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Racers upset after UCI's clarification on non-sanctioned races

The elite men's start was on a circular gravel track

The elite men's start was on a circular gravel track (Image credit: Dave McElwaine/

American mountain bikers reacted with anger and frustration to the UCI's clarification of its rules after USA Cycling circulated a March 26th letter from the UCI President Pat McQuaid about its Rule 1.2.019, which banned all license holders, not just riders on registered UCI teams, from competing in non-sanctioned races. The UCI also clarified that national federations cannot make exceptions for most existing, unsanctioned events.

"Dang. A girl leaves for an early, long MTB ride and returns to find the World of MTB racing will never be the same...this is not cool," said Heather Irmiger (Trek) on Facebook. Irmiger is a former multi-time US national champion who recently stepped off the UCI World Cup circuit and switched to world of (mostly unsanctioned) enduro racing.

Prior to the letter dated March 26th, American mountain bikers were under the impression that the rule against competing in non-sanctioned races only applied to riders on registered UCI teams. USAC's Bill Kellick told Cyclingnews as much in an article on Cyclingnews dated March 12. "It is important to note that the only riders that are affected are riders that have registered with the UCI on a UCI team. This does not affect mountain bike pro riders who are NOT on UCI-registered teams," Kellick had said.

One team, the Sho-Air/Cannondale Team, went as far as to un-register itself as a UCI team in order to comply with this interpretation while other riders, not on UCI registered teams, started making their plans to compete in some of North America's most popular races like the Trans-Sylvania Epic, the Breck Epic and the Whiskey 50, all established non-sanctioned mountain bike races.

However, the UCI's March 26th letter said, "Article 1.2.019 applies to all licence holders, without exception. It does not solely concern professional riders or just the members of UCI teams, contrary to certain statements in the press and on some blogs."

USA Cycling is sticking with the UCI's interpretation and said, "The UCI confirmed that Rule 1.2.019 and the related sanctions in 1.2.020 and 1.2.021 must apply to every UCI-recognized national federation in the world. Therefore, as a member of the International Federation, USA Cycling will comply with the direction from the UCI."

Mountain bike racers who opposed the rules against competing in non-sanctioned races, had held out hope that USAC could be persuaded to interpret the rules to grant exceptions for some events, something under the national governing body's authority. However, the UCI closed that potential loophole, too, in its March 26th letter by explaining that it only applied to non-recurrent events.

The UCI's letter said, "Special races or events are understood to be cycle events which are not registered on the national calendar of the country's federation or on the UCI international calendar. This generally concerns events that are occasional and which do not recur, most often organised by persons or entities who do not belong to the world of organised sport. For example, an event may be organised by an association that does not have a link to the National Federation, such as a race specifically for members of the armed forces, fire fighters or students or perhaps as part of a national multisport event.

"With the exception of these special cases, the National Federation is not permitted to grant an exemption to a cycle event which is held, deliberately or not, outside the federative movement. For example, in no case should an exception be granted to a cycling event that is organised by a person or entity who regularly organises cycling events."

Rider reactions

The consequences of the letter are that UCI license-holding mountain bike pros cannot compete in some of their favorite events without fear of punishment by fine or suspension. Racers were angered and frustrated upon hearing the news.

Sho-Air/Cannondale's Jeremiah Bishop, current leader of the men's Pro XCT, former World Cup racer and endurance race lover, said, "Comment on USAC that THEY should stand up to the UCI on ruling all UCI riders will face bans and Fines for doing non USAC races. This is America! We invented the sport so there are a multitude of races organizations and groups that pre date the UCI and many reasons that this rule is not compatible with USA racing."

Chloe Woodruff (Crankbrothers Racing), who leads the women's Pro XCT, took the time to summarize her thoughts in her blog.

"Waking up to this news this morning was a huge shock. I think I've been running through the spectrum of emotions that we experience with loss -denial, anger, sadness and acceptance. This is simply due to the enforcement of UCI Rule 1.2.019 which now means I cannot to participate (without sanctioning) in some of my favorite mountain bike events, which include: The Whiskey Off-Road, Ore to Shore, Chequamegon, 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo and more... The biggest 'problem' is that we love mountain bike racing too much and take this action by the UCI and USAC very personally.

"Dear USA Cycling, I cannot choose between unsanctioned and sanctioned racing. Please consider further clarifying your position and standing up for your professional racers."

"It is inexcusable to make this announcement less than one month before the Whiskey Off Road, the race that offers the single biggest payout for a one-day race. Teams have already made plans. Racers have already purchased airfare and made reservations. Personally, I have moved to Prescott, AZ for the month to train specifically for this event," wrote Woodruff.

Drew Edsall (Kenda/Felt) said on Facebook, "Thanks USAC. Do you plan on refunding me for all the races I already entered in that are non-USAC sanctioned? This is extremely frustrating.....kinda like someone walking in my office and telling me your entire year you have worked for is now gone. What to do.....???"

Some former World Cup-level pros chimed in to express their dissatisfaction and explained how they are voting with their feet.

Olympian and multi-time national champion Adam Craig said, "Here's the thing, Pat [McQuaid], .001% of cyclists are actually involved in the Olympic Movement. The rest just want to ride bikes. From someone who's seen both sides... Consider this my resignation."

Another former national champion, Jeremy Horgan-Kobelski, said, "Well, the UCI and USAC might be trying to kill mountain biking, but on a positive note their announcement today saved me $150 bucks. Adios."

Former pros like Craig and Horgan-Kobelski are at the end of the cross country World Cup careers and done with Olympic aspirations. They can afford to step out of the UCI's rat race and pursue a racing career of unsanctioned events.

Where the news hits hardest is among current pros, who do a mix of sanctioned and non-sanctioned races and up and coming pros, many of whom help pay the bills and gain exposure by earning the larger prize money and stepping into the media spotlight offered by some non-sanctioned events. 

Writing in response to Woodruff's blog, former World Cup-level racer and former national champion Sue Haywood (Stan's No Tubes Women's Elite team) offered this comment, "Great writing, Chloe Woodruff. With all the sacrifices cyclists make already to pursue their race dreams, this decision seems like a slap in the face. I can't help but to wonder if USAC would do better to just focus on elite development and leave all other forms of racing to another organization that does it well and keeps the fun in it for the 'masses'. They have a hard time doing both. On another note they need to communicate better and should consider a good publicist."

Even grassroots level racers have gotten into the mix with some non-pro categorized racers wondering whether they will also be punished for racing their local non-sanctioned events and expressing their sport for their favorite pros. Many joined the pros in signing a petition which has been circulating on the internet for several weeks. It is titled "USA Cycling and the Union Cycliste International (UCI): Attend Sea Otter to negotiate abolishing UCI rule 1.2.019" and calls for changes to the rules.

Following the release of the UCI letter, USA Cycling's Facebook page was also filled with comments from pros and amateurs unhappy with the latest clarification.

Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for further coverage on this issue, including further responses from team managers, promoters, the UCI and USA Cycling.