Two hundred and fifty million euros! An investment company from Saudi Arabia wants to pump that much money into cycling to create a “Super League” from 2026. A lot of money on paper, or does it seem so? Who participates and is this important for our Belgian races? Five questions, five answers.
On behalf of the eight initiating teams, international auditing firm Ernst & Young issued a public tender for the new One Cycling project. The highest bid ultimately came from SRJ, a Saudi investment company affiliated with the Saudi Public Investment Fund.
The Public Investment Fund is a billion-dollar investment fund that must prepare Saudi Arabia for a future without income from fossil fuels. The Public Investment Fund now represents between 600 and 700 billion euros (!). By 2030, this budget should be increased to one trillion (1000 billion) euros. Ten billion of the €600 billion have already been spent on football, golf and Formula 1.
SRJ was founded in August last year. The fund has already invested one hundred million dollars (93 million euros) in the Professional Fighters League (PFL). SRJ is now ready to invest €250 million in One Cycling. It therefore offers more than CVC Capital Partners, which appeared on track to win the bid a few months ago.
By cycling standards, €250 million is a significant investment. The amount represents about twenty percent of cycling's total annual turnover, which is estimated at 1 to 1.2 billion euros.
€250 million is also exactly half of the total sponsorship income for the 18 WorldTour teams. The UCI has calculated that in 2024 they will have a total budget of €499 million. 86% of this money comes from sponsorships.
Meanwhile, 250 million euros is also peanuts. Initially, these funds are distributed over three years. It is also a very cautious investment for Saudi funds, as they are accustomed to dealing with other amounts.
For example, the Public Investment Fund paid $3 billion to create a new golf league. Spanish golfer Jon Rahm was drafted to this league in December. Ram was reportedly paid more than $550 million simply for wanting to compete on the LIV circuit.
$250 million is also slightly more than the contracts Cristiano Ronaldo and Karim Benzema have ($200 million each) to play soccer in Saudi Arabia. In October 2021, the Public Investment Fund also paid more than $300 million for an 80% stake in Newcastle United Football Club.
This is not entirely clear yet. It will be a closed competition, with the same cycling teams competing against each other in a number of international competitions. The TV money from those races will then be split between the cycling teams and organisers. Given the distribution key and long term (three years) of the project, the teams will receive approximately 2 to 3 million euros per year. This is a good amount, but it does not exceed the commander's salary.
The condition for starting the project is the commitment of ten teams. It is not officially known what these teams were, and each team manager had to sign a “non-disclosure agreement.” (The obligation of silence, ed.) Signboard.
According to our information, WorldTour teams are currently doing this no Included: Astana, Movistar, Jayco-AlUla, DSM-Firmenich and all French teams: Groupama-FDJ, Arkea-B&B Hotels, Cofidis and Decathlon-AG2R.
The reason this French nun exists is because the ASO is not involved in the story either. French teams do not dare to confront the most powerful organization in cycling. ASO is the organizer of the Tour, Vuelta, Paris-Nice, Paris-Roubaix, Dauphiné, Liège-Bastogne-Liège and Flèche Wallonne.
Their Italian counterpart RCS, the organization behind the Giro, Milan-San Remo, the Tour of Lombardy and Strade Bianchi, is also not budging at the moment, although there are internal doubts. RCS could give a huge blow to ASO by joining forces with SRJ.
What organization is actually participating? Classic Flanders. The organizer of the Tour of Flanders, Ghent-Wevelgem, Omloop, Amstel Gold Race, Dwars Door Vlaanderen, Scheldeprijs and the Tour of Switzerland organizes around seventy days of racing each year, making it the third largest in the world after the ASO and RCS. CEO Thomas van den Spiegel recently used a UCI meeting to defend the SRJ file, leading to a verbal clash with Yann Le Moenner, ASO's CEO.
Van Den Spiegel is not the only helmsman of the SRJ. Richard Plug, CEO of Visma-Lease a Bike, and Maria Norman, COO of EF-Easy Post, are also there. In addition to these two teams, the three Belgian WorldTour teams Soudal Quick-Step, Alpecin-Deceuninck and Intermarché-Wanty plus Ineos-Grenadiers, Lidl-Trek, Bora-hansgrohe and a women's team are also present at the SRJ meetings. The UAE team has not jumped yet, but is monitoring developments. All teams have the option to leave the project whenever they want.
The SRJ project would like to start in 2026. Why this date? The teams' current WorldTour license expires at the end of 2025. In principle, you can then – easily – start with a clean slate. The history causes fear among current non-WorldTour teams such as Lotto-Dstny. The continent's professional Belgian team has a points claim to join the WorldTour in 2026, but is already in danger of missing out. Within SRJ, people don't really care which team is sponsored by the National Lottery. It particularly wants to bring on board major international sponsors.
The 2026 start date still seems far away, but work is hard at work behind the scenes. The goal is to come up with a detailed trading plan within a few months. A new meeting is scheduled in London on Wednesday and Thursday with Ernst & Young.
It is still uncertain whether the project will actually be realized. It would be unique in cycling if an innovative idea could be realized with new sources of money. Most parties on board do this mainly because they don't want to miss the potential boat.
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