The UCI has introduced some rule changes for 2017 in order to address their concerns about the deterioration of track conditions at Downhill World Cup events. These are:
- To reduce the number of riders by increasing the number of points required to participate (from 30 to 40 points);
- To reduce the number of riders participating in the final (15 Women Elite and 20 Juniors);
- To have a separate DHI Women Junior event.
Under the 2016 rules, 20 riders could compete in the finals, while 30 Juniors could compete. The UCI thinks that these new rules will mean that fewer ‘less skilled’ riders on the course will leave the course in better conditions for the Men’s Elite final. Some have suggested that the courses are so damaged by the time the top men get to ride that the practice sessions are irrelevant, and the riders set off first are riding a much easier course.
What Do We Think?
We’ve been kicking this around the office here at Singletrack Towers, and can’t help but struggle to see how these changes can be a good thing. Here’s a few of the issues as we see them.
1. A disproportionate impact on the Women’s field
We’re tempted to question whether this is actually legal. A policy decision that disproportionately affected women would certainly take some justifying in the public sector. And how does this sit against the UCI’s own constitution (We’ve asked them, we’ll let you know if we hear back):
The UCI will carry out its activities in compliance with the principles of: a) equality between all the members and all the athletes, licence-holders and officials, without racial, political, religious, or other discrimination;
Setting aside the ‘protected’ places in the finals (and there are 10 for the Women, 20 for the Men), it’s a reduction of five riders in the Elite Women’s field. Five out of 20. A reduction of 25%. The Elite Men’s field has 80 riders. Take five riders off that, while you’re at it, take the ten that the Juniors are losing, you’ve got 15 riders off a current 80. That’s only a hit of 18%. Why is the men’s field being untouched? We’ve written to the UCI’s Women’s Cycling Coordinator to see whether she’s been involved in the redrafting of these regulations – we’ll get back to you with any response we receive.
Imagine the fuss if the Transport for London suddenly announced that to create more space on the tube it was going to reject 25% of women at the ticket gates.
2. It’s bad for the future of the sport
Although less likely to be actively illegal, the arguments above apply equally to the cuts being made to the Junior field. Ten out of 30 is a third of the field. That’s not just unfair, it’s bad for the sport. That’s a third fewer riders that are going to get the experience they need to progress. A third fewer riders able to showcase their skills and get that pro contract that they need to keep riding. Surely there’s going to be a trickle down effect, with fewer and fewer riders making it through to Elite level, and ultimately dwindling numbers competing in years to come? Still, with fewer riders the track shouldn’t suffer so much, hmm?
3. A poor message
What does these changes say about what the UCI values? We think it says that it sets the Elite Men above all else. The Elite Men is untouchable, and everything else is just a sideshow to be trimmed, culled and shunted as the UCI sees fit. We can’t help but think there’s probably a few Elite Male riders who would be uncomfortable knowing that they were riding a course at the expense of others.
4. It’s never a level playing field
Whatever order you set riders off in, the playing field is never level, or indeed equitably gnarly. Overnight rain, race day weather, seeding order. It all plays into the race conditions, and it’s all part of what makes the race. 15 fewer riders heading down the track is going to make such a teeny tiny difference to the course that we’ll be surprised if anyone can tell the difference. But it’ll make a big difference to the 15 riders who aren’t getting to race.
5. DHI Junior Women is playing second fiddle
To some extent the reduction in the women’s field may be mitigated by the introduction of the DHI Junior Women category, but it’s not clear to us just how many will qualify for the seeding round (all those qualifying for seeding will automatically go through to the final). A close look at the new regulations seems to state that Junior Women are not being included in the timed ‘training run’ two days before the final:
4.5.023 The following minimum training program is obligatory:
Three days before the final an on foot downhill course inspection period must be provided for the riders. The course must be fully marked and cordoned off.
Two days before the final a training period will be provided plus a timed training session exclusively for men elite ranked in the top 80, women elite ranked in the top 15 and men juniors ranked in the top 10 of the last world cup standings.
One day before the final a training period will be provided. A training period that is reserved for the riders in the finals only must be provided, on the day of the final. This training period must last for at least 60 minutes.
The next line of regulation makes it clear that the Junior Women for have to complete training runs in order to qualify for seeding:
4.5.024 Riders must have completed 2 training runs before starting the qualifying round or seeding run (women juniors).
Why create a Junior Women’s event, but start it off playing second fiddle to the Junior Men? We’d like to think it’s just an oversight in the drafting of the regulations, but we fear not (we have written to ask though, and we’ll let you know if we hear back). The UCI has a track record of treating women’s road racing as a sideshow, and it seems that the MTB field is no better off. So at least all women are being treated equally badly then, eh?
What do you think? Are we being unreasonable? Are the UCI’s new rules a sensible approach?