The UCI is reportedly considering combining 20-25 of the top 'cross events into one series as a way to revive a discipline that is waning, at least at the elite men's level.
Attendance has been on the decline since the retirement of long-time star Sven Nys. Although Mathieu van der Poel and Wout Van Aert have dominated, they have yet to build the type of fan-base that Nys and his old rival Niels Albert accumulated.
The UCI Cyclo-cross Coordinator Peter Van Den Abeele blames the decline on excess of various classifications in Belgium. There are the World Cups, three of which took place in the country, then the classic Superprestige and DVV Verzekeringen Trofee series, and the newer Brico Cross and Soudal series.
"We have to be honest: in the current Belgian calendar, the fans can no longer see the forest for the trees. Which match belongs to which classification?," Van Den Abeele told Het Laatste Nieuws.
The UCI Cyclo-cross Commission will meet during the World Championships in Valkenburg, the Netherlands, next month to discuss the concept, which could combine some of the World Cup, Superprestige and DVV races.
Van Den Abeele was cautious about confirming the change as imminent. "It is too early to make statements about this now," he said. "But it is certain that the landscape will change. How drastic? Perhaps it is expedient to implement a thorough reform in one go, instead of spreading it out in a few years."
"The first meeting aims to analyse the problem. Shortly thereafter, the main lines will be plotted, after which we will join forces and get to work."
Former world champions Roland Liboton and Bart Wellens were sceptical of the idea, but both acknowledge the decline of attendance at major races - a fact they blame in part on the excess of television coverage.
"There are simply too many cyclo-cross races on television," Liboton said to Het Laatste Nieuws. "For two straight days, on Saturday and on Sunday, the people watch their favourite sports from their sofas. They see more than they can on the course. That needs to change, but whether a new classification such as the so-called 'Super League' is the solution, I don't know. In addition, I think it is important that the small races survive. In any case, there is a need for innovation within the 'cross world, I agree. I find it to be a good sign that they are considering changes."
Wellens too worries about the smaller 'cross races. "If we look at big races like Koppenbergcross, there are still 20,000 people on the sidelines. But I can understand for the smaller races, especially the ones not part of a series, it's more difficult."
He too blames the television coverage. "It's somewhat logical that people don't want to drive 50 kilometres, pay for a ticket and have to buy a pricey hamburger when they can stay at home and see the race as well, if not better. They even broadcast the women's races. It is warmer and cheaper not to go."
But Wellens does not agree that the increased number of series was a source of confusion and worried about lumping the races together. "I think the cyclo-cross fans understand which 'cross classification is which," Wellens said.
"Having all the races in one classification seems like a bad idea to me. How do you decide which races are in it? And what is the compensation for the organizers and much more important: the riders themselves? This should be very well thought about and can't just be decided in a month. The UCI must come together with the right people, especially their taking time and think carefully how to deal with this."
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