to gather other scarce information for the imminent race report.

The biggest disruption occurred when ProCyclingStats arrived in early 2012. A small team of two people created an excellent resource that delivered race results more rapidly, for a wider range of races, in a GUI that was easy to navigate. Though initially a little clumsy, it quickly became vastly superior to any results resource previously available and certainly more sophisticated in terms of the analytical tools available.

PCS owner Stephan van der Zwan would no doubt acknowledge that sourcing content for his site relied heavily on the effort of unrelated parties at the beginning, and still does. However, nobody else has taken responsibility for designing a coherent forward-looking platform for the aggregation of all UCI race results from across the globe. PSC deserves all of the praise it gets.

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I can t speak for others, but I see all of these developments as a relief. Stats for this blog show that race reports attract below-average readership and certainly don t engage visitors in a way that other types of article do. If advertisers were involved (fortunately not a consideration) the existence of race reports could not be justified. Perhaps that is specific to Cycling iQ but, looking around, I see mostly re-purposed content originally published by race organisers or teams.

The irony of filing this article under Race report is not lost on me. Ultimately, I write because I enjoy it and its fun to publish content that is unique and not forced. Race reports may not get much visibility at Cycling iQ but, for this blog at least, the limited hours each day are more enjoyably invested elsewhere.

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