How to watch pro cycling in the US in 2021

Otto I. Eovaldi

Capturing this race live for TV is a scetchy undertaking at times…
dusty too! Photo: Kristof Ramon

If 2020 was the year the coronavirus pandemic hammered pro road bike racing with cancellations, consider 2021 the hangover. Dozens of events have been called off or postponed, but the sport’s relative success in its summer re-start, which saw the major races like the Tour de France, Tour of Flanders and others run without serious problems (to my surprise) suggests that most major events stand a good chance of happening this year.

What’s changing is how to watch them. Up until this year, legit streaming options in the US were generally coalescing around two major players. NBC Sports held the rights to all ASO events and the UCI’s own (like World Championships). FloBikes held…pretty much everything else.

That’s scrambled now. GCN+, a relatively small player last year in the North American streaming market, made a huge leap by acquiring the rights to all RCS races, formerly held by Flo. They also picked up a number of other events, starting with Sunday’s Kuurne-Brussels-Kuurne. (Brief aside: GCN+ is running a half-off promo that ends February 28th.)

Complicating matters further is that NBC Universal announced it will shut down the NBC Sports cable network at the end of 2021, where it shows the Tour de France live. The ripple effect: the NBC Sports Gold Cycling Pass streaming subscription is built primarily around the Tour de France. So its annual subscriptions renew in June, and plans for this year, after May 31, are very much in flux.

What’s all this mean for you? If you want to watch legit streams, you need three streaming packages this year, for as much as $265; the breakdown is in the chart below (which, for simplicity, covers WorldTour and a few other major events only). Good news: GCN+ has a half-off sale, which ends February 28.

If you want the acronym-heavy TL;DR: ASO events are on NBC Sports, Flanders Classics are on Flo, and RCS races are on GCN+.

So how can you watch pro cycling in the US? Here’s your handy chart:

2021 USA race broadcast schedule
Legend One-day race Stage race Grand Tour Worlds/Olympics Women only
February/March Dates Class NBC Sports
Women’s race broadcast
Het Nieuwsblad 2/27 WT
Kuurne-Brussel-Kuurne 2/28 1.Pro
Strade Bianche 3/6 WT/WWT Yes
Paris-Nice 3/7-3/14 WT
Tirreno-Adriatico 3/10-3/16 WT
MIlano-San Remo 3/20 WT
Volta Catalunya 3/22-3/28 WT
Brugge-De Panne 3/24 WT/WWT Yes
E3 Prijs 3/26 WT
Gent-Wevelgem 3/28 WT/WWT Yes
Dwars door Vlaanderen 3/31 WT
April Dates Class NBC Sports
Women’s race broadcast
Ronde van Vlaanderen 4/4 WT/WWT Yes
Itzulia Basque Country 4/5-4/10 WT
Scheldeprijs 4/7 1.Pro
Paris-Roubaix 4/11 WT/WWT ?
Brabantse Pijl 4/14 1.Pro
Amstel Gold 4/18 WT/WWT Yes
Fleche Wallonne 4/21 WT/WWT Yes
Liege-Bastogne-Liege 4/25 WT/WWT Yes
May Dates Class NBC Sports
Women’s race broadcast
Tour de Romandie 4/27-5/5 WT
Eschborn-Frankfurt 5/1 WT
Giro d’Italia 5/8-5/30 WT
Tro Bro Leon 5/16 1.Pro
Tour of Chongming Island 5/6-5/8 WWT
Vuelta Burgos 5/20-5/23 WWT
June Dates Class Peacock Premium FloBikes
Women’s race broadcast
Criterium du Dauphine 5/30-6/6 WT NBC Sports becomes
Peacock Premium
Tour de Suisse 6/6-6/13 WT
La Course 6/27 WWT ?
July Dates Class Peacock Premium FloBikes
Women’s race broadcast
Tour de France 6/26-7-18 WT
Clasica San Sebastian 7/31 WT
August Dates Class Peacock Premium FloBikes
Women’s race broadcast
Olympic Games 7/24-8/8 OLY
Tour of Poland 8/9-8/15 WT
Vuelta Espana 8/14-9/5 WT
Cyclassics Hamburg 8/22 WT
Bretagne Classic – Ouest France 8/29 WT
Postnord Vargarda 8/7-8/8 WWT
Ladies Tour of Norway 8/12-8/15 WWT
Boels Ladies Tour 8/24-8/29 WWT
GP Plouay 8/30 WWT
September Dates Class Peacock Premium FloBikes
Women’s race broadcast
BinckBank Tour 8/30-9/5 WT
GP Quebec 9/10 WT
GP Montreal 9/12 WT
World Championships 9/19-9/26 WC
Madrid Challenge 9/3-9/5 WWT ?
October Dates Class Peacock Premium FloBikes
Women’s race broadcast
Giro di Lombardia 10/9 WT
Tour of Guangxi 10/14-10/19 WT/WWT
The Women’s Tour 10/4-10/9 WWT

FAQ: Nine Burning Questions about watching bike racing in the US

With Flo and NBC’s calendars in flux, we contacted both broadcasters for more info on their 2021 coverage plans. NBC’s spokesperson asked for a written list of questions but replied only with a short statement about 2021 Tour plans and a few details about plans for other races, saying only that it was working with partners and looked forward to sharing more details soon. So here’s what we know:

Q: What’s the fine print on livestream package pricing?

A: All pricing is annual, meaning you pay for the whole term whether you watch it or not. FloBikes formerly had a month-to-month option but quietly discontinued that. If you sign up for NBC Sports Gold, bear in mind it runs only through May and does not include the 2021 Tour de France. Similarly, if you sign up for Flo for the Classics and cancel in May, there are no prorated refunds.

Q: How do I watch the Tour de France?

A: The big piece of concrete info we got from NBC is that it plans to broadcast the race live on the NBC Sports cable network as usual, and will also stream it on its Peacock Premium service. Those plans start at $5/month; no mention was made of a package like the Gold Pass, so we’re unclear on whether the Tour will be in the base plan or not. We’re also unclear on coverage plans for the 2021 Vuelta Espana.

Q: GCN+ says they have the ASO in the US; why do I need NBC?

A: Read that fine print. GCN+ is showing highlights packages only for ASO events, not live coverage.

Q: What happens to NBC Sports Gold?

A: The NBC Sports cable channel continues until the end of the year. NBC didn’t offer clarity on what happens to the Gold Cycling Pass, but its statement suggests that all streaming will get folded into its Peacock Premium platform in some way, as soon as March. Again, those plans start at $5 a month, but it’s not known yet how cycling coverage may factor in their plans other than the Tour de France.

Q: What about the Olympics?

A: Again, NBC didn’t answer our questions, but we’d expect that bike racing from the Games (if they happen) will be available through its broadcast networks and/or Peacock Premium.

Q: What about women’s racing?

A: The good news is that FloBikes and GCN+ will stream a number of women’s races. (For Flanders Classics this year, there’s a bit of a switch in that the women’s races will now finish after the men’s, which should guarantee better coverage than past years.),GCN+ also has a few women-only events including October’s The Women’s Tour.

NBC confirmed that it will stream the women’s Fleche Wallonne and Liege-Bastogne-Liege. The bad news: NBC is still figuring out its plans for the first-ever women’s Paris-Roubaix, and did not address questions about la Course and the three-stage Madrid Challenge. And there are a number of Women’s WorldTour events that currently do not have US streaming options.

Q: Could schedules change?

A: Yes. Not all events currently have rights (like the Tour de Romandie), so it’s possible there could be some additions. Don’t expect switches, however – de Ronde isn’t going to suddenly hop from one platform to the other the week before the race.

Q: What the hell happened to Flo’s schedule?

A: Yep, it’s not great, Bob. Just as the WorldTour schedule is dominated by three promoters (ASO, RCS, and Flanders Classics), so are the respective broadcast rights, which are sold in multi-year packages. Those are typically bought by big broadcast and streaming platforms, and then sometimes sub-licensed (that’s why you saw a Fubo logo on some FloBikes streams last year).

RCS rights were up for negotiation this year and Eurosport got them. Eurosport is owned by Discovery Communications, which also owns a majority of GCN. So that shut FloBikes out of the equation as Eurosport sublicensed its US rights to the GCN+ package (formerly Race Pass). Losing the RCS races means that Flo’s American rights for big races largely disappear after April when Flanders Classics ends. There are a handful of smaller races on the schedule, but nothing major until the Tour of Poland. Flo did pick up the World Championships, however. If you live in Canada, you’re in far better luck: Flo owns the ASO rights there, so you get a lot of coverage, for the same price.

Q: This all sounds like an expensive pain in the ass. Can’t I just watch for free?

A: Sure! We’re not going to pretend this isn’t an option. People use free pirate streams, even though they are known to harbor malware. And others pay less than US streaming prices by signing up for European-centric packages like Eurosport and using a VPN to get around geo-restricted feeds, which relies heavily on having a good VPN. Our broad position: if a streaming service owns US rights to races you want to watch, just use the legit feed.

This is admittedly a harder call this year because of cost. And if you’re not already an NBC Gold subscriber, you’re looking at the prospect of paying $55 to watch just a few races this spring, and then signing up for Peacock Premium in June.

One way to look at it: if you sign up for GCN+ during their half-off sale, your total race-viewing cost in 2021 would be a max of $265, assuming you’re buying subs today for Flo: $150, NBC Gold $55, Peacock Premium $35/ for 7 months; GCN+ $25 on the sale deal. That gets you about 150 race days, or around $1.75 a day. Eurosport’s Cycling Player is about $56 a year at current exchange rates and covers the WorldTour and Olympics. Factor in your monthly VPN subscription in cost comparisons and it’s still cheaper, but not by as much. Remember the debacle that was I’ll pay $1.75 a race not to go back to that.

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