No UCI Points at the 2016 British Downhill Series

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No UCI Points at the 2016 British Downhill Series

But is it a problem?

Word has been circulating around the web for the last 24 hours about the fact that there will be no UCI points available at the 2016 British Downhill Series (BDS), but is this really a problem?

For any racer to enter a World Cup in 2016 they must have at least 30 UCI ranking points that have been collected over the last year, these can be from World Cups, National Championships and usually the national series. Last year there were just two BDS races where riders could earn UCI points, Fort William and Llangollen. This year (as things stand at the moment) there will be none. It appears that the sport’s governing body, British Cycling (BC), have taken the decision not to pay for UCI points status for the BDS. As far as we can see there is no reason why the BDS itself, or an outside sponsor, could not come in and pay for this, but do we really need UCI points at nationals? Recent history would tell us ‘no’. Of course there are two sides (or more) to every story, let’s get some background, first here’s what the organisers of the BDS posted on their Facebook page:

“Bottom line is that BC see the BDS as a private business and have therefore taken the stance to start withdrawing funding the BDS. Why should their members subsidise a series that is a commercial entity is their main question. This has lead to BC looking into who scores the points at BDS UCI events (top 10 or 15 depending on the level of event, with the new UCI policy being 30 points to enter a World Cup), those that do score the points already have a wealth of them and are not fighting to scrape 30 points together. There are only two riders that would have benefited this year but they still would have scored very low UCI points at the BDS (for example 10th place scores 1 point at a UCI cat 2 event). The BDS team will still put on high level national events in 2016 with increased services for the riders, spectators and global fans.”

So the BDS is a business, it is commercially driven, that is fine, but it appears that in this case BC no longer see the need to fund it to the previous levels (we are told BC have access to the BDS accounts). We had a long conversation with BC and from their point of view they are still giving “significant support to the series” and are still “investing massive amounts into it”. Many ‘keyboard heroes’ have already jumped on BC, but BC said that they are still “100% behind the series”. Here’s the official word from a BC spokesperson:

“British Cycling continues to provide significant budget support for Mountain Bike Downhill National Series, amounting to over £100,000 over the last four years. As with events across all disciplines, financial support must be complemented by efforts to improve the future sustainability of the series and the discipline as a whole. This aim has been clearly communicated to event organisers over a period of four years.

As with other races and disciplines, we are supportive of events being included in the UCI calendar but, given the financial support we already provide, it is for event organisers to weigh the associated costs – including prize money, UCI commissaire fees and UCI team entries – alongside the obvious benefits.

British Cycling will continue to back its National Series, both in terms of significant financial support and logistical help, and will continue to invest significantly in ensuring that British downhill riders are given every opportunity to fulfil their potential.”

So it is clear that BC are already supporting the series quite heavily (£25k per year), but what does it actually cost for a race to be UCI points sanctioned? The BDS did a rough breakdown:

“To put on a UCI event is costly and possibly only benefits a couple of riders in a small way. It of course impacts UCI Elite Teams as it means they would no longer be entitled to a free entry. Plus it does not help with the development of BC Commissaires coming up through the ranks.
UCI events cost: £1k registration fee, £2-3k additional prize money, £1k in UCI elite team entries (they get free entries to UCI events so an organiser looses revenue from paying customers), £2k in commissaire fees (need several of them and you have to pay mileage, hotels, food, etc.). Plus a few more hoops to jump through, so in total add £7k to the cost to put an event on to have it on the UCI calendar.”

So for there to be two UCI points races in the UK next year you would be looking at £14k. But if no one is benefitting from them there seems little point in doing it. It is basically throwing £14k down the drain.

There are two things going on here. Firstly the success of the BDS as a series/business, but secondly the fact that currently Great Britain is so strong in downhill racing. The UCI are looking to streamline World Cup racing, they are definitely evaluating the current situation looking more to quality and ability rather than numbers. Here’s what the UCI had to say back in September:

“Rationalising the great appeal for Downhill Mountain Bike, it was agreed to reduce the total number of riders at the UCI Mountain Bike World Cup presented by Shimano. This will reduce pressure on the course during training, space required from the organisers, a slightly reduced schedule to give some flexibility in the case of stoppages/red flags, and importantly reduce the wide ability range that currently means some riders are able to access a UCI Mountain Bike World Cup who maybe do not have sufficient experience. In the same spirit, the UCI Management Committee approved to increase the UCI Mountain Bike Team annual registration fee.”

But are they trying to make it too pro? Where are racers meant to go to experience top class racing if the World Cup is a closed shop, only open to the elite of the sport?

So there are too many riders entering World Cups, with too big a gap between the best and some of the rest. Eighty riders qualify at present, but what will it be cut down to? Sixty? Forty? Who knows. At the moment GB has 33 riders qualified for next year’s WC series (those with 30 points or above, but not Peaty… but that is another story). Proportionately that is a lot of riders, but we do produce good racers. GB, it seems, have been too successful, too strong, there is such depth of talent.

But of course there are questions. We’ve been talking predominantly about the men’s category here but where does this leave the women? There are four strong female British racers here in the UK (Rachel Atherton, Manon Carpenter, Tahnee Seagrave and Katy Curd), but what of the others (there were no junior women DH racers at this year’s World Champs)? And what about the youth and junior (and expert) riders who need the World Cup experience in order to develop and realise their potential? The future Brendan Faircloughs or Josh Brycelands? BC already have their ‘national jersey’ scheme, whereby young racers can apply for support from the governing body and race World Cups without points (currently available for 6 junior riders). So that is one way in.

If this just boils down to something purely financial… well that is not for us to say. What we do know is that BDS race entries have been hiked up to £95 per race (from £75) for 2016, but putting on a race isn’t cheap, and the BDS aren’t going to do it for nothing! We’ve been told by a reliable source that it costs in the region of £28k to run a national race… so you do the math. Just as a comparison, two days riding at the weekend on an uplift at a bike park or trail centre can cost you up to £60… there is a lot more than a van and a trailer at a BDS race. And don’t forget that this may not be forever, the decision has been made for 2016 but maybe UCI points at British nationals will be back in 2017.

There are some interesting points here, but the whole thing seems to be a bit of a storm in a teacup, heavily stirred up by website forums. On the surface the loss of UCI points being awarded at nationals seems like a bad move, but the evidence suggests that it is basically just throwing money away. It will change things, but for now it appears to be a sensible option both for BC and the BDS. If no one is gaining anything from it, then what is the point? We’ll let you make your own minds up.

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