Sean Petty, USA Cycling's Chief Operating Officer, confirmed that the International Cycling Union (UCI) is in the process of adjusting its rules to permit at least one criterium during UCI 2.2-sanctioned stage races. The decision will particularly benefit the Asia and America where national level events typically depend on "big ticket" criteriums to keep the stage races afloat financially.
"The UCI wants to grow the calendar in the US," Petty told Cyclingnews. "After discussing some of the challenges what we agreed and what we were able to secure was to allow a criterium stage to a category 2.2 stage races. Criteriums are very competitive and everyone knows they are a very important part of stage races here in the US. Without having those criterium stages, the vast majority of stage races existing here would not be interested in being on the UCI America Tour.
"To the UCI's credit, they do realize that things are different here than in western Europe, and there are also places in Asia that request criteriums and it is important to them," he said. "There is a specific need to a continent, Asia or America, and it is good the UCI is showing vision and flexibility to meet those needs without really impacting the tradition of the sport. But whatever they decide will apply to all of the Continental Tours."
Petty recently attended a meeting with the UCI Road Commission to discuss the possibility of allowing at least one criterium to UCI 2.2 level events. The decision could potentially entice race promoters of national calendar stage races such as Redlands Bicycle Classic, Tour of the Gila, Joe Martin Stage Race, Cascade Cycling Classic and Nature Valley Grand Prix, which rely on the criterium, to upgrade to a UCI 2.2 status.
"We've discussed with the UCI how to increase the number of UCI races, certainly in North America and what some of the challenges are," Petty said. "One of the messages that I took to the Road Commission was that criteriums are a fundamental part of stage races in the US. If those criteriums are not allowed in many of the top stage races here, then they would not be interested in getting on the UCI calendar because that is the big payoff for many of these races, to have that showcase criterium, held on Saturdays at races like Redlands, Gila Cascade.
"We want to add stage races now to try and get them on the calendar for 2012," he said. "We don't know what races might want to upgrade yet or who are interested yet. At that point, the UCI will come over to one or two of those races and see how it all functions, how it is managed and get input from the teams. We are having those discussions now and we will add these races as soon as we can."
Building UCI rules for criteriums
Criteriums are not traditionally recognized by the UCI and are categorized as national level events. The sport governing body did, however, work with the USA Cycling last year to develop a UCI Criterium Calendar in order to permit the participation Professional Continental teams. According to Petty, because the decision to permit criteriums in UCI 2.2 level stage races is in its infancy, a set of guidelines will need to be set in place.
"We have not formalized exactly how it will work but we are working to try and get some races on the 2012 calendar," Petty said. "We are still trying to sort that out, as to what races might upgrade with a criterium. The next step is to develop some rules from a UCI perspective, as to how to manage a criterium in a stage race since it is not presently in the UCI rules."
"But, we have a great model here in the US since we've been doing them for years," he said. "The existing USA Cycling rules for criteriums and criteriums inside of stage races will be the guideline we use in these 2012 stage races. Part of this is going to involve developing a model that the UCI can apply rules to. They will apply input and guidance and put more structure into it. There are still pieces that we are trying to put together."
The challenges promoters face when upgrading to UCI 2.2
Permitting a criterium per stage race is only one challenge that national calendar event promoters face in the decision to upgrade to UCI status. They are obliged to invite five international teams, wave the registration fees for UCI Professional Continental and Continental teams and provide accommodation and meals. In addition, there are higher fees associated with applying for UCI status.
"We discussed how to grow the UCI calendar and face challenges that are unique to our continent and other continents," Petty said. "It is not as big of a hurdle to invite five foreign teams as it once was because we have teams like V Australia [Australia], PureBlack Racing [New Zealand], SpiderTech [Canada] that race here.
"The biggest impact on the budget is the loss of registration fees from Professional Continental and Continental teams," he said. "Not only can you not require an entry fee but you also have to provide housing and sustenance for these teams and that is a big shift. The financial impact will depend on each race."
Giving Professional Continental teams a bigger racing platform in the US
In 2011, the US hosted a series of UCI-sanctioned races beginning with the 2.HC Amgen Tour of California, 1.HC TD Bank International Cycling Championships, 2.1 Tour of Utah, 2.1 Quiznos Pro Challenge, 2.2 Tour of Elk Grove and the 2.2 Univest Grand Prix. These were the only events, other than those on the UCI Criterium Calendar, where Professional Continental teams were permitted to participate because they are not allowed to contest national level events.
Adding UCI 2.2 events to the calendar in the US will provide a bigger platform of racing for its Professional Continental teams, UnitedHealthcare and Team Type 1. In addition, more UCI events could help persuade Continental teams to upgrade to Professional Continental status.
"We want to get those races that we can put at the 2.2 level and provide Professional Continental teams the ability to do more racing in the US," Petty said. "This is a good move because it will provide those teams with the ability to race in more events in the US. They can't race 2.2 events in Europe and they can't do national races here, so it is a challenge for them to get in enough races for the 2.1 races they get invitations for. This will be a big help for those teams, riders and sponsors who support these teams at the Pro Continental level."