Rules governing mountain bike racing are set to become clearer next year after the International Cycling Union (UCI) released its new regulations for the sport this week. The disciplines of marathon and four cross are set to face the biggest changes when the new rules come into effect from January 1, 2011.
The revision comes after the UCI conducted a survey of athletes, spectators and the media in September asking them what changes those groups would like to see across the sport.
The biggest changes include the introduction of the new UCI Mountain Bike Marathon Series and card-based penalty system for four cross, similar to that used in soccer. The new regulations also include the introduction of the UCI Elite Mountain Bike Team label for professional endurance and gravity teams, as well as clarification of the criteria for riders' eligibility for World Cup rounds.
Riders in the endurance sector of the sport are likely to be pleased by the changes. The new regulations overhaul the current points system for both cross country and marathon events. The latter has been given significant attention with the UCI to introduce its UCI Mountain Bike Marathon Series. The series will be made up of existing marathon events and will simplify the process of qualification for the marathon world championships.
Professional and elite racers will benefit most from the new format, with an automatic entry system allowing them to qualify for the marathon worlds with less impact upon their participation in more lucrative cross country events. Riders who finish in the top-20 at an event included in the new marathon series will automatically qualify for the world championships, with those finishing in the top-50 of series' overall ranking also eligible for the world title race.
The UCI has also clarified the criteria for World Cup rounds. Riders with a minimum of 20 UCI points in both the cross country and downhill disciplines will be eligible, with national federations allowed to enter a team of up to six riders in addition to those who do not qualify under the '20-points rule'.
The discipline of four cross has received an overhaul, particularly with respect to safety guidelines. A new penalty procedure will be introduced to govern infractions during racing. The yellow, blue and red card system will provide for warning (yellow), relegation (blue) or, in the case of a rider putting another racer in danger, disqualification (red).
The governing body is set to crack down on rider safety with a minimum of eight first-aid staff required at all UCI events. New equipment regulations will also come into effect, with full-face helmets to be worn by competitors at all times while on course (both racing and training) at UCI events.
The UCI has moved a step closer to introducing a similar professional status of mountain bike teams to that of road squads. Details were released earlier this week of the 15 squads in each of the endurance and gravity disciplines that will carry UCI Elite Mountain Bike Team status for 2011.
Whilst the rules governing the teams included in the list are a long way from the stringent criteria applied to professional road teams, they do seek to ensure a minimum level of financial and organisational stability.