Forbidden races - Rule 1.2.019
The UCI has a lot on their plate. You have the Lance Armstrong doping scandal which, at a minimum, in my opinion shows that the past UCI president Hein Verbruggen was incompetent or the current UCI president Pat McQuaid is complicit in organized doping. The disgraced Texan isn’t the only one popping out of the woodwork to admit to doping. Almost everyone who kitted-up in the orange of Rabobank has admitted to doping.
Then you have the Operation Puerto trial further showcasing how the UCI wasn’t driving the world of cycling like they should have. Instead they let go of the steering wheel and jumped into the back seat to let the car swerve all over the road with destruction left in its wake.
Regardless, the UCI took the time to release a memo stating, “No license holder may participate in an event that has not been included on a national, continental or world calendar or that has not been recognized by a national federation, a continental confederation or the UCI. A national federation may grant special exceptions for races or particular events run in its own country."
This isn’t a new rule. In fact it’s an old one in the books as rule 1.2.019 that the UCI is dusting off, telling national federations that they’d better step up and enforce it.
What this means is if you have a UCI racing license you can’t participate in a “forbidden race.” A forbidden race is unsanctioned by the country’s federation. Some of these unsanctioned events are mountain bike races. Other “underground” rides are gran fondos. They could also be your local training race. Both of these cycling disciplines attract thousands of participants and in the case of fondos an entry fee that can be over one-hundred dollars and still sell out! How many people have a UCI license and how could it affect us?
According to Sean Petty, USA Cycling’s chief operating officer, there was over 3,000 UCI licenses in the U.S. This includes pros as well as amateur riders who want to participate in UCI events, like the past Cyclocross World Championships in Louisville, Kentucky. This means that riders who aren’t pros are technically banned from riding in forbidden races.
I race for a local club/team – Athletix Cycling Team Benefiting globalbike. The squad has an elite wing of the team that does some limited traveling which includes participation in UCI events, such as Master’s Worlds and the Battenkill road race. Team manager Josh Whitmore, a UCI license holder, contacted USAC for further clarification on this new enforcement.
Whitmore was told that if a ride listed results and didn’t give out prizes a UCI license holder is fine. He asked about participation in gran fondos, specifically the George Hincapie gran fondo. It was listed on the USAC website, offered results, and a product prizes list. This gran fondo proved to be very popular here in the Southeast and attracted several of Hincapie’s BMC teammates as well as friends in the pro peloton. Some of these riders were Christian Vande Velde and David Zabriskie who at the time were serving their suspension for doping.
I contacted USA Cycling in October about the participation of suspended riders in this event and much like Whitmore discovered, they didn’t have an answer to the gran fondo question.
“Being the new guy here I’m asking for input from several other departments on this issue. I will get back to you as soon as I have an answer,” was the response I received from Bill Kellick, USAC’s director of communications.
Two days later I followed up with Mr. Kellick asking for an answer and they were still stumped by the question claiming to be researching it and had, “many folks in on this discussion so it is taking some time.” I had no idea gran fondos were such a stumper of a question!
So while USAC was researching and holding discussions that apparently went for several days I emailed Travis Tygart, CEO of United States Anti-Doping Agency, regarding participation of pro riders and suspended riders. Within the hour Tygart responded saying they were okay to ride in gran fondos. Problem solved. Meanwhile the USAC never returned my email with an official answer…
Now, months later, USAC still has no answer regarding UCI licensees participating in gran fondos as they didn’t have an answer for team manager Whitmore either.
Other riders who hold a UCI license are also asking similar questions. Selene Yeager, AKA Bicycling Magazine’s Fit Chick and UCI license holder, posted on Facebook she asked the USAC about “forbidden races” and her ability to participate in them. This past January Shawn Farrell, Technical Director of the USAC replied, “The rule only applies to riders on UCI teams.” So just months ago the USAC was still obviously confused by rule 1.2.019.
These unsanctioned races and rides attract thousands of people all paying an entry fee. The UCI wants a piece of that money. Think of it like “protection money” that organized crime might demand from neighborhood store owners. The USAC are the “enforcers” – making sure the fees continue to flow to Aigle. You pay the fee to the federation and in return you get some banners, a nice USAC icon to place on a race flier and most importantly – insurance.
Talking to a race promoter he stated the USAC did a good job and while cheaper insurance is available, the USAC also offers a national ranking system so riders from around the nation can compare their results against others. So overall not a bad service on the amateur level. But here is where things get confusing.
Whitmore was offered the chance by USAC to swap his current UCI license for a new license now called “domestic pro” so he could race in forbidden events. Whitmore, while an impressive rider, isn’t a pro and didn’t want that license. Another option was swapping to a regular domestic race license. However, would have to wait until next year as he’d raced with his UCI license at the past UCI Master Worlds Cyclocross Championships.
The end result is that the enforcement of rule 1.2.019 by USAC has alienated a portion of their customers so why do it? They have no choice.
In order to stay in the good graces of the UCI, which means hosting major events like the 2015 Richmond, Virginia road race championships they need to play ball. Let’s be honest, USAC cares about grooming athletes for the elite level for such events like the Olympics. They do that well. Americans at the elite level are a force to be reckoned with. Look at Taylor Phinney and Tejay van Garderen as examples.
However, the vast majority of the USAC’s license holders are hobbyists – train when they can and race on the weekend for often nothing more than bragging rights and possibly enough cash for gas money. Unsanctioned races are the life blood of competitive cycling in the U.S. and the UCI is trying to choke it out.
The true irony of this is that Irishman Pat McQuaid, president of the UCI, is banned for life from Olympic participation because he broke the embargo of racing in apartheid South Africa. McQuaid wanted to get in some race miles in an attempt to make the Irish national team, so he traveled to South Africa and raced under an alias.
At this point there’s not much that can be done officially. Promoters who might have UCI license holders as participants could hide some names form entry forms and I’ve heard that a few riders will register under the name “Pat McQuaid”. Technically a UCI licensee who races in a “forbidden race” faces a fine and suspension.
Whatever the end result, it further shows that the UCI is only looking at the short term and not the long term of growth for cycling. Track and Field’s federation encourages their license holders to participate in unsanctioned events to showcase their athletes. In contrast the UCI is trying to remain insular and serve only themselves and not the people they supposedly are tasked to serve. The UCI needs to reconsider the worth of this rule or continue to look like the Death Star (cue “Imperial March” theme music) shooting its laser beam at federations that don’t toe the line.