I am going to try my best to explain how the international governing bodies of cycling have conspired to impact my racing. First you’ll need some background on the governance of the sport.
IOC: The International Olympic Committee is an international corporation which oversees the Olympics. For many sports the Olympics is the most important event to showcase a sport on the world stage, for example curling. But for cycling there are many important events outside the Olympics, like Major League Baseball. The IOC recognizes the UCI as the organization which regulates international cycling. This is important as far as the rules, and Olympic selections are concerned, such as the number of riders a country can send for particular events.
UCI: The UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) is the international Sports Federation for cycling. The UCI primarily regulates all levels of PRO cycling. Some rules end up affecting nearly everybody who rides a bike. For instance, bike manufacturers want their pro teams to be riding the same top of the line bike you can buy a the local shop, so the top tier bikes need to meet UCI regulations for bikes. For the most part this trickles down and most bikes you find at the shop are ‘UCI Legal’. The UCI leaves the regulation of amateur racing to recognized national federations.
USA Cycling: USA Cycling has many functions. It regulates road, track, BMX, MTB, and cyclocross racing in the US. It also receives funding from the US Olympic Committee (some of this directly from the Government). USA Cycling works with the USOC and UCI to make Olympic selections and enforce UCI Rules for PRO events. It also has a mission to promote the sport of cycling at the professional, Olympic, and amateur level. The latter part of USAC’s mission, to promote amateur cycling, has seemed rather low on the priority list, at times.
American Cycling Association: The ACA, formerly BRAC (Bicycle Racing Association of Colorado), was created almost two decades ago as a grassroots amateur racing association. USA Cycling’s regulations and fees made race promotion cost prohibitive for small, local races. The ACA, and many local associations like it, were created to allow promoters to put on affordable local races for amateurs. Many of these associations are still in operation today, TXBRA (Texas), OBRA (Oregon), NCNCA (Northern California/Nevada), and others. Ironically, USA Cycling is based in Colorado Springs at the Olympic Training Center, but in Colorado the ACA has completely taken over racing. The ACA’s grassroots organization and amateur focus has created huge gains in Master’s age groups, lower category races, and cyclocross.
About 90% of the races I did last year were ACA Races. As a Cat 3 Upgrading to Cat 2, this was perfect for me. The races were frequent (usually two per weekend five months of the year), affordable (about $30), and with good competition. When I upgraded, the ACA upgrade was recognized by USA Cycling, as they have a Reciprocity Agreement for categorization, suspensions, etc. However, the Reciprocity Agreement allows for all category upgrades except 2 -> 1. To upgrade I now need to find USAC races, of which there are only a handful within hundreds of miles. This is only the beginning of my troubles.
There has been a rule in the UCI Rulebook for many years, but it has remained un-enforced, especially in the United States. The rule basically stays that PRO riders can only race in high ranking PRO races. In Europe, there are usually high ranking UCI races within a couple hundred miles of each other every weekend, and even midweek PRO races. The rule is meant to keep the teams from sandbagging and dominating local events. The rule made sense in Europe due to a high density of races, both in number and geography.
In the USA, there is perhaps one UCI Pro level race per weekend, generally part of the National Racing Calendar (NRC). UCI Officials have granted an exemption allowing racers for the highest level teams to race lower ranking races for the last few years, and it makes sense on a few levels. For one, many US teams have sponsors with local interest in the US and they want their racers visible in local races, and there is a lack of highly ranked UCI events. For lower level PRO teams, many racers do not crisscross the country following every NRC race. When they are home locally, they will race the local ‘Pro/1/2′ race.
This is also a boon for local races. Some larger local races will bring in actual spectators and fans looking for the opportunity to watch their local PRO race. At the very least, lower category racers often will stick around and watch the Pro/1/2 race. Myself, as a Category 2 racer, I look forward to the opportunity to race with local PROs. I may have less chance of a good result, but I get the opportunity to ride with racers who travel internationally. There is occasional networking and chatting, but mostly the chance to watch the PROs and race tactics from up close is exciting as a fan of the sport.
The big change: The UCI sent a letter to USAC and US registered PRO teams last month. It said that the rules regarding events which riders on PRO teams can race will be enforced in the US. The penalty riders face is a nominal fine (100 Swiss Francs), but a heavy one month suspension. This enforcement includes race ranking criteria: Last year Lance and Levi raced Tour of the Gila, but this year their PRO team, Radio Shack, is too highly ranked to participate in the race despite its NRC status). Most importantly, the enforcement includes race sanctioning criteria: Racers on PRO registered teams can only appear in races sanctioned by the UCI or recognized National Federations i.e. USAC Cycling.
Local ‘Pro/1/2′ races promoted by the ACA are now ’1/2′ races. No Pros are allowed. Obviously this is a severe detriment to local racing. The enforcement of the rule runs contrary to USA Cycling’s mission to promote amateur competition. In fact, it may even be illegal under US law, as the Ted Stevens Olympic and Amateur Sports Act, which regulates National Governing Bodies (USA Cycling) that receive federal funding, stipulates that NGBs cannot hinder amateur competition.
Why? A very good question. For one, I think the UCI is trying to increase its influence on US racing. Potentially locking US teams out of many US races, will encourage promoters to increase the UCI rankings of their events to attract US registered PRO teams. This means bigger, fancier races and more money in fees to the UCI.
Another reason I believe for the announced enforcement is a shot across the bow to the PRO teams threatening to create a breakaway pro league outside of the current structure. The UCI stating they will enforce sanctioning criteria potentially means that racers in a new pro league will not be able to race any events under the UCI umbrella if they race for a new league.
Personally the biggest change is the loss of a high level of competition at local races. Additionally, although USAC wouldn’t officially recognize my ACA upgrade points before, I was hoping to at least leverage my results if I was petitioning for an upgrade. Now they can (rightly) argue there is a significantly lower level of competition in ACA races. This will make it very hard for me to upgrade if I cannot gather enough USAC upgrade points.
I’m not sure what will happen moving forward. It is a big problem locally for the sport, and also in Oregon where OBRA has also taken over the majority of the racing. I know that USA Cycling doesn’t care for the local associations which they see as direct competitors. They have only cooperated when their hand has been forced in the past. I can easily see USA Cycling seeing this as another opportunity to try to stamp out the ACA and similar organizations. There is also a possibility that the ACA will hide/anonymize the results of PRO races, but in the modern era of social networking and photos of races online, I’m not sure if this is enough. In fact, it is rumored that USAC has been going over photos of the Mead Roubaix. Either way, I hope for a quick resolution for the sake of local competition.