NRC events weigh the pros and cons of upgrading to UCI status

Despite an effort among USA Cycling (USAC) and some US-based teams to persuade all National Racing Calendar (NRC) events to step up to the UCI level next year, only one current race appears willing to make the move, and another will step down from the NRC altogether.

The Joe Martin Stage Race is considering adding UCI sanctioning for the four-day race in Fayettville, Arkansas for 2015, according to a letter USAC sent to race directors in July. But the NRC-opening Redlands Bicycle Classic in Southern California, the Cascade Cycling Classic in Oregon and the North Star Grand Prix in Minnesota were not persuaded to make the jump. The owners of Cascade said the 35-year-old race will step away from the NRC next year.

Among the eight 2014 NRC events, the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico is the only stage race on the UCI America Tour with a 2.2 ranking. The one-day NRC races, which include the Winston-Salem Classic, Philadelphia Cycling Classic and Bucks County Classic, all carried the UCI 1.1 or 1.2 designation last year.

According to the USAC document soliciting bids for next year's NRC and National Criterium Calendar (NCC), Tour of the Gila is considering adding a UCI race for the women to go along with the current men's UCI event, and the Joe Martin Stage Race is hoping to add UCI status for both men and women.

The USAC document also listed Cascade as a possible UCI event for the men next year, but John Schiemer, executive director of the Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation that owns the race, told Cyclingnews Thursday that Cascade is not going to seek UCI sanctioning next year and will step away from the NRC as well.

“We're not going to go in the direction of the UCI,” Schiemer said. “Bottom line is that the race is a fundraiser for our non-profit organization, and in talking with the board and other local folks, it doesn't make sense for us with limited resources and local sponsorship to kind of step outside the box, if you will. We will definitely have the race next year, and it will be a USAC race, but we feel the cost associated with being on the NRC is prohibitive.”

North Star Grand Prix race director David LaPorte said his race, which has yet to announce a new title sponsor after Nature Valley stepped down following the 2013 race, will not seek UCI status for 2015. Attempts to reach representatives from Redlands and Joe Martin were not successful Thursday.

More changes to the US calendar in future

Other proposed changes to the US calendar next year include moving the US professional criterium championships to mid-April, followed the next day by a team time trial national championship. Also on the proposed schedule released by USAC in July are new one-day races in Anniston, Alabama, in May and in Portland, Oregon, at the end of August. The Alabama race would be a 1.2 event for both the men and women. The Oregon race would be a 1.1 event for the men.

UCI stage races in California and Colorado would retain their UCI 2.HC status, according to the proposal, but the Tour of Utah would move up from a 2.1 ranking to 2.HC.

USAC will discuss further changes it has in store for the NRC and NCC at its race directors summit, which is scheduled to take place November 13-15 in Bend, Oregon, home of the Cascade Cycling Classic.

Following an initiative from several teams, the US governing body led a push to persuade the NRC stage races that currently aren't part of the UCI America Tour to seek the 2.2 designation. UCI status would allow races to invite Pro Continental teams to compete, including US squads UnitedHealthcare and Novo Nordisk. Pro Continental teams are not allowed in national level, non-UCI races. Continental teams would remain eligible as would amateur teams registered with USA Cycling at the Domestic Elite level.

The races would gain a spot in the UCI America Tour, a calendar of 82 races in 2014 that spanned North, South and Central America. Janier Acevedo, riding with Jamis-Hagens Berman, won the individual standings last year. Team SmartStop's Jure Kocjan is currently leading the 2014 competition.

Although the move toward international standing can be a draw for race organizers, growing from a national event sanctioned by USA Cycling into an “international” event sanctioned by the UCI is not a cheap proposition, and Cascade, for one, balked at the added expense.

“This year alone the race cost $35,000 more to do,” Schiemer said of Cascade's operating expenses in general.

Incurring more expenses by stepping up to the UCI level was never very attractive to the race organizers, despite promises from USAC that it would offset some of the new costs by lowering its own fees.

“Not knowing all the pieces, it just felt it was probably too big a number to start the process,” Schiemer said about his group's analysis of the cost and benefits of stepping up to UCI status. “It wasn't really the direction we wanted to go. I'm not sure it would be an appropriate value for the associated cost.”

In forgoing even NRC status, Cascade will rely on its longtime brand and fortuitous place on the calendar – before the high-profile races in Utah and Colorado – to draw the top domestic teams, Schiemer said.

“We've had a 35-year run of really good success,” he said. “The fees to be on the NRC, plus the additional officials' costs make it cost-prohibitive for us.”

Teams are desirous of the UCI status for races because they are on the hunt for UCI points leading up to the 2015 World Championships in Richmond, Virginia. Teams that want to get invited to the team time trial championship will need to accrue a certain amount of UCI points.

Jelly Belly-Maxxis manager Danny Van Haute said that outside of being able to provide UCI points as incentives for teams to show up, he doesn't see a lot of reason for races to step up to that level.

“For them, I don't think there is much of a benefit to do it because it costs more money again to put on UCI races,” he said. “These races struggle every year to break even, so to put another fee on them, I just don't see it happening. That's just the way it goes. It costs money. I whish we had more corporate support from sponsors. But that's just the way it is.”

Van Haute also said he believes teams will continue to travel to races like Cascade even if it does not step up to the UCI and decides to drop off the NRC as well.

“Absolutely,” Van Haute said. “That's what those promoters are really looking at: Do we need to spend $10,000 or $15,000 to make it a UCI race? Not really. Redlands is the kick-off anyways. Everyone is training in Southern Cal or Arizona and San Dimas, so it's back to back to back to back. Then you're going to stay out there for Gila. So why not? Then in July, [Cascade] is the only great stage race that you have, so teams are coming anyways.

“I don't think they need to have UCI,” Van Haute continued. “If they have it, great. But if they don't, we're still going to come.”

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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.