The last junior cross country World Cup was held in Hafjell, Norway this past weekend. Junior cross country racing is being eliminated from the World Cup for the 2014 season.
"There will not be a junior World Cup next year. There won't be junior races, and there won't be a series standing at the World Cup. It will only be elites and U23s," said UCI Technical Delegate Simon Burney to Cyclingnews.
Burney explained why the change was being made.
"What's happening at the moment is that we can't fit six races into the schedule in one day. On a triple [World Cup] weekend, we're always left with one race when we start at 9:00 am and the last race starts at 5:00 pm. We can't go any longer that day."
"That leaves the junior men to go on Sunday mornings - on the downhill day. It's a complete nightmare for the organizer, who has to come up with 40 marshals for the second day. They have to repair the course after the elite races, and they have to keep the timing set up from cross country for one more race that lasts an hour, and then all the focus goes into the downhill. There are never any spectators for the kids at 9:00 am and they feel like they are an afterthought."
Another problem is the lack of attendance by the juniors, especially at World Cups held outside of Europe.
"If we take a World Cup out of Europe, like Mont-Sainte-Anne [Canada], Pietermaritzburg [South Africa] and next year in Australia, the junior participation is so low. We get a handful of junior women and we get 20-odd junior guys, and the majority are from the promoting nation, so it's not really a World Cup."
The UCI has tried holding a junior race on Friday afternoon, but that, too, has issues. "It's difficult then because of school," said Burney.
In the past, the UCI has tried to fit in every category's race by combining categories on the course at once, sometimes by staggering the starts of two categories by a few minutes. But that solution has also proved unpopular, not to mention it's also very confusing for spectators and even sometimes racers.
"I hate having two races on the course at the same time. It's too confusing and it's just not fair," said Burney. "For example, if you had junior women and U23 women on the course at the same time, whatever you do, one will catch the other and that's just not fair."
"We're trying not to compromise anything between the two categories."
A new European series for the juniors
Instead of the World Cup, the UCI will offer a sort of European Series, a bit like the current Marathon World Series, which replaced marathon World Cups a few years ago.
"So what we've done, we've taken the juniors out, and we're going to do a junior UCI series with a European-based, six-round series. We'll use existing high profile cross country races that are already on the calendar as [UCI category] HCs or C1s."
Some examples are races that are part of the Swiss BMC Cup, the German Bundesliga and the French Cup. "Those places are where federations traditionally are taking their kids anyway. There are big crowds, and it's still a big race with all the elites there. We will also look at school calendars for better scheduling."
Burney said, "We'll coordinate the series. We'll invite organizers to be part of it. They won't have to do anything different - they already all put on great races. This will be a way to give the juniors a lower cost, more inclusive junior series."
"We'll increase the world-ranking points for the juniors for those series races, and they will still be useful for selecting Worlds teams and gridding at Worlds."
Juniors will still have a chance to experience the vibe of some World Cups next year. The UCI plans to ask both the Nove Mesto, Czech Republic and the Albstadt, Germany rounds to promote a round of the new junior series on the same weekends during which they are hosting the World Cup.
"Those two rounds do not have a downhill World Cup, so we'll have that extra weekend day, and we can do the junior races on Saturday and the elites and U23s on Sunday."