USA Cycling announced today that it has earmarked more than $50,000 for a new Elite Mountain Bike Performance Stipend program. The initiative is aimed at rewarding off-road athletes with incentives and support to compete at the highest level of international mountain bike competition.
The 2006 mountain bike season marks the beginning of the two-year Olympic qualification period in which countries accumulate points towards its nation's overall ranking – the deciding factor in how many start spots a country receives at the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing. USA Cycling says it created the stipend program as one of several efforts maximize America's international ranking.
"The international performances of our top athletes over the next two years will determine the number of Olympic start positions we are awarded as a nation," said Steve Johnson, chief operating officer and director of athletics for USA Cycling. "The participation of our top athletes in the UCI World Cup calendar is critical in this process and we are committed to supporting their efforts."
The program is specific to elite men's and women's cross country disciplines and begins with the first UCI World Cup event April 1 in Curacao. Following each World Cup event, USA Cycling will pay cash incentives to the top-four men and the top-four women in the following day's UCI rankings. To be considered for the cash incentives, athletes must participate in the World Cup in question and be ranked in the top 60 overall for men and top 40 overall (in UCI World rankings).
For each European-based World Cup race, athletes meeting the criteria for incentive funding will receive $1,200 per event. For World Cups in the Americas, qualified athletes will receive $750 per event.
"The benefit of this program is really twofold," explained Gerard Bisceglia, chief executive officer of USA Cycling. "By providing funding for athletes to compete internationally, we're creating a platform that supports more participation in World Cups and other internationally-sanctioned events. That alone will assure the U.S. a better chance at becoming one of the top-ranked nations in the sport of mountain biking. Secondly, the simple exposure to a higher level of competition will make our athletes more competitive globally."
This stipend program is another example of USA Cycling's commitment to securing the maximum number of start positions for the 2008 Olympic Games. Last week, USA Cycling announced its investment in the National Mountain Bike Series which resulted in the UCI sanctioning of six domestic mountain bike events and allows U.S. athletes the opportunity to obtain UCI points on home soil.
USA Cycling 2006 Mountain Bike Performance Stipend Program Qualifying Events:
- Apr. 1-2, UCI World Cup #1, Curacao
- May 13-14, UCI World Cup #2, Madrid, Spain
- May 20-21, UCI World Cup #3, Spa-Francorchamps, Belgium
- May 27-28, UCI World Cup #4, Fort William, Scotland
- June 24-25, UCI World Cup #5, Mt. Sainte Anne, Quebec
- Sept. 9-10, UCI World Cup #6, Schladming, Austria