The International Cycling Union (UCI) has introduced a large number of rules changes for cyclo-cross this season, and while much has been made of the technical regulations allowing disc brakes and restricting tire width, a less publicized rule decreasing the points allocated for World Cups could benefit non-European riders.
The UCI's cyclo-cross commission rolled out the new rules in June, after a two-day long meeting with sweeping changes to regulations affecting course design and equipment, but buried in the 27 page document were changes to the points system.
Rather than 300 points for a World Cup win, riders will now only gain 200. A victory in a category 1 race earns 80 instead of the previous 60, while C2 events were upped to 40 from 30. The C1 and C2 classification now applies only to elite men. For women and U23 men, there is only one points scale for all non-World Cup races. Women earn a maximum 40 points, while U23's can take 30. Junior points remain the same.
For elite men, only a rider's top six C1 and top five C2 races are counted, making the maximum available for lower-ranked events 680, up from 510 last season. The USA and Belgium are the only countries to host enough events to award the maximum point tally for non-World Cup races.
That means for elite men who have nine World Cup rounds there are a maximum 1800 points from World Cups, down from 3000 in last year's 10 rounds. Non-World Cup races for women max out at 40 points, respectively, but the World Cup still earn an equal number of points as their male counterparts, making the World Cup races more important for their overall rankings.
The changes do, however, allow riders who cannot race a full World Cup calendar to have less of a disadvantage than in previous years.
"I think that still, the best in the World will be the best at the end of the season in the UCI ranking and will have the best starting spots at Worlds," said American Jonathan Page.
"I think for the US riders that race a lot in the US, they will have a real advantage now because I think there are a handful of guys who will be able to win six cat 1 and five cat 2 races. I think in all of Europe, there are probably only the same amount of guys or a couple more, that can win the max [points].
"Any of the top ten US riders coming over and finishing even on the lead lap of a World Cup or two, should end up ahead of all but the top Euro racers."
Unlike most of his compatriots, Page races a full 'cross season in Europe, where top finishes are a rarity. The decision to skip the national championships, which can earn a rider 100 points for the win, will further handicap Page when it comes to the UCI rankings.
"In the past, I've relied on grabbing some points for high places in cat 1 and 2 races in Europe and grabbing as many points as possible in the World Cups with as many good finishes as possible," he said. "I am rarely the top US rider in the UCI points before Worlds, I am pretty sure, [and it] might be the case again this year. Either way, my schedule won't change and I'll just have to do my best for the overall standings."
Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld's Jeremy Powers said that he and teammates Tim Johnson and Jamey Driscoll will travel to Europe to take part in several World Cup races to help paid their tally toward the all-important rankings which determine the riders' start positions at Worlds. "The World Cups hold a lot of points, not as much as before, but enough to make a big difference come February at the world champs," Powers said.
The changes to the C1 and C2 points, he said, "makes it a little more favorable for us to be racing at home. There are a lot of C1's this year, so that helps out quite a bit, but makes those races furious and hard, hard racing!"
US champion Katie Compton welcomed the changes for the women's points system, which helps narrow the gap between the non-World Cup and World Cup races. "I do like the fact that women now get 40 points whether it is a C1 or C2, so that will benefit the US women well, especially the ones who can't make it over for World Cups where the big points are.
"Even if the points have changed a bit, I think the end result will still be the same which is to rank the fastest riders first."