After Olympic years, there are always changes in cycling. 2013 will prove no different, with some shifts in the US domestic mountain bike calendar in the works. The US Pro XCT will include some non-UCI categorized events and will add at least one new east coast venue. In addition, US cross country mountain bike nationals will move back to their UCI-designated weekend while US marathon and downhill nationals will also change dates, moving off their respective UCI-designated weekends.
An official, final schedule for the 2013 USA Cycling US Pro Cross Country Tour (Pro XCT) is not expected until sometime in November, but according to the recently released UCI calendar for 2013, it will include at least four UCI-categorized events: Mellow Johnny's Classic (1) in Texas on March 9; Missoula XC (1) in Montana on June 29; Subaru Cup (1) in Wisconsin on July 13; and Catamount Classic (2) in Vermont on August 17.
That list is not complete because unlike in recent years, USA Cycling will include some non-UCI certified events.
"We will be adding races to the US Pro XCT that will not be on the UCI calendar. We're working with promoters and creating those parameters," said USA Cycling's Micah Rice to Cyclingnews. "There are a number of races that want to be part of the US Pro XCT without conforming to the UCI format. For example, we're talking to Sea Otter, and Bonelli and Fontana." All three have been part of the US Pro XCT in various years past.
"The change is due to a number of things. We're working closely with race directors from a lot of these events," he said.
"There are a number of events that are not as excited about the UCI format as others. I think that's why we don't have a lot of UCI events [here in the US]. The 16 to 20-minute loops are interesting for some. I like the easy spectator viewing at them. These events are good to prepare our athletes for Olympics, Pan Ams and world-wide racing."
"But many events don't fit into that box - we get that," he said. "Sea Otter is an example. They have a history and a fanastic, big loop [a 19-mile single lap - ed.]. Riders love that big loop. That's big, epic mountain biking. We understand race directors don't want to take their event and fit them into that box. At the same time we appreciate the race directors that do fit that format."
Rice explained the change in approach, and yes, it does relate to the Olympics. Remember all those UCI points Americans had to chase to qualify athletes to race in London?
"In the past, we've said you had to be UCI [to be in the US Pro XCT]. That's not the case for 2013. We wanted to stick with that plan leading up to the Olympics to maximize the number of points our racers could get for start positions for Worlds and World Cups. We've been listening to race directors and riders."
Changes to the US National Championship schedule
As in the past two years, US Cross country and Gravity Mountain Bike Nationals will continue to be run separately. While in 2013, US Cross Country Nationals will move back onto the UCI-designated date of the third weekend in July; US Gravity Nationals will move away from it.
The Lehigh Valley, Pennsylvania will host 2013 US Cross Country Nationals on July 19-21, 2013.
"We like to stay on that date - it makes sense for our racers who are on the world-wide schedule," said Rice. "It works better for most teams because their riders are back home then. 2012 was an anomaly becuase of the Olympics. We pushed the nationals back a few weeks to give racers more time to prepare for the Olympics, and it worked out well for [2012 host] Sun Valley too. Now the plan is to go back that date."
Likewise, USA Cycling has moved gravity nationals to fit better into the international calendar and the US Pro GRT calendar, which is still in development for 2013. Angel Fire, New Mexico will host US Gravity Nationals from June 21-23, 2013.
"A lot of the gravity stuff takes place early. It worked out well for Angel Fire and how it worked into the overall calendar. We're also working on the Pro GRT, which we also hope to have out in November, too. I think you'll see some good travel flow. You have to make the events work locally and also for the international calendar."
Finally, US marathon nationals will move from September to early July in 2013. This will accommodate the new host Sun Valley, Idaho.
"The marathon nationals are when they are [July 6, 2013] due to the Ride Sun Valley festival. Marathon nationals will be part of that whole festival. That event has done a good job the past few years - I think our national cross country championships have helped anchor that."
No matter which discipline, Rice says US Nationals will be run according to UCI rules. "Our national championships will continue to fit within the UCI," he said.
Thinking about geography
With the US Nationals moving back east in 2013 and the addition of the Catamount round to the US Pro XCT, American cross country racers will get a chance to race national-level events again in the east coast after a few-year hiatus. Unfortunately, for them, the demise of the Windham World Cup in 2013, means there will be no UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in the US - east coast or otherwise.
"We were happy with Catamount wanting to participate," said Rice of the new US Pro XCT venue. "I think it will be a quality event. They are prepared. They just put on a great UCI 'cross race."
When asked about how USA Cycling picks its national calendar events and what role geography plays, Rice said, "It's difficult to make sure we are as spread out as we want to be. It's our job to make sure the top tier calendar is the best events in the country. Sometimes that matches up with being able to see all the regions and sometimes it doesn't. I don't want to turn down a good event in California and add a not-so-great event in the Southeast when one belongs on the top tier calendar and one doesn't. The calendar doesn't always come out exactly like you'd want it."
"We're a little restricted by where we have events of this calibre and people who want to put them on."
USA Cycling is hosting a Mountain Bike Race Directors' Summit in November, which will include all the potential US Pro XCT Race Directors. Rice says they'll have a conversation about being a "truly" national series and will work out details of the 2013 calendar.
"There might be some movement on some dates and format here among our race directors. I expect there to be more changes," said Rice.
The US Calendar isn't the only one that may change. The UCI may add a new first round to its World Cup in China depending how this weekend's test event goes.
To short track or not?
Whether the US Pro XCT will include a short track or eliminator for its 2013 rounds is TBD. Some rounds in 2012 had a short track, and some didn't; but none of them counted toward the US Pro XCT series.
"It's great for the US Pro XCT to include a short track," said Rice. "We haven't really dived into the idea of creating a short track series. I love the idea of race directors being able to add a day to their event. It gives more reasons for teams to travel. We want to make sure race directors know it's an option to add days. My focus right now is to get the Pro XCT more solid."
What does encourage Rice is the increase in interest in mountain biking. "We've seen a solid rise of membership in mountain biking. We've seen more racer days on the mountain bike than we have in a number of years. We've had more interest from race directors in large events than we've had in a while. We see that it's growing."
"We need to make sure there is a top tier calendar for the pros to follow. When we get that on the cross country side, the pro ranks will grow to meet that challenge. That's where we need to be to make mountain bike racing as heathly as it can be."