June 1/04 3:19 am - New Structure for Mountain Biking?, Notes from Houffalize
Posted by Editor on 06/1/04
New Structure for Mountain Biking?
Last week in Madrid, the Mountain Bike Commission of the UCI met to discuss ways to kickstart the world scene in mountain biking, which has faltered of late, with cancelled World Cups and reduced sponsorship. A number of fairly radical ideas have been kicked around, and now are out in the "open", after having been circulated to the teams and national federations for feedback. Here are the most important suggested changes that we have heard discussed:
1. Drop the current UCI points and World Cup structure. No more World Cup leader, no more world number one ranking from UCI points for World Cups, Worlds, E1, E2, etc. races. Instead, approximately 20-25 races around the world would offer UCI points, to determine a World Leader in ranking (with a speciaal jersey). Events could include former World Cups like Mont Ste Anne, Houffalize, etc., plus other large races such as Sea Otter and Rock d'Azur.
It offers a simplified structure, but the sport and teams lose the focus of the World Cup, which is important to attract sponsors (on the other hand, 5-6 events doesn't make much of a 'World' Cup...). As with the proposed Pro Tour for road, it is also going to hurt nation rankings for the countries that don't have riders doing these big events, and takes away much of the interest for going to smaller E1 and E2 races to get points.
Rider feedback thus far is not too favourable, from our informal survey.
2. In Race Assistance. Riders would be able to get mechanical assistance in specific places on the course during races from their teams. Also, team mates would be able to assist each other (tools, parts), up to, but not including exchange of bikes.
This goes against the original philosophy of the sport, as developed in North America. The Europeans are mostly in favour, many of the Norrth Americans are against. It could, however, cut down on situations like the last two weeks, where Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher), Roland Green (Trek-VW) and Sabine Spitz (Fusion) have all been knocked out of important races early on by mechanical problems.
As we said at the start, these are discussion points only at this stage, and formal recommendations have to go from the Mountain Bike Commission to the UCI Management Board later in the summer before anything will happen.
Notes from Houffalize
- Chrissy Redden (Subaru-Gary Fisher), sick last week, flatted this week, ripping out the side of her tire.
- Cycling is big in Belgium. How big? Well, after Paulissen won, the television station from his region had a helicopter standing by to fly him straight from doping control to their studio for a live appearance on one of their top talk shows. Afterwards they flew him back, naturally...
- The highest placed North American was Roland Green (Trek-VW) in 29th. While this seems a poor showing for him, Green had to come back from starting in 71st place, after receiving no points the week before when a mechanical took him out of the race on the first lap.
"It was a ways back (his starting position). I had to really focus on just riding steady, and moving up gradually. Mentally, it's been rough this spring, but I decided that I just had to ride. I think it is finally starting to move in the right direction now."
- Filip Meirhaeghe wasn't particularrly upset about losing the World Cup leader's jersey (which he did end up racing in, despite speculation that he would where his rainbow strips for the Belgian fans, and take a fine).
Meirhaeghe, who dominated the week before at Madrid, was struggling by the second lap. "I wasn't placed well in the start, and I could see that Roel was leading - he is a very good starter. I think that maybe I tried to come back from my start too fast, and maybe I blew up a bit in the middle of the race. The last two laps I was struggling, so maybe I worked too hard at the beginning."
Even though he lost the jersey, after eventually finishing fourth, behind Julien Absalon (Bianchi Agos), Meirhaeghe wasn't too upset.
"I knew by the second lap that i was going to lose the leader's jersey, which isn't a problem, since it will keep the focus on Athens now. It was important to get a World Cup victory early in the season, but now I can concentrate on the Olympic preparation."
- Paulissen was coy about team strategy playing a role in his victory (a victory, combined with his second place the week before would move him ahead of Meirhaeghe), while Sauser was blunt:
Paulissen talked all around the situation. "We didn't talk about it, but we didn't ride against each other, either. Chris and I just rode as hard as we could. I saw that Chris couldn't ride the last descent like me, so that is where I tried on the last lap."
Sauser: "I thought when I saw Roel was at the front: 'I have to go catch him now.' We worked together for the whole race and the focus was clear: that Roel had to win. Maybe I could have won, but that is only speculation because Roel was very strong today."
- World champion Sabine Spitz (Fusion) missed the previous World Cup after coming down with a fever two days prior to the race.
Spitz was feeling better, but unsure about her form before the start in Houffalize. "Last year, at Grouse, I had a similar fever but raced, and then I had to take three weeks off the bike. So, this year I was more cautious and went home (before Madrid). I am feeling better, but only for a couple of days, so I do not have as good training."
At the end of the first short lap, Dahle was in front, as expected, but Spitz was only 15 seconds back, and looked comfortable. Then disaster for Spitz early on the second lap: "I was on the big chainring and tried to shift to another cog at the back and the derailleur would not take it. It got pulled forward and broke right off with the frame hanger. There was nothing I could do after that."
- Alison Dunlap (Luna), after an injury-riddled 2003 season, is well back in the race among U.S. women for the sole Olympic position, which will be awarded to the highest ranked woman in the UCI rankings (as of July 11th). She needs to finish well in all the big races, if she hopes to overcome rivals such as Sue Haywood (Trek-VW) and Mary McConneloug
While she has been picking up points in races such as Norba #1 (Waco, Texas) and Sea Otter, Dunlap has based her strategy on the big points available at World Cups.
"I knew that the World Cups are where I could make the Olympics, so we planned my season around them. Unfortunately, I have to do well and the other (American women) have to finish back for it to work, which is such a negative way to look at the races."
Dunlap made some gains the week before in Madrid, with an eighth place finish, but she needed a bigger cushion here, and delivered with a strong second place, while rivals McConneloug and Haywood could only manage 12th and 15th respectively.
"It's 130 points, which helps a lot; that is all these races have become now. It's seven more weekends to go (World Cups and, probably, Marathon World Championships)."
- "I didn't feel that great all day." said Alison Sydor (Rocky Mountain-Business Objects) afterwards. "It was very hard. I just tried to stay consistent, and make up time on the descents. I was hoping that I could stay within 20 metres of the others, and then I knew I could catch up on the descent (before the finish). Unfortunately, you lose more on the climbs. I was riding with Marga (Fullana) and I had cramps on the last climb; I just came to a complete stop."
While Sydor struggled, Marie-Helene Premont soared, moving up four spots. This is only the Canadian national champion's second race of the season - her first was the week before in Madrid, where she finished tenth.
"I knew the race would be long and hard, and that people would slow down later, so I kept my own pace until the last lap. Then I gave everything in that lap. I passed Alison (Sydor) and Kiara on the last hill, before the downhill to the finish."
Sydor is an automatic for Athens, and Premont, Bisaro and Redden are fighting for the other two spots. Right now, after two poor weekends for Redden, Premont and Bisaro have to be favoured for the spots. However, there are still four World Cups left before selections, and anything could happen.