While we were glued to our TVs over the weekend, watching the UCI Road World Championships, the governing body's committee was deciding the fate of racing across all disciplines for 2017.
The new rules and regulations for 2017 come after a 2 day UCI committee meeting. Leading members discussed the racing regulations, taking on board feedback from athletes and organisers, in order to propose some changes for the World Cup format.
However, some of the new regulations haven't gone down too well. In some cases, women appear to come off for the worse. This is despite the UCI's efforts to award equal prize money across men's and women's events.
There's been some sore spots struck by the logic behind some of the reasoning for changes to downhill. The UCI World Cup downhill events are notorious for using some of the toughest tracks across the globe.
The typical race format for downhill mountain biking is having a single track, that is to be ridden by all categories and riders. Admittedly, after practice runs and walks, the track does getting churned up and rutted out, especially if the weather has a role to play. Beginning with the lower age and skill categories, the final riders to race are the Elite women, followed by Elite men. So when it comes to competition time, the Elite men do draw the short straw for track conditions.
The UCI board have agreed that to "better protect the integrity of the course and therefore improve the quality of competition". To achieve this, they will be reducing the number of riders allowed to race. The suffering categories are the Elite women who go from 20 to 15 riders, and the juniors who go from 30 to 20 riders. In addition to this, the points threshold to enter the World Cup events is also being raised from 30 to 40 points, making it more difficult for riders to enter.
Hold up there... what now?
In order to preserve the track as best as possible for competition - i.e Elite Men - they are cutting junior and women's categories? As if women haven't been working hard enough to gain more media coverage, to level out the playing field in the competitive scene, we're now having our numbers reduced.
What kind of message is this giving out? The UCI are making it harder to enter junior and women's elites by upping the points threshold, and reducing numbers. I can't help but wonder if this will demoralise aspiring athletes, and knock us back a few rung on the gender equality ladder.
For the final round of the UCI World Cup in Vallnord, Andorra this year, the final count for male elite riders was 151. Whereas there were only 35 elite women racing the event. So, we have to ask: Why not reduce the number of male elites instead? Surely these new regulations will stunt the growth of competitive racing.
In efforts to somewhat rectify these changes, the UCI will introduce a DHI Junior Women category. Although, we're not sure this really offsets the previous regulation changes, as it seems to be more of a second thought, rather than a carefully considered plan.
It isn't all doom and gloom though, as the track discipline looks to undergo some long awaited improvements. The UCI committee have agreed to make the events more fan friendly. Measures are to be taken to clarify rulings, false starts, disqualifications and bring in improvements to men's and women's events.
- The Madison will be introduced for women's track racing, equal to that of the men's. Points will be awarded every 10 laps, and double points for the final sprint.
- The Omnium format will have a new endurance focus. By eliminating the timed events, the 4 bunch events will be: scratch, tempo race, elimination and points.
- There will be a new sprint format which will see 28 riders taking part, instead of 24. The tournament will be shortened with just 4 riders achieving the best qualifying time,. They will skip the 1/16 finals, and head straight in for 1/8 finals.
- The kilometre and the 500m Time Trail event will have 2 riders race simultaneously during qualifiers. The final race will be as individuals on the same evening.
- The sprint distance for the Keirin will increase to 3 laps, with additional clarification on overtaking being made.
- As for the Team Pursuit, races will run more efficiently with 2 teams riding simultaneously in qualifiers. There will be no more final races for 5th/6th places, and 7th/8th places.
- A first round is to be added to Team Sprint to match a similar format to the Olympics. This will help spectators better understand the format, and help fans to follow.
The BMX scene is on the rise with more media coverage, and more women getting involved. The committee were glad to hear about the success of the inaugural season of the UCI BMX Freestyle Park World Cup.
The UCI board has agreed to make BMX Supercross easier for fans to understand and follow. To achieve this, they have introduced a direct elimination in the first round, and have stopped time trail rounds in the World Cup.
For the large part, changes to the track and BMX disciplines appear sensible and have been largely accepted by the general public.
As for the MTB downhill discipline, it seems that women and juniors are being passed over to improve track conditions for the men. A disappointing set back for the growth of women's participation in this largely male dominated industry.
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