The US Cup Mountain Bike Event Management has pulled out of its role as organizer of the USA Cycling-backed US ProXCT, the American series of national-level cross country races, heading into its second season in 2010. The news came Tuesday after the US Cup organization learned on Friday that International Cycling Union (UCI) inscription had been denied for its Bonelli Park race, which was set to be the opening round of the 2010 US ProXCT. Both the US Cup and USA Cycling shared their reactions with Cyclingnews.
The result of the split, which comes after a working partnership of over one year, looks to be two separate national series oriented toward professionals. One is USA Cycling's US ProXCT, with its UCI-inscripted events, and the other is the US Cup's Mountain Bike Racing League (MBRL), a series of national-level events offering plenty of prize money to professionals, but no UCI points. Organizers of both series say their respective series will support grassroots racing, too.
"I don't know if I'm in a soap opera or not. We had some issues with USA Cycling," said Ty Kady of the US Cup media relations to Cyclingnews. "It's been a hard relationship with USAC. The final straw was on Friday." That's when Kady learned that the Bonelli Park event was denied UCI inscription status. "The UCI said we filed too late. I thought, 'We've known about these dates since August and we were suposed to release them at Interbike. We effectively negotiated ourselves right out of an inscripted race because we kept messing around until late November and early December.'"
"Bonelli was the final event that made us ask, 'are we spending our money wisely?'" Our business model of the US Cup describes how we want to support both amateurs and professional. Right now, per business model, working with USAC is not a good fit. It may be a good fit down the road. For now, we'll focus on what we do best. We'll be less encumbered and uninhibited. We'll cater to the amateurs and build up prize money for the pros."
The abrupt split left staff at USA Cycling surprised. "Quite frankly, we were shocked and disappointed. We found out yesterday," said Andrea Smith on behalf of USA Cycling to Cyclingnews. "Our (US ProXCT) series will move forward. It's a strong series. We'll have the same philosophy; we're staying consistent. The ProXCT will include the remaining non-US Cup-organized races such as the Bump & Grind in Alabama, the WORS Subaru Cup in Wisconsin and Carmicheal Training Systems International Classic in Colorado Springs. These are run by three great, experienced event promoters. We're looking forward to working with them and we're looking at expanding it, possibly in time for 2010."
Regarding the Bonelli Park UCI-inscription, Smith said, "I'm not sure on what happened that filing. The UCI said it had already turned down late requests from other countries and they didn't feel like they could make an exception for us and not for others. It was a UCI decision. I'm under the impression that it was submitted past the deadline."
Kady said the US Cup had offered to continue to host the non-inscripted Bonelli Park and another of the planned ProXCT events as part of the US ProXCT series, but he didn't believe USA Cycling would still want the events. "I don't think they'll come back because I think they have to have inscripted races on their calendar. The deal had been that we'd pay for our own inscriptions and help the other races achieve higher levels of inscription. Now we are not going to subsidize the other events like the ones in Colorado Springs or Wisconsin or Alabama."
Races like Bonelli Park and Fontana, which were to be part of the US ProXCT will instead be part of the new MBRL series. "Instead of inscripting, we'll put that money toward prizes for the local or regional pros. We may add two or three more events for a total of about five events." Among those are a likely MBRL final at the Massanutten Hoo Ha! near Harrisonburg, Virginia, on June 20. Kady declined to name the other events that may become part of the MBRL at this time, but said they'd try to avoid conflict with other big events such as the Bump and Grind US ProXCT. "It's all still in flux," he said.
Kady indicated that the US Cup would continue to organize its other series of US Kenda Cup races, with qualifiers around the country and the finals sometime in September at a location to be determined. The Kenda Cup series emphasizes grass roots racing and reaches out to amateurs and regional professionals. He anticipates that all of MBRL and Kenda Cup races will be run as USAC-sanctioned events; however, none of the MBRL or Kenda Cup events will offer UCI points.
USAC will forge ahead with its US ProXCT. "USAC doesn't want a huge national series calendar," said Smith. "Teams have always wanted a small series that works. We'd love to have their [US Cup] events as part of the US ProXCT, but yes, a big part of this is building a strong mountain bike national calendar in the US. Having UCI events is part of that. It offers a platform of qualification opportunities for the riders. It's part of our philosophy, and it's our job to offer those top level riders the opportunities to earn UCI points. We want to continue to be committed to that."
The debate over UCI points
Considering their respective series, USA Cycling and the US Cup have different outlooks on the importance of the UCI points that come along with UCI-inscripted events.
Kady agrees with USAC that UCI points are important for top racers, but he qualified that agreement: "As a promoter, we don't feel like it's a good use of our money or our sponsorship. UCI points only affects a few people. They don't affect guys like Sam Koerber or Jeremiah Bishop now that he's not racing the World Cup any more. It affects guys like JHK and others racing the World Cup."
The US Cup tallied the costs and benefits of the UCI inscriptions for its races and decided not to apply its resources toward putting on UCI-sanctioned events. "We understand there are a handful of US riders going for the Olympics. Their best shot to get there is the World Cups," said Kady. "We'll focus on building a series to cater to pros and amateurs. We'll focus on good prize money and media coverage. It's expensive to inscript and run a UCI race. Right now, with the UCI and the cost associated vs. the points we award, we, the US Cup would rather take that $12,000 or $15,000 it would have invested and reinvest it in prizes, more media and marketing and better prizes for the amateurs.
"We know we may lose riders like Adam Craig who are on the path to another Olympics, but those guys can go get a ton more points at a World Cup," said Kady.
"Offering UCI points is a priority for us," said Smith in contrast. "It's part of our duty. We'll continue to develop that calendar. The idea is to build relationships with promoters that build the type of environment and courses that the top riders will see at the major international competitions."
Smith had a different opinion than Kady on costs of UCI races. "The reason you inscript something at certain levels is to guarantee things like prizes, safety, course specifications. The cost to host a UCI event is low, and we (at USA Cycling) invested some resources to keep those costs low."
UCI inscription comes with fees and then races must also pay out prize money, according to the UCI category of each event. Promoters also have to cover the cost of expenses like anti-doping testing if their race makes the "A" list (which is determined by the UCI). For details on financial obligations for running UCI mountain bike events, visit www.usacycling.org/forms/mtb/2010-UCI-MTB-CalendarFees.pdf.
"We are helping our top athletes get in a position to win as much as possible. That trickles down as it creates heros and role models that help our sport grow at lower levels, too," said Smith, who noted that USAC is not just about elite cycling, but also looking to grow the sport at a grass roots level.
Where UCI points become important is at UCI World Cups and Olympic Games and UCI World Championships. A minimum of 20 points is required to start a World Cup, and total number of points determines an athlete's starting grid position. More points equals a better starting place. Smith asked a question to illustrate her example: "Can Willow Koerber still get a bronze medal at worlds if she starts in 50th position?"
Having just receive the news and being tied up with the US Cyclo-cross Nationals starting Thursday, Smith said USA Cycling is not yet sure what it's revised plan will be for the US ProXCT. "We just found out yesterday. We haven't had time to sit down and develop a logistical plan," she said.
Meanwhile, the US Cup is going on with planning for both its MBRL series and the Kenda Cup series. "The three- to five-year plan is to have pro riders who follow our MBRL series and are able to make a living," said Kady. "Maybe at the end of the series, he or she would win $10K for the overall. We're trying to make a legitimate pro series for riders to go race and make a living. We think money will attract money. On the flip side, we want to help amateurs. We want kids to think of making a living racing their bike - just like they might go race snowboards or other sports. I know USAC has a Under 23 development team, but we feel our series and events can help the kids below that level - future Olympians."
As for the Kenda Cup, Kady said: "The Kenda Cup will stay the same in general. Kenda Cup qualifiers are associating existing events. We help with marketing, prize money, grab bags. We feel better doing that than helping four riders with UCI points. We want to keep it fun and keep it grounded. Kenda Cups are highest level events for amateurs to qualify for our Kenda Cup final in September."
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for more details coming soon on all three series as they evolve.
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Sue George is an editor at Cyclingnews. She coordinates all of the site's mountain bike race coverage and assists with the road, 'cross and track coverage.