When the UCI added Short Track (STXC) events to the Cross Country schedule this year, many suspected that it, like Eliminator, would be a bit lackluster. After its debut at round two in Albstadt, many still had their doubts that it would fly. Perhaps this skepticism was, in part, due to the lack of terrain at the venue. We chatted with Simon Burney (a Technical Delegate for the UCI) before the second event at Nove Mesto and he shared insight into STXC's direction.
Primarily, he cited that MTB's status within the Olympics was only based on one event. Given that finding suitable locations for hosting Downhill events on a consistent basis is not on top of the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) priority list, it could be some time before we see DH make it into the Olympics. That said, having only one event in the Olympics makes it difficult for manufacturers to invest too much time and money into a single event that offers them very little visibility in the way of branding. Therefore, if MTB could eventually add a second event to the Olympics, it would give manufacturers more reason to be invested and, ultimately, less likely for MTB to be replaced by a different sport.
Burney's second main point was that the UCI World Cup is a money-making venture. With big sponsors like Red Bull and Mercedes Benz, these events need to bring in the fans to stay viable. With DH, qualifying is an extra day of racing that fans can watch and enjoy. Even DH practice provides a great amount of entertainment - whereas XCO practice, not so much. Providing fans with an extra and arguably exciting event that allows for easy spectating was key in selecting the STXC format.
Burney's goal was that STXC would evolve over the season and become more thrilling at each round. While it initially seemed unfair that someone who normally would start on the first row might find themselves on the third row for XCO after a bad STXC race, it didn't do too much damage to the big guns. Nino still took the overall despite a couple rough days on the STXC course. STXC also gave Henrique Avancini the chance to shine before his Marathon Worlds title. For fans, it created a grand spectacle to see these riders go out and bury themselves for thirty minutes straight.
Is it perfect? No. STXC sometimes just feels like road racing with fat tires. Nonetheless, it's a good start at something new to encourage more fan and manufacturer participation in MTB racing and, as Simon Burney says, it will continue to evolve.