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UCI discusses mountain bike future

Lack of sponsors hurting World Cup circuit

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The Mountain Bike Commission of the UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) met in Madrid last week to discuss the future of competitive mountain biking, which has struggled recently with cancelled World Cup events and the loss of sponsors.

Although the sport itself is healthy and retail sales continue to climb – bike stores and manufacturers are actually facing a shortage of stock this year as Shimano runs out of parts – World Cup race hosts are having problems finding sponsors to share in the costs, which are also increasing.

In 2003 the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup scheduled for Telluride, Colorado was cancelled after organizers tried unsuccessfully for nine months to line up a title sponsor. At the time the lack of support was blamed on the sluggish economy, despite the fact that the event attracted more than 2,000 athletes and another 7,000 spectators to the resort the previous year.

In Madrid, members of the UCI came up with some radical ideas to either get the World Cup series back on its feet or replace it with something else. Canadian Cyclist (www.canadiancyclist.com) reported on the meeting. The most radical idea being proposed is to get rid of the UCI points and World Cup altogether, as well as the current ranking systems for athletes and competitions. Instead, the UCI would sanction between 20 and 25 races around the world to determine points for the annual world championships and Olympics.

Successful World Cup events would continue to run on their own, and larger events like the Sea Otter Classic in California and Rock d’Azur in Switzerland would count. Maybe even the Squamish Test of Metal would receive sanctioning.

One of the problems with this idea is the fact that national team and factory team sponsors are attracted to the World Cup, which is currently the highest level of mountain bike competition in the world. At the same time, with only five or six World Cup events on the calendar, it’s not much of a series to begin with.

According to a survey of riders, they’re not ready to give up on the World Cup either.

Another UCI idea that is getting some play is the idea of making World Cup cross-country events more entertaining by allowing in-race assistance to riders. Teammates would be able to help one another on the course with tools, parts and labour, everything up to exchanging bikes.

Although that goes against the original intention of the sport, which was for the athletes to be self-supported, it could help out the Canadians. In the past two weeks both Chrissy Redden and Roland Green have been knocked out of races by mechanical problems.

As a result both athletes will have lower start numbers in the next races, which ultimately will hurt their overall chances.

The UCI will discuss these ideas and more at future meetings, but in the meantime the World Cup circuit will continue.

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