Where the pros can’t ride

Nove Colli Gran Fondo

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.

11 thoughts on “Where the pros can’t ride”

  1. What is confusing is that if it is not a UCI event, then how on earth can the UCI say you can’t do it? Am I missing something obvious here? I could understand your sponsor saying no, since they pay your salary and might have concerns (injury, not promoting right thing, etc). But how can a sporting body prevent a member from doing things that, by definition, are outside of the control of that sporting body? (Is it similar to doing something which brings your sport into disrepute, and so you get banned, but riding such events would seem to be unrelated to this.) Can the FIA prevent a formula 1 driver from racing a car in a non FIA event? Or can FIFA prevent a soccer player from playing a match which is not played under the auspices of FIFA? I’m wondering, since I don’t know, but I would have thought not.

  2. How recent are these warnings? I believe that in some other sports, the equivalent of the UCI ban athletes who take part in competitions sanctioned by other federations. So this could be UCI trying to undermine that new Bruyneel et al league.

    And btw, I heard something about Terpstra riding the Amstel Gold Race sportive.

  3. So kind of interesting situation here in Colorado. Oddly enough, Colorado is the headquarters of USA Cycling, of which most US racing falls under its jurisdiction. USAC, being the body which must also comply with UCI rules, enforces those restrictions typically passed down by the UCI.

    However, here in Colorado, there was so much dissatisfaction years ago with USAC, the a splinter organization (American Cycling Association) was formed, and now almost all racing in Colorado is run under the umbrella of the ACA.

    When the news that Pros could not race in non-USAC events, the ACA quickly tried to circumvent this by posting on its website that it would hide the identities of Pro-1-2 racers who still wanted to race ACA races here in Colorado. However, this was quickly reversed when the ACA realized that it was going to be difficult to guarantee that this would not be found out eventually, and did not want to put Pros at risk of losing their USAC license.

    So what does this mean…well it is the UCI/USAC trying their best to marginalize other organizations, but taking away the best riders from the premier race in each event (i.e. – the Pro/1/2 race). Kind of sad, and as usual, the current UCI moves speak to nothing else other than a cartel trying to both maximize its revenues (the bike certification process) and squash all forms of competition to its governance. This is purely a money grab, and an effort to force promoters to abandon holding events under other organizations. I know it is an embarrassment to USAC that its home state has basically abandoned using it for racing, but with this UCI ruling, it now allows USAC a chip at the bargaining table to regain market share here in the States.

    As much as I dislike the idea of the Pro-Tour breaking away from the UCI, it becomes more palatable by the day.

  4. I’m not a lawyer, but it seems like the UCI in this case could be considered to be in violation of antitrust law. If anyone tries to form a competing pro league, I would expect some antitrust court fights.

  5. To clarify regarding Gran Fondo (and Cyclosportives alike): pros continue to be allowed and encouraged to be guest riders. They may not compete but certainly participate. We’ve discussed it with UCI among UWCT members.

    It’s important to keep pros from competing in these amateur events but it is just as important to have pros as guest riders.


  6. @Adrian and Q: the UCI can’t stop their riders from participating in non-UCI events, but they can punish them for doing so within their events, by giving fines and suspensions to UCI-registered pros who ride non-UCI cycling events without a permit. While it doesn’t really stop the creation of other leagues, riders and teams would have to choose between UCI or the rogue league. And those who go rogue are very likely to be excluded from olympics and national championships until the rogue league kills off UCI, which may never happen. In case they “repent”, they could still be easily persecuted by UCI and race organizers, by having team licenses denied, and invitations for important races denied for ex-rogue teams and riders.

    Rebellion is not supposed to be easy, anyway.

  7. Yes, any event from BMX to track racing counts… but it’s harmless to race this. Given the UCI struggles to enforce many more important rules, here’s hoping their participation in a local race is just seen as a good thing for everyone.

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