The US is getting a new mountain bike national series in 2012. Dean Racing Development announced officially the US Grand Prix of Mountain Biking (MTB GP) on Monday. Initially the series will focus on downhill and super D disciplines although cross country events and gated racing will be added in the future.
Dylan Dean, the man behind Dean Racing Development, used to coordinate the USA Cycling US Pro Gravity Tour (US Pro GRT), but he has stepped out of that role following this 2011 series and into coordinating his own national-level series for 2012.
Open to athletes worldwide, the MTB GP has been created to bring consistency and growth of the sport of mountain bike racing in a competitive and fan-friendly atmosphere according to an official statement. The MTB GP will consist of top-tier events, in cooperation with key regional and independent races across the nation. The overall goal of the new series is to bring the mountain bike race community together as a whole.
"The Grand Prix of MTB is the next step in the evolution of US mountain bike racing. I've spent the majority of my life racing, working in all aspects of the cycling industry, and now as a team owner and race promoter. I have seen our sport at its peak, and at its rock bottom," said Dean. "There is an outcry for the need of a proper US national series to finally be implemented. With the support of the industry and athletes alike, we can finally take it upon ourselves to guide the evolution of our sport. This is a dream come true!"
Dean told Cyclingnews that a MTB GP schedule will be announced by no later than sometime in December. "The schedule depends on the big resorts. For example, resorts like Tahoe and Mammoth are keen on being part of the tour, but because they are geared up for snow season, it can take awhile to get the final word," said Dean. "Right now about half the schedule is done. There are about three or four more open weekends, and I'm still going back and forth with the resorts."
Whereas the US Pro GRT focused solely on downhill racing, Dean's longer term vision for the MTB GP includes "endurance" events like cross country. "We'll be combining endurance events with the series. The sport here in the States is struggling with the disciplines being separate. It doesn't mean there can't be independent events by discipline. To make a big splash, I think they should be combined."
Dean has not forgotten the glory days of mountain biking when the NORBA National Series and some of its subsequent series included both gravity and cross country events held at each series venue, in the way that some World Cups are now run with multiple disciplines at the same venue.
"Hopefully we'll have bigger event structures and purses than the US Pro GRT, too," said Dean to Cyclingnews. "Like the USPro GRT, we are aiming for five to seven events. There was an effort to have a pro urban event, that will likely get postponed until 2013."
USA Cycling presently oversees one national series each for cross country and downhill racing: the US Pro XCT and US Pro GRT. They are run separately. USA Cycling's Andrea Smith confirmed to Cyclingnews that the US Pro GRT will happen again in 2012 although Dean will not be running it. USAC also runs the US Pro UET for ultra endurance races. Thus far, only the 2012 US Pro XCT schedule has been announced.
"The US Pro GRT will keep a similar format. We'll reach out to all top event promoters to be a part of the US Pro GRT," said Smith. "We don't want to compete with any series. Our model is more of a calendar model." Smith said applications are still being accepted for inclusion into the 2012 US Pro GRT.
Dean said the split is not personal. "Right now, I've got nothing against USA Cycling. We parted on good terms. We're just on different paths on how we see the future. As far as participating MTB GP events, it's up to individual event promoters as to whether they will be part of USA Cycling. In the future we want to offer UCI points."
He elaborated on the details of his differing approach. "A lot of it has to do with what events should be part of the tour and their location and opinions on the sport being combined vs. two separate series. USAC has its own growth objectives, for sure. We all want to grow this sport and make it strong like it was back in the NORBA days. It might not be identical to that series in the end. In the meantime, we are pursuing different paths to the same objective."
In its inaugural year the MTB GP will have no UCI-designated races. "The whole aspect of events having to be inscribed by end of July of the previous year is tough," said Dean. "It's hard to know the dates and fork over the cash by that time. That came into play with Northstar last year. Because of the snowfall, they had to postpone the race. Hopefully, in the future, we can include several UCI-categorized races."
The inclusion of disciplines other than super D and downhill may take some time. "With the addition of super D this year, we may not also be able to include the other disciplines. We'll likely have one- or two-run super D events. We'd like to include cross country racing on the endurance side in the future. I'm not saying we'll have a Grand Prix version of cross country, but we'd like to have some cross country racing at our venues. With super D and cross country, it widens the participation of racers and spectators. Whether or not we'd introduce marathon would depend on support and staffing. If we can get more of each, we'd look at including it."
Dean expects participation from US-based gravity racers, especially those who are independent or part of smaller teams like his own DRD Intense squad. He is in negotiation with several companies for series sponsorship.
The new American domestic series comes soon after the addition of an international downhill series known as the DH1. Counting the World Cup, iXS series and DH1 series, there are now three international series competing for the participation of the elite racers. And domestically, the US Pro GRT and the MTB GP are both drawing from the same regional and national-level talent pool.
"Right now, we need to have a strong US presence. The sport is dominated by those outside of the US as far as results go, except for Aaron Gwin," said Dean. "But there is big industry presence in the States. We need to step up US racing."
"There should be a big World Cup-like international series. The World Cups are a priority for most companies and teams so it's hard for the other series. I think the DH1 series is a cool idea. It's going to be harder for two world-leading series which are competing against each other. Here in the States, I think it will be easier for the Grand Prix to take off. I was doing the US Pro GRT and now I'm doing this Grand Prix, so the transition will be easier for racers."
Dean said he is working around the dates of the DH1 and World Cups. "Obviously I can't compete against them for World Cup-level athletes. It's like that with any regional series vs. international series. We're not going to conflict with any major international events."
"We want to use the MTB GP to help American racers get to the next level. I understand the World Cups are the number one series in the world."
There is no word yet on whether there will be any race schedule conflicts between MTB GP events and US Pro GRT events since neither series has released its 2012 calendar.
Stay tuned to Cyclingnews for details on the 2012 MTB GP and US Pro GRT series as they become available.