Almost 4000 people have signed the on-line petition calling on the UCI to reconsider its decision to drop the men's kilometer and women's 500m time trials from the cycling program at the Olympic Games (see previous news stories here and here). One of the most recent signatories is Australian race promoter Phill Bates, a member of the UCI track commission from 1993 to 2001. During that period, the UCI introduced the track World Cup series, which helped to raise the profile of track cycling.
"I am totally amazed by the decisions made concerning track cycling on the world front," Bates told Cyclingnews in an email, calling the decision "horrific" and "a disgrace".
The women's 500m time trial was one of four events introduced to the Olympics for the 2000 Games, says Bates, along with team sprint, Madison, and keirin. "It was an extremely well balanced program," he said. While Bates said he and other track advocates would have preferred an even greater expansion to the program, "12 medals, four women and eight men was a good improvement on just the eight before. We had achieved four events for male sprinters, two for female sprinters, and four endurance events for men and two for women.
"And track cycling has blossomed ever since that announcement in 1997."
Bates is dismayed not just at the decision itself but at the lack of disclosure of the reason for it. "Not one word from the UCI Management or the Track Commission as to their reasons," he said. "Just the straight statement - the kilometre time trial is axed after 80 years and the women's 500m time trial is as well."
In the past, the track commission has explained the reasons for its decisions, said Bates, citing the dropping of tandem events from the world championships track program because of the increased number of crashes on smaller tracks, and the reduction of the keirin from an eight-man to a six-man race, again to try and reduce crashes. "We gave reasons for such decisions," said Bates.
Like almost everyone who has examined this decision, Bates is mystified at its failure to achieve International Olympic Committee aims of keeping down the numbers of athletes and venues needed to stage a Games.
"Does it reduce the number of competitors?" he said. "No, you need three riders to race the team sprint and traditionally the kilometre rider backs up for this event as the final rider. So why axe it?
"The women, it is invariably the sprinter that will also contest the time trial event, so why axe it? The IOC will not be reducing the numbers of competitors.
"Is it hard to understand? It is the one event that the general public understands. So why axe it?
"Is it too time consuming? Well, its all over in 30-50 minutes and is just the one race - not like the sprint that takes two to three days to complete. So why axe it?"
Bates believes the writing was on the wall for the kilo and 500m and that they will survive long after being dropped from the Olympic schedule.
"In hindsight, the most recent decision of the UCI to reduce the World Track Championships to four days and clash the keirin with the kilometre on the same night suggests that deep down the writing was on the wall for the time trial event," he said. "It is obvious that the UCI was hell bound to eliminate this event from the program. After all, how long did the team time trial remain on the road championship program after being dropped from the Olympics? The same will happen with the track time trials."
Bates said it was a shame that "eighty years of history can be eliminated overnight. In years to come the Dunc Gray Velodrome, the site of the Sydney Olympics and named after Australia's 1932 Olympic champion in the kilometre, will forever keep the name but the event will disappear into oblivion if the UCI has its way.
"I am glad I was not associated with the UCI Track Commission at the time of this horrific decision," Bates concluded. "It is a disgrace."