Monday, April 8, 2013

UCI forbidden race rule is unworkable for North American mountain bike racing


It has been a newsworthy weekend in the world of mountain bike racing, for all the wrong reasons. On Friday, USA Cycling announced that the sport’s world governing body, the UCI, had clarified its rule 1.2.019, which bars UCI-licensed riders from competing in unsanctioned events.
This decision has far-reaching consequences for the sport in this country, and renders mountain bike racing virtually untenable for a majority of professionals and young developing athletes in the U.S. It significantly harms promoters, athletes, and sponsors alike, and has the potential to stifle current growth trends and permanently fragment the sport in this country.
This rule has been on the books for several years, and was initially drafted to limit the ability of top-tier professional road teams to compete in smaller races in order to protect the interests of lower-tier teams and ensure their ability to gain exposure at the local level. It has a contradictory effect when applied to mountain biking however, where high-quality unsanctioned races are an ideal venue for UCI professionals to interact with local supporters, satisfy the needs of sponsors and industry, and gain the media exposure necessary to build a career in the sport. Mountain bike racing lacks the global, tiered professional structure of men’s road racing, and application of this rule to this discipline is inappropriate and unworkable.
Until last year, this rule had never been enforced in the mountain bike discipline. In July 2012, along with several other UCI professionals, I was fined for competing in the Teva Mountain Games — one of the country’s best mountain bike events. The initial indications were that the rule would only be enforced for riders on UCI trade teams, which is still negative for the sport as a whole, but would likely be navigated by the industry through careful athlete selection depending on the event calendar one was likely to race. I was left off of Trek Factory Racing’s UCI roster for this exact reason this year, as my race calendar consists almost exclusively of unsanctioned events.
Friday’s announcement, though, renders all unsanctioned racing off-limits for all licensed professionals in this country, as well as all UCI licensed masters and junior racers in all disciplines — including cyclocross, which is simply not realistic, given the culture and history of mountain bike racing in this country. This is a significant point, as enforcement of this rule does not only affect “high-level” professionals, but a large group of cycling enthusiasts — everyone from aspiring junior ’cross racers to the casual mountain bike rider who needs a UCI license to race virtually any event outside the United States for any reason.
It’s clear that the UCI is taking a hard line on this due to the rapid growth in disciplines and races that fall outside its control. The explosion of the enduro discipline and most of the biggest growth in mountain bike racing is happening completely outside the UCI’s racing structure. Leveraging its privileged position with its crop of professionals is the only way that the organization can exert a measure of control.

Opinion: UCI forbidden race rule is unworkable for North American mountain bike racing

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