Despite staging a successful inaugural round of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup in Pietermaritzburg this past April, South Africa was cut from the 2010 World Cup schedule. The lack of a replacement title sponsor World Cup after 2009 forced the UCI to scale back its 2010 edition of the world's most prestigious mountain bike racing series. That means venues like South Africa, Australia and Canada will lose out.
"It's come as a big shock for us," said Alec Lenferna, Event Director of the Pietermaritzburg event. "I was phoned by the UCI to tell me that the loss of Nissan as a sponsor after 2009, with no replacement, forced the UCI to downsize the series virtually only to Europe and Great Britain.
"The United States has been added to the schedule for 2010, but only because the World Championships are in Canada a few days later and the world's top riders and officials will be travelling to North America anyway."
Lenferna was disappointed at not being given any notice by the UCI of the possibility of the Pietermaritzburg round for 2010 being at risk.
"It's a huge blow for mountain biking in particular and cycling in general, not only in South Africa, but in Africa," said Lenferna. "This continent has been the missing piece in the World Cup puzzle for almost two decades and after only one chance, it gets unilaterally removed with not even an option for us to find a local sponsor to keep it on the schedule."
The 2009 World Cup comprises 12 events in 11 countries. There are eight rounds for each of the three disciplines - cross country, downhill and four cross. The 2010 World Cup will be trimmed to nine venues in eight countries. There will only be six rounds for each of the three disciplines since not all venues host all three disciplines.
Statistics released by the UCI last week indicate that the Pietermaritzburg round of the 2009 World Cup had gained 939 hours, 41 minutes and 31 seconds of global television coverage, which translates to an estimated 2.134 billion viewers in 188 countries. This, combined with the crowd support at the event and high standards of organisation and racing, put Pietermaritzburg on par with the top World Cup host venues.
"Cycling South Africa shares my frustration, and I have asked them to make urgent representation to the UCI to at least give us an opportunity to try and keep the South African event on the 2010 schedule by finding funding to cover the costs that would have come out of that Nissan International sponsorship. We have to have a local sponsor to cover the event costs anyway," said Lenferna.
South Africa is still hoping for another chance to showcase the world's best mountain bike talent. "We have been asked by the UCI to bid for the 2013 World Championships. And they told me that the 2010 cutback is purely budgetary related and that Pietermaritzburg is on the provisional schedule for 2011 and 2012," said Lenferna. "A lot of work went into securing the rights to host a World Cup here. I'm making sure we do everything in our power to try and save it."
Australia, a host of a World Cup round for the past few years, and the World Championships later this year, has also been left without a major international event next year.
Canada, a traditional host of two World Cup rounds, has also been eliminated from the 2010 roster, although the country will have some consolation in hosting the World Championships.