The 2013 US Pro Cross Country Tour (Pro XCT) is undergoing several improvements for the 2013 season. USA Cycling released the calendar of its cross country mountain bike national series in mid December, and it features more rounds in more places and a revamped points system.
A bigger series
After several years of having just four to six events, the 2013 US Pro XCT is notably larger with nine rounds in seven states. Six of the rounds will be UCI categorized races while the remaining three will not be - a change from recent years, when UCI categorization was required for all rounds during the lead-up to the 2012 Olympic Games.
"We had a lot of discussion internally and externally about expanding the series," said Rice to Cyclingnews. "For the past few years, we had only included UCI enlisted races, but we expanded this to include some non-UCI events this year."
"We want to create the strongest domestic circuit we can, and we all agreed we needed to include events such as the Volkswagen Sea Otter Classic as it is always a major stop on the calendar for domestic riders and international riders alike. We always watch out for our top pros who race the international circuit, but we also need to cater to our domestic pro riders as well of which we have more than 400."
"The UCI format works well for many venues, but for some it does not," said Rice. "We wanted to expand the series so we invited non-UCI events to apply. It is still our goal to create many points opportunities through UCI events, but we also see the value in creating the best circuit for the domestic riders."
2012 US Pro XCT overall winner Todd Wells shared his thoughts on the expanded series. "The series is much bigger then in the past. I'm not sure how that is going to work out because to try and race the Pro XCT, World Cup, Leadville and national and world champs is a lot of racing for me," said Wells to Cyclingnews. "There isn't much time to train during the season with such a large schedule and hardly anytime to rest. For racers with other aspirations, it makes things tough."
However, the current short track and marathon national champion and former cross country national champion acknowledged that more rounds could work well for many racers. "I think for racers just doing the Pro XCT, it's great because there is more racing, and all those venues are awesome," said Wells.
Despite the larger total number of rounds, all events will continue to count toward the overall series standings. What is different is that their will be two tiers of points: more points offered for the UCI categorized races and fewer for the non-UCI categorized races.
"We will weight the points a bit more in the favor of UCI inscripted events," said Rice. The gaps in points awarded will also be larger for the higher ranked events.
Wells is among the racers who were hoping for a tiered points system although he would have preferred a multi-tiered system that also reflected the different relative importance of each level of UCI race.
"I would like to see the races ranked based on their UCI level so a C1 would be worth more points then a C2 and worth about twice as many points as a non-UCI event. I think the points should be much more top heavy too the way the World Cup is designed, not the way the Pro XCT has been in the past where it's just a 10-point difference for each place." The new Pro XCT points system does indeed include bigger points gaps among top finishers.
Wells would also like to see the option to drop one or two races from the overall standings. "With a nine-race series, I don't think that is an unreasonable request." The ability to drop a race or races lets riders recover better from having to miss a round due to schedule conflicts or from poor results due to being ill or having a mechanical.
In the Pro XCT standings, the US Pro XCT will continue to recognize the best under 23 riders and the top teams.
Covering more ground
The bigger series covers more ground geographically than in recent years by adding stops in the northeast and the southeast. The Catamount Classic XC in Vermont is the only completely new race venue for the national series; all the other events have previously been part of the national series at some point.
The geographic expansion of the series was a deliberate move by USAC and something many racers and sponsors had requested in recent years.
"We have done our best to create a calendar that includes many parts of the US, but we can only include events that apply!" said Rice, who acknowledged that there were still a few parts of the country not visited by the series. "Hopefully we will get more interest from the Pacific Northwest and desert Southwest for 2014."
What is still to be determined are which rounds of the series will include short tracks and/or eliminators. Some, but not all of the race promoters will add a day of racing for other events. For example, the Subaru Cup in Wisconsin will host the Pro XCT cross country on Saturday, July 13 followed by a short track and then a super D on Sunday, July 14.
As one of the top cross country racers in the US, Wells is excited for the 2013 mountain bike season. He curtailed his "off-season" cyclo-cross plans to rest up after a long 2012 Olympic season so that he could be fresh for the coming year.
"I'm looking forward to all the races as each one has something special to offer. I think there is a good mixture of terrain and regions in the schedule this year. We have some flattish events, some at ski areas, some technical and some just plain fast. I hope we get a few mud races this season... feels like we never have wet national events anymore and that is great training for the World Cups."