Forbidden Races

The years go by and the story remains the same. Loyal readers will remember the subject of “forbidden races” from before, namely events run outside of the remit of the UCI and its member national federations. Such events include many US mountain bike events, French road race, English time trials and more. Under the UCI rules anyone caught taking part in one of these events gets a ban and a fine.

The rule had existed for years but like too many sections of the UCI rulebook, it was ignored. Until this time last year when the UCI ordered national federations to start enforcing it only to get pushback, especially from the US when it was pointed just how many cyclists it would annoy. Within weeks it was decided that instead of enforcing the rule, the rule would be suspended. Now the UCI has quietly confirmed the suspension continues into 2014. It’s good news but still bizarre to see the UCI announce it won’t enforce its own rules.

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.

Races not included on a national calendar might include an Italian gran fondo, a French road race run by UFOLEP, an English Time Trial or a US MTB race run outside of USA Cycling as well as a Dutch fun race held in the Caribbean as pictured above. In theory anyone riding these unsanctioned events and also holding a licence with their national federation has to be punished… in reality it’s been ignored.

Why it matters
Just because it’s ignored doesn’t mean it’s irrelevant. There are two strands to this.

  • First the theory, the concept that the UCI can punish its members should they choose to ride their bike elsewhere. It’s like McDonalds refusing to serve customers who have been caught dining in Burger King, it’s restrictive and even rude
  • Second is the practice, someone riding an unsanctioned event is taking part in the sport, probably in a low-level “grass roots” ride or race. Only they’ll find the UCI frowning on them instead of welcoming them. It’s also near-impossible to enforce, short of having NSA powers of surveillance to detect where someone rode last weekend and then deploying vast resources to prosecute riders

In short, it’s a rule that cannot be applied and upheld satisfactorily. Once the rulebook turns into an à la carte menu where participants pick and chose the sections they like then it becomes a free-for-all. One country will enforce one rule only for another to get casual and in no time the governing body loses its authority to govern.

In defence of the rule
You can see why the rule exists, or at least how it came about. The UCI and its member federations have interests to defend and act as the de facto governing body complete with missions from selecting a national team to coaching kids and plenty in between. Seeing a private promoter cherry-pick a profitable criterium series is bound to annoy. It’s also the case in several major European countries that the national federation is recognised in law as the go-to body for running the sport and by extension rogue federations are not backed up by law and maybe don’t have the statutes, insurance and other protections.

The solution
Scrap it. The UCI could explore means to continue with the rule for elite riders and professionals, for example to have some leverage over professionals who might fancy joining a breakaway league. But the risk here is that the UCI couldn’t do much anyway and it could even find itself in front of the courts for restrictive practices that contravene Euro employment laws.

Deleting this rule should only be the start of a process. The UCI would do well to have an audit of its entire rulebook to discover all the other rules that are ignored and the second order problem of ambiguous wordings that confuses some and could be debated one day in court. Because in both cases ignored or confusing rules just undermine the rulebook and by extension the UCI. A governing body is nothing without its rules.

The UCI should be delighted to see anyone riding a bike and then taking the next step of pinning a number on their jersey or tying a timing chip in their frame. Riders who take part in local races outside of the UCI-National Federation umbrella shouldn’t be punished for riding a local race and in reality they won’t be so the rule exists on paper and PDF but not in the real world. A governing body is only as good as its rulebook and selective enforcement creates problems so surely this rule has to be scrapped. But this should just be the start of an audit for the whole rulebook as there are many other rules that exist only on the UCI website and not in practice.

42 thoughts on “Forbidden Races”

  1. An excellent post.
    Your conclusion is spot on.
    Lets hope the new UCI leadership will take action, but one has to doubt.
    Turkeys never vote for Christmas

    • The UCI has a few roles. One of them is to develop and maintain a global Professional Competitive Cycling. Their primary goal has been to monetize the sport and grow viewers and media revenue. This is one area Hein was very good at.

      Another role is to put on the Olympic cycling events. That’s not a simple task!

      Way, way waaaaaaaayyyyyy down the list is general promotion of cycling as a healthy activity. The UCI sanctions gran fondos. I don’t know how long they have been doing it, but you too can get a gran fondo permit from your local UCI federation.

      • The banning of Jan Ullrich from participating in Gran Fondo’s (which he was supposedly doing under the name Max Power or something) was one of the most ridiculous and nasty things Pat McQuaid did, and that’s coming from a guy who raced under a false name to evade scrutiny under the anti-apartheid sanctions… Whilst they couldn’t or wouldn’t clean up doping and generally ruin the sport, they could ban an ex pro from riding in a weekend organised ride for hub bards. Great.

        This excellent piece shows Cookson (and the next President Tracey Gaudry) have a lot of work to do.

      • As an organizer of Gran Fondos, I can tell you that USA Cycling in particular laid down some rules that were restrictive and completely contradictory to our goals. Furthermore, their insurance was more costly, and provided less coverage. There was no value-add here, so we happily went our own way.

  2. In my opinion this rule should not be removed but changed. It should be changed so that holders of UCI international license are only allowed to take part in UCI approved races and races that fulfill certain level of compliance with anti-doping rules.

    Limiting participation from the holders of a national license makes no sense. Those people are mostly amateurs anyway.

    • Many federations don’t distinguish between national and international licences and the UCI rule refers to all the “licence holder”. As you say some distinction between elite and non-elite could work but where do you draw the line? What happens to a pro cyclist taking part in a charity ride or a corporate-sponsored mass participation? Et cetera. Having to draw up rules here soon gets complicated.

      • I’m guessing most pros would be prevented from ‘competing’ in a Gran Fondo, if their training ever allowed it. Race drivers are usually, so I can’t imagine Pro teams risking their riders? Sounds like a moot point.

        • It’s usually not about the pros “competing” in a gran fondo, they are usually there to help bring attention to and attract other riders to participate. I did a gran fondo late last year and there were a few pros scattered about the crowd mingling with the non-pros. In fact one of them was even tasked with setting the pace for the front group and he sat up front and set a hard tempo for all 5 hours, most people in the front group just tried to hold on for as long as possible.

          • I’d agree, you’ll see some professional and elite riders in these in France and Italy, sometimes on request of sponsors to mingle and other times just for a good long ride – often they sit up and let the amateurs ride the hard parts or take the win. As the rule says you can’t “participate” at all.

          • Sorry, I should have been clearer with ‘compete’, because I meant that they wouldn’t really.

            I heard Lance dropped the corporates who paid to ride with him, which says a lot about the bloke.

            After posting, I remembered Gerry Ryan holds a Gran Fondo at his winery in Victoria with GreenEdge being the paid performers (the advertising is all about being able to ride alongside them, not getting dropped by them), there’s no way they’d do anything other than roll along with the bunch.

            Silly rule.

    • I live outside my home country and have an international license (amateur) for racing as required; technically I cannot enter the local touring club “timed non-competetive rides” with my wife as they fall under the national touring club association and not the UCI recognized racing federation. So it gets messy quickly-the concept of “riding my bike on a nice day with a touring club feed stop” gets lost in the legalize.

      Better to strike the rule as it is unenforceable on a global scale.

  3. Unless someone can correct me, I can think of a single event in the Sailing world that takes place outside of ISAF rules (The Americas Cup). To the best of my knowledge, in every country there’s a single national governing body, to which all clubs are affiliated (even the Americas Cup has to be technically hosted by a club). In theory this means even a Sunday club race dispute could be taken all the way to the Court of Arbtration for Sport, if you were rich and crazy.

    Sailing racing is only a little bit older than cycle racing- the divergence between the super fragmented world of cycling (I keep discovering more non-UCI British racing authorities). Any idea why this is?

    • Presumably, sailing, like cycling, has the same enforcement difficulties as it’s not only a sport but a means of transport. Just as many people are free to ride their bikes along the same route as an unsanctioned race, presumably it’s the same for yachts – with the same risk that a marshall will tell you to move along.

    • Easy, racing needs a set of rules to govern boat handling and prevent collisions. the risk tof property damage and loss of life makes it easy for most to accept a single set of rules. also, there is little regulation or definition of “professionals.” The beauty of sailing is you can show up at a regatta and race against the best. that’s not for every race, some have entrance standards.

  4. An interesting comparisson to make is with Triathlon. The ITU and National Governing body sanctions (and promotes in some cases, eg World Series) the majority of triathlon event, but alongside these are many “un-sanctioned” events – the mose high profile being the Ironman and Challenge series of races.
    There seems to be little problem for athletes competing in either format.

  5. Another quick question to Mr Ring. Is your sponsor’s Chinese Gran Fondo UCI sanctioned? (Can’t see a logo on the advert)
    If not, then presumably I couldn’t do it, without risking a sanction?

  6. It seems to me it would be a lot simpler and fairer if the decision as to who can race was left to individual race organisers in a free market. If race organisers want a superstar to show up and turn the race into a freakshow that is up to them, other people can vote with their feet if they don’t want to enter such a race. Also the racing activities of pros could be controlled by their employment contract according to guidelines laid down by the UCI (as a requirement of the team license). If pros break these contract terms then they should be subject to internal team financial penalties and disciplinary procedures.

  7. Why not change to encourage, especially at grass roots level. Dowsett regularly turns up to TTs near me and spends a lot of time talking to and encouraging junior riders. This should be applauded, hell, even rewarded by the UCI!

    • Totally agree. In what other sport can you turn up on to a weekend time trial and race against an Olympic or world champion? The only other sport I can think of is triathlon – the Brownlee brothers race pretty regularly at small local running races here in Yorkshire, apparently without an problems from their governing body. I think it should be encouraged for pro riders to take part in local races – the pros seem to enjoy going back to their roots and everybody else loves saying that they’ve raced a pro, however much they got beat by.

      I’m not sure what the current rules are but maybe the UCI should just make it so that pros can’t win prize money or get any appearance fee for a non-UCI sanctioned event. Actually, come to think of it, where do the post-Tour criteriums fit into this? Are they UCI sanctioned?

  8. I suspect that this sort of protectionism just reflects how the majority of sporting organisations and federations behave. Even if it’s unenforceable, it’s just an expression of the empire-building of international, national and local organisations and the tribalism that is found in clubs.

    Mentioning UFOLEP reminds me that the FFC have occasionally tried to prevent their license-holders from having licences with any other associations (FSGT and UFOLEP), similarly in France the two competing national bodies for climbing and mountaineering (the FFME and the CAF) are continually moving between rapprochement and all-out war – two or three years ago the FFME dictated that all members of a club must be FFME licence-holders and were not allowed to hold CAF licences. This rule seems to have been dropped now, and they’re talking about fusion again.

  9. As someone who races open time trials in the UK, Its great to see the likes of Alex Dowsett in trade kit on the same start-sheet. Not often you get to “compete” against top level pro atheletes in any sport.

  10. First off when a rider takes out a license they know the rules and by taking out the license they are agreeing to the rules. Secondly now that the rider has reached the level to be a licensed rider you would hope they have enough self respect not to enter an unsanctioned race to compete against less skilled cyclist, the same reason that licensed rider can’t enter a lower category sanctioned race.
    Our club is holding an unsanctioned Time Trial with a small purse to encurage the novice cyclist to come out and give it a try. We are not looking to atact licenced riders. A nearby promoter is holding a USAC sanctioned Time Trial the sameday without a purse and is upset with us,for they have invested in promotion, paid a license fee, paid for officials etc. The UCI and USAC should be protecting the promoters who go to the effort to hold sanctioned events by enforcing their own rules( 1.2.019) otherwise there is going to be fewer reasons to become a licensed rider.

    • So, what is the incentive to get a license and participate in sanctioned events? A bigger purse, maybe? Points for qualifying to international events?

      If a “sanctioned event” doesn’t have any perks over an unsanctioned one (namely a purse, or points, the quality of the event organization itself or the quality of the competition) it is simply a rubber stamp that has no real value. What is the benefit of protecting that? Why, as licensed athlete, should I settle only to participate in mediocre events only just because they are rubber stamped?

      I am elated, ELATED, when local elite and (very occasionally) pros show up to our TT and CX grassroot races. There is no lack of self-respect there. Maybe you can’t see it but this is exactly how interest is built in participation sport – by allowing children and novices to interact with the accomplished athletes. And heck, I just participated in a renegade, unsanctioned snow-bike race. Nya-nya, Federation! Of course, I haven’t taken a 2014 licence yet – my team is not yet on the official list 🙂

      As an example: our grassroots CX circuit is volunteer driven – low costs, low infrastructure, local-teams help with setup and there is no purse. We do have a couple of sanctioned races and the quality of the events are better (and the costs higher): fully taped courses, merchandise and cash prizes, officiated races, timed events, etc. I am a UCI license holder – why shouldn’t I be able to do both?

      A protectionist approach is hardly ever conducive to progress.

    • Perhaps the UCI and USAC should be doing this… but how do they check who is doing what? Even if you do find someone riding a “forbidden race” I suspect it might be illegal to punish them in many countries given laws on freedom, anti-monopoly etc.

    • Lots of Aussies returning ‘home’ at Christmas ride the St.Kilda Cycling Club Christmas Crit, in December you had the GreenEdge boys there, the year before Greg Henderson tried to ride them all off his wheel in the last lap for a great display to the locals. Club member Matt Lloyd raced it in Lampre kit previously. The total prize money is $30k so it’s getting interesting. Silly to think they could have been sanctioned for it but par for the course for a crook like Fat Pat.

  11. I guess I can’t try and beat Chris Horner up Palomar Mountain in a training ride in San Diego.
    He might get in trouble for “racing” in a non sanctioned event!

  12. We sometimes have pros taking part in local kermis (crit) races here in Belgium.
    No one complains as they are not taking part to win, but use the races as training rides!

  13. Dumb question, are 6 day races sanctioned races?

    Also, given BC doesn’t sanction the Brompton World Championship it’s ammusing I’ll probably lose against Bob Howden staff outing.

  14. I guess the issue for the UCI is how to stop someone setting-up a breakaway series and poaching away the top ProTour teams or riders (and the TV money…)

    No-one should be bothered if Ian Stannard rides a J2/9 TT in Cheshire for training and finishes 15min quicker than me…
    (or Wiggins does Levens and gets D/Q’d as his wheels aren’t legal by CTT rules)

    In the UK, timetrialling is run by CTT and British Cycling has a working alliance with them, CTT simply run TTs and BC is almost only road/track/etc and few TTs, they both will ban anyone from competing if they fail a drug test in the other’s races.

    TLI and LVRC however run races which could be seen to be in competition to BC’s however (although in practice, at grass-roots level, it’s the same clubs, organizers, marshals, etc who run all under the different umbrellas) : but again it all works along.

    And BC has the issue of UK sportives which have sprung-up and are run without an organizing body or regulation – BC wants in, but is this in order to get members and revenue ? Or simply because unregulated events like this are seen as ‘races’ by the public rather than the cycling equivalent of fun-runs, and any bad publicity or accidents would reflect on proper organised cycle racing ?

    But at the end of the day, we need to prevent Lance Armstrong turning-up and racing in some 4th-rate amateur triathlon in California, unaffiliated to US Triathlon…

  15. Very minor quibble – please don’t use “English” when you mean “British” – those of us in Wales, Scotland and N. Ireland get slightly offended 🙂

    • I used “British time trial” once and someone else got offended because it seems there’s a governing body for time trials in Scotland and other in England ;-). No offence intended in either case, sorry.

  16. Could there be other un-expressed reasons for the rule?

    Eg, not wanting licenced racers competing in events that have no interest in doping control? Or uninsured events? If so, then it would be better make the rule more obvious.

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