Change is in the air. The UCI has been shifting its support among existing and emerging mountain bike racing disciplines. For 2012, four cross is out of the World Cup while cross country eliminators are in - at least for some rounds, and the UCI has established a "world series" of marathon races. The organization is also looking at building a gravity endurance series for 2013.
Development of gravity endurance events
Seeing the growing popularity of gravity endurance events, the UCI Gravity Endurance Coordinator Chris Ball is looking to develop this discipline within the UCI by working with existing "enduro" events and riders.
His aim is to develop a discipline that will attract an increasing number of mountain bikers as it combines the physical endurance of cross country riding with the technical difficulty and excitement of downhill racing.
The UCI has invited organisers of current gravity enduro events to contact the UCI with a view to establishing a UCI Enduro Calendar from 2013. Enduro events can be in the form of multi-stage races, day races or mass start races.
World Cup change: Goodbye four cross
In 2012, the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup will no longer include four cross racing. However, the UCI's Manager of Off-Road Disciplines, Peter Van den Abeele, stressed that the withdrawal of four cross from the World Cup in no way rings the death toll of the format in a recent UCI statement.
"Four cross has been an important part of the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup series for many years," said Van den Abeele. "Since its introduction, it has been highly appreciated both by riders and spectators. The UCI supports four cross and sincerely hopes that organisers will continue to register their four cross events on the UCI international calendar."
The change only affects World Cups. The format will remain for the 2012 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships in Leogang, and registrations for four cross races are still being accepted for the UCI international calendar. Van den Abeele added that the UCI is open to working with any organiser looking to host a UCI-registered four cross event during a World Cup weekend.
"With enough advance notice, we can work together to ensure that, where possible, timetables and services complement each other for the benefit of the sport."
Van den Abeele explained why the four cross is gone from the World Cup. "Four cross has proved more successful in some regions than others. This fact, coupled with the high financial costs and the environmental issues associated with the building of four cross courses, has led the UCI to make this decision. Four cross competitions remain viable in a few World Cup venues but the lack of interest in others does not warrant continuing with this format in the World Cup series."
He added that the gravity events were an important part of the mountain bike discipline and would still be strongly represented in the World Cup by the ever-popular downhill competitions. One of the aims of the decision to withdraw four cross was to nurture and develop the format in regions where it has a large following, without forcing it on regions where it generates little interest.
"Although there is low participation in four cross events in the World Cup, the UCI is convinced that the development of more regional, national and other international events will benefit this exciting format," said Van den Abeele.
Of course, four cross racers were upset with the decision. The Four Cross Alliance recently responded to the news.
World Cup change: Hello cross country eliminator
The cross country eliminator race format was introduced in Europe two years ago and is suited toward Olympic cross country specialists. Typically, but not always, four competitors race each other over a lap of about 1km. Test events were run in conjunction with the Dalby Forest World Cup and the Nove Mesto na Morave World Cup in 2011, and the format will be part of World Cup events in 2012 including Houffalize (Belgium), Nove Mesto na Morave (Czech) and La Bresse (France). Offenburg also ran an eliminator in 2011 with its World Cup, but it used a six-person-per-heat format.
Cross country eliminator racing is the short distance cross country race format most popular in Europe whereas short track racing tends to be the most common option in North America and Australia.
In 2012, the first cross country eliminator world champion will be crowned. The new format will be raced the day after the regular cross country event.
A new marathon series
A few months ago, the UCI announced a new world marathon series linking together established events for the purpose of ranking marathon riders and qualifying marathoners for Worlds.
Due to the timing of the event, the series started with several events beginning in the middle of 2011. The 2012 events are listed below. The new calendar culminates with the 2012 marathon Worlds on October 7 in Ornans, France.
UCI Marathon Series 2012
July 2-3 (2011): KitzAlpbike XCM - Kirchberg, Austria
August 20 (2011): Grand Raid - Verbier-Nendaz-Hérémence-Evolène-Grimentz
September 19 (2011): Adamello Bike - Ponte di Legno (BS), Italy
October 1-2 (2011): Extrême Sur Loue - Ornans, France
October 5-9 (2011): Roc d'Azur - Frejus, France
February 25: Sabie Classic - Sabie - Mpumalanga, South Africa
April 8: Roc Laissagais - Laissac, France
June 10: Elsabiketrophy - Estavayer-le-Lac, Switzerland
June 17: Endurance Atenas - Atenas, Costa Rica
July 7-8: Südtirol Dolomiti Superbike - Villabassa, South Tyrol, Italy
July 29: MTB Ucka Marathon - Lovran, Croatia
August 19: Grazer Bike-Marathon Stattegg - Stattegg, Austria
August 26: MTB Jurmala Marathon - Jurmala, Latvia
September 8-9: Val di Fassa Bike - Moena - Val di Fassa, Italy
September 9: O-Tour Bike Obwalden - Obwalden, Switzerland
September 15-16: La Forestière - Lamoura - Arbent, France