Sunday, May 9, 2010

IOC Forces UCI to Make Changes for MTB, BMX & Track

The International Olympic Committee has told the UCI that the previously published qualifying period for Olympic start spots has to be shortened for Mountain Bike and BMX, and that nations will have only one entrant per event on the Track.

The IOC, working with the international sports federation, determines how many starting spots there are for each event, and then the UCI comes up with a ranking system that spells out the total number of riders each country may enter. For example, at the 2008 Olympics, the top five ranked countries in men's cross-country received three starting spots. This has meant that nations need to make sure they take every opportunity possible to obtain UCI points, and that more and more countries are sending riders (or providing financial assistance to riders) to attend UCI events around the world as the qualification deadline approaches.

The UCI had announced that the qualifying period for the 2012 London Games was to start April 1, 2010, and would last more than two years (end of May 2012). However, the IOC has now told the UCI that they will not allow a qualifying period of more than two years. The UCI has therefore informed national federations that qualifying period has shortened...

For Mountain Bike, the new dates are May 23, 2010 to May 22, 2012. This means that the first event for qualification purposes will be the Offenburg (Germany) World Cup. As with BMX, the positions of the top three riders (male and female) are used to determine nation rankings. For Canada, the change will not have a huge impact on standings, given that we did not have exceptional results at either the Pan Am Continental Championships (Guatemala) or the first two World Cups. However, the U.S. did extremely well at all three, and will now lose the opportunity to have them count...

In addition, the Pan Am Games no longer carry any special weight (other than some UCI points). This is unlike the Continental Championships, which can guarantee nation spots.

Cycling could also see further changes. Mountain Bike is on a bit of a bubble at present, and could potentially be dropped after 2012, possibly in favour of Freestyle BMX. The reason? In a word: Television. The IOC is driven by the television revenues it sells for the Games, and BMX did extremely well at its introduction in Beijing. Mountain Bike hasn't had the same sort of growth, and is much more expensive to cover, with its longer, off-road courses. That is one reason why we are seeing shorter courses on the World Cup circuit.

For this reason, the UCI has invested substantially in its television coverage and agreement with Freecaster for cross-country, to show that Mountain Bike can sustain the sort of audience the IOC (and sponsors) demand.

Another possibility that the UCI is considering is splitting the Gravity and Cross-country World Championships, so that they would take place at different dates and in different locations. This would open up the number of venues able to produce a world championships (particularly the cross-country discipline), as well as reducing the cost to an organizer and the length of time required to hold the event. Unfortunately, it could likely negatively impact the number of countries attending the Gravity Worlds (Downhill and 4-Cross), since there would no longer be an Olympic 'anchor' event to justify some nations attendance.

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