After the Olympics and football’s World Cup, the Tour de France is the world’s third-largest sporting event, broadcast in more than 140 countries. Until two years ago, however, the sport had been indelibly tainted by drugs’ dark spectre, which had invariably had an adverse impact upon cycling betting.
For too long, the list of drug cheats and widespread evidence of systematic team doping had been on a par with that of mid-70s East German athletes, an unfortunate scenario which meant that betting on cycling and the availability of cycling betting markets was severely limited
Yet the race organisers and owners, Amaury Sport Organisation (ASO), conscious of the enormous commercial opportunities they were missing by not having what was widely considered to be ‘clean’ race, introduced a raft of measures designed to come down hard on drug users. Foremost among these were ‘biological passports’ which can determine any significant changes in a rider’s average performance. At the same time, jail terms for possession and trafficking of doping products on French soil were dramatically increased.
Both initiatives were warmly welcomed by would-be sponsors, online bookmakers and punters and the result has, not surprisingly, been an upsurge in cycling betting.
“The Tour represents staggeringly good value for a sponsor’s money,” says Helene Bonetti of Paris-based sports consultancy KANA. “In France alone, the Tour receives wall-to-wall coverage every day for almost a month. Once the exposure it gets in other countries is added, the cost of reaching a global audience considerably lower than any other comparable event.”
Ms Bonetti’s points are not lost on punters who can now bet on cycling events such as the Tour and the Giro d’Italia in the knowledge that both races are ‘clean’ and screened live.
“Once the organisers undertook their drugs purge, the gaming community headed towards cycling in their droves,” reckons one online bookmaker. “The range of cycling betting markets, combined with the scope for daily cycling bets, has made professional cycling immensely popular with punters.”
The cycling bet has developed to become much more than a wager on the race winner. Punters can now use the wealth of race-related data available on the internet to add an element of certainty to their predictions about which team will turn out as overall winners, or which rider will finish as King of the Mountains, for example.
Following the emergence of riders such as Mark Cavendish and Bradley Wiggins, betting on cycling has been added of the UK sports bettor’s portfolio. In part, the internet can be thanked for this, although terrestrial and satellite TV coverage means the propensity for punters to have a cycling bet has risen in direct proportion to the sport’s exposure. Undoubtedly though, some cycling bets are patriotically-driven – there’s more UK-based support for ‘Cav’ and ‘Bradley’ than for any rider other than Lance Armstrong.
By finishing third in last year’s Tour de France, 38 year-old Armstrong, who called his achievement “not bad for an old fart” showed he is still a force in the race. Predictions that he may finish well down the field proved wide of the mark and several online bookmakers expect him to do well in this year’s race, despite his recent assertions that he’s not in the shape he would expect to be at this time of the cycling year. Nonetheless, we can expect a large number of punters taking advantage of the free bets offered by any online bookmaker to include the name ‘Armstrong’ on their betting slips.
The free bet remains an ideal way for the punter / predictor to enjoy a cycling bet, while Armstrong will be a popular each-way choice for bettors at this year’s Tour de France.