April 06, 2013 – The UCI made waves this week following a request by USA Cycling for clarification regarding Article 1.2.019 pertaining to licensed riders participating in non-UCI sanctioned events. A letter issued by President Pat McQuaid to all national federations reminded them of the rule: “No licence holder may participate in an event that has not been included on a national, continental or world calendar or that has not been recognized by a national federation, a continental confederation or the UCI.”
The result has been a great deal of uproar and hand-wringing by racers and organizers alike. While the Article was initially interpreted to apply only to UCI-licenced professionals, in fact it applies to anyone with a UCI licence – from junior to master racers. In theory at least, all of these riders could face fines and/or one-month suspensions.
This wider scope in itself is not cause for huge concern to most Canadian road riders however on the mountain biking side there are several notable exceptions. One of the biggest of these are the hugely popular Test of Metal events in BC where organizers have sanctioned their series of races on their own for many years maintaining an uneasy détente with Cycling BC. In theory any rider wishing to compete at Test of Metal events could face penalties if they also wished to compete at Cycling BC events, Canada MTB Cups or Nationals. Other high-profile events include the BC Bike Race, TransRockies and Crankworx among others that need to look closely at the implications here for their races.
The other major consideration is for Canadians racing in the United States. Several US states have formed splinter organizations in the last decade including Oregon which is run by the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA) which sanctions the bulk of racing in the state independently. OBRA has in fact been fairly collaborative with the US governing body, USA Cycling, and jointly sanctions events like the Mount Hood Cycling Classic, an event at which the Pro races are sanctioned by USA Cycling and all others are sanctioned by OBRA.
The Alpenrose Track race near Portland is an OBRA event that attracts a large Canadian contingent each year. Traditionally this event has drawn a cross section of top talent from North America, and elsewhere including South America and New Zealand. Such an event will likely be forced to sanction with USA Cycling if they wish to continue hosting the level of competition that they are known for. Top riders won’t likely attend if they face sanctions and the loss of the meet would be a hard blow to the North American track community, already experiencing a dearth of top-flight events.
We caught up with Greg Mathieu, Chief Executive Officer / Secretary General for Cycling Canada who told Pedal, “This issue has many aspects to it that need to be dealt with at the policy level by our Board of Directors.
“The Board has directed staff to consult with all of the stakeholders and some other cycling national federations, not just USA Cycling, to have a complete understanding of all the issues in play and how the national sport governing body can properly address them. The Board will discuss this matter at our May 11 & 12 meeting.
“At this point we can only state that we have received the letter from the UCI pertaining to forbidden races and are addressing it in the Canadian context.”
What’s Old is New Again?
It is interesting to note that this rule is not entirely new or divergent from existing, un-enforced, domestic policies prohibiting licensed riders from competing in un-sanctioned competition. At least one popular mid-week training series in Ontario was forced to sanction their event or perhaps face similar repercussions to riders attending their events.
The increased intolerance developing towards un-sanctioned events is likely due to a number of factors. The biggest is simply the range of cycling events and competitions now available to riders is far outside of the sport’s traditional scope. The last twenty years has seen the emergence of mountain biking, 24-hour racing, enduros, and multi-day team stage races. All these events have broadened the scope of the sport – and many of their attendees are unlicensed.
The other big factor is more pragmatic – many of these events have hit a critical mass. The Test of Metal-organized events are some of the best-attended cross-country mountain bike races in British Columbia. With larger numbers organizers can also adequately insure their event separate from Cycling BC (another key reason to sanction with the provincial body). For many of the Test of Metal participants it’s the only racing they’re interested in doing so sanctions are not a concern. Simply penalizing any big-name attendees alone would undoubtedly ensure poor press for the governing body.
Ironically it was in dealing with such big-name attendees at un-sanctioned US events like the TEVA Games that brought this issue to the surface, when USA Cycling requested clarification of the Article from the UCI.
The interpretation or re-affirmation of Article 1.2.019 changed the dynamic in the USA where it has given USA Cycling a lever to try and force breakaway state federations back under their umbrella which ultimately means increased funds and control for the federation. USA Cycling was successful in using the Article to bring the Colorado-based American Cycling Association back into the fold and they have now put similar pressure on OBRA and others to rejoin or see their members, who race outside the state, face penalties.
The Fondo Elephant In the Room
A bigger question on people’s minds is the broader picture and how this rule might affect other cycling events now in the mix. What seems to be vague at this juncture is what constitutes an un-sanctioned event? Initial interpretation was that un-sanctioned races only would be affected but the word event has a broader mandate and as one pundit noted, “… many of these so-called recreational rides are timed with results, marshals etc. and could be classified as races.”
While it is possible that USA Cycling forced the UCI’s hand by requesting a clarification, it’s unclear how things will unfold in other sectors of the sport where the UCI has found itself cut out of much of the growth in cycling in recent years. This may be on USA Cycling’s mind as well.
Tentatively it appears that granfondos are outside of the scope of Article 1.2.019 since they are deemed recreational (for now). However the UCI recently launched their own fondo-style series, the UCI World Cycling Tour last year in an effort to capitalize on the fondo market.
Is it possible that this current situation may be part of a larger effort by some governing bodies to regain some of the market share they have lost in recent years? Regardless of this speculation, organizers and riders at all levels are watching this situation very closely and weighing the ramifications and/or potential issues.
The Final Analysis
With the exception of some West Coast mountain bikers and those Canadians that race in certain US states, this probably won’t be an issue for most Canadian riders. The vast majority of racing is already sanctioned and currently fondos, charity rides etc. are exempt.
Unlike our southern neighbours, all of the Canadian provinces are in alignment with Cycling Canada, and events like Crankworx and the BC Bike Race will most likely find that the easiest course is to simply sanction their events at the provincial level. While Test of Metal’s separation from the provincial body has deeper roots, the recent clearing of the decks at Cycling BC and positive resurgence of the association might well set the stage for Test of Metal and others to rejoin the association.
NOTE: This issue has additional implications for UCI professionals racing in non-UCI events which has also drawn some press in recent years, with Lance Armstrong and henchmen attending the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico and with the SpiderTech p/b C10 squad racing locally in Canada. On the road side the rules are fairly clear in how they pertain to WorldTour and Pro Continental riders competing in domestic events, even if they are often ignored. In theory these road riders need to compete domestically in plain jerseys, with no more than three riders in attendance and can only compete in a finite number of events a year. While this has been enforced in some cases, such as SpiderTech’s attendance at the Mardis de Lachine series in the Montreal suburb, often times it is just ignored. This is the also the case for the US-based United HealthCare team which has competed in most US National Racing Calendar (NRC) events over the last two years without seeming to face any repercussions. UCI Article 1.2.019 implicates any rider who has a UCI licence of any kind (to the best of our knowledge BC is the only jurisdiction in Canada offering domestic licences from a non-provincial cycling body).