There are UCI rules restricting the events a pro cyclist can ride meaning that if one wants to join a local event they could fall foul of the rules and risk a suspension. Here’s the relevant bit:
1.2.019 No licence holder may participate in an event that has not been included on a national, continental or world calendar or that has not been recognised 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. 1.2.021 Breaches of articles 1.2.019 or 1.2.020 shall render the licence holder liable to one month’s suspension and a fine of CHF 50 to 100.
In simple terms it means a rider is restricted from taking part in non-UCI approved competitions. It’s an interesting idea with the idea of a breakaway league being discussed but let’s put that aside.
Because right now it means some pros are barred from taking part in local events that might already taking place near you unless they get special clearance from the highest levels. In particular local cycling bodies are interested in enforcing this. US pros for example have been warned about consequences if they take part in non-USA Cycling approved events.
What events are involved?
Basically any race that is not on the UCI’s calendar or approved by the national governing body that is affiliated to the UCI. So, say, some US cyclocross races, British time trials or Aussie criteriums might be off limits, not to mention many cyclosport or gran fondo rides in France, Italy and beyond. Here pros have the right to take part in an event if it carries their name but for other rides there are some heavy restrictions and regulations, special written permission has to be granted.
In times past it’s not been uncommon to find a pro show at a cyclosportive or gran fondo in France or Italy and ride off with the prizes. But normally organisers have dealt with this by saying “you can ride but let an amateur win” and this, more or less, fixed the problem.
But now some pros are getting emails warning them if they think about riding in non-UCI races such as a local gran fondo. This matters because in places like the US, the presence of the pros is a draw for the organiser. The celebrity status can attract other riders. In France it’s not uncommon for a pro to ride a long event as workout and a couple of teams will send their riders to some events as their rider gets a big workout in the mountains but also the chance to show off the shiny team-issue ride to keen consumers. So long as the pro doesn’t decide to romp away and steal the prizes, everyone wins.
Note this also applies all amateurs with a licence but it’s simply ignored at this level, nobody is emailing lower category riders with instructions to avoid gran fondos, it’s only the pros who seem to be concerned.
Rules and mission creep
I can see the need to set rules to govern races, from regulations about distance or even clothing. But once a rider is away from a race, I can’t see what point is denying them the chance to ride a local event just because the event isn’t approved by the national cycling body. It harms nobody when, say, an Aussie pro does a local criterium in the Euro off-season. If anything it supports the grass roots.
What’s not good is when the governing bodies get defensive and tell their top riders – as some are doing – to stay clear of all unauthorised events at the risk of suspension if they take part. There’s a degree of protectionism here, of trying to block things rather than celebrating cycling in any form. Worse, pros get read the rules but amateurs are ignored, the rule appears to be applied selectively.