The UCI has come under fire from a 40-strong group of some of the world's best XC racers as it has reportedly changed World Championship ruling on XCO start orders 24 hours before the Elite races kick-off.
Right in the middle of the racing at Glentress, it appears the UCI has made a last-minute change that shakes up the hard-earned World Championship grid positions that were based on overall UCI ranking, instead following a similar rule used for World Cups that allows "riders ranked in the top 10 of any individual UCI world ranking of any cycling discipline" to sit between 33rd and 40th on the grid. This rule will see the unranked Mathieu Van Der Poel move from pretty much dead last at the start to a far improved grid slot as he ranks 6th in the UCI Road rankings.
2023 World Cup start order rules 2023 World Championships start order rules
A list of riders including the likes of Nino Schurter, Jolanda Neff, Rebecca Henderson, Maxime Marotte, Loana Lecomte and more have all signed a statement calling out the UCI on the last-minute rule change stating: "It's great to have big names from different disciplines in our sport and we can't wait to race against them. But we are really not happy how the UCI is treating our discipline by changing rules regarding start position one day before the race."
The full statement from the rider representatives
Jolanda Neff has also added to the official statement, pointing out that she believes the UCI has not fairly applied this late addition to the rules as Kata Blanka Vas (who is ranked inside the top 10 in the world for cyclocross) had to start 47th on the gird in the U23 Women's race and finished in 5th. The implication from the riders appears that the UCI only intended this rule to apply to the Elite races, and the biggest winner from this will be Mathieu Van Der Poel.
Jolanda Neff's additional comments
Nino Schurter posted on Instagram
that "The point at this time is not whether or not the rule being applied is fair, unfair or suitable - this is a topic for another day. The concern is the way and timing that UCI has applied and enforced this rule. And the consequences that follow for indicidual riders and teams with Olympic games quota positions likely to be impacted."
Update: August 11th at 2:45pm PST.
The International Mountain Bike Trade Team's Organization (IMTTO) has provided us with a letter they sent to UCI President David Lappartient ~9 hours ago. The text of the letter is reproduced below.
Dear Mr Lappartient,
On behalf of the UCI Elite XC Teams which IMTTO represents, we wish to write to you and formally register our anger and disappointment for the recent decision by your office to change a rule impacting tomorrow’s start order for the Elite Men’s World Championship XCO race, a single qualification race for next year’s Olympic Games in Paris.
The rules for start order were made clear at the beginning of the season, and all riders, except 2, have followed those rules, and competed in the relevant events required to score UCI ranking points for a better start position, critical in this discipline as you well know. The recent rule change made this week, and outside of the Management Committee meeting and agenda, and represented by the attached communiqué, essentially changes a critical rule after the Olympic qualification procedures were published.
We understand that your Sports Director, under your instruction, was told to call the staff at the XC World Championships this week in Tweed Valley, to make sure that riders Mathieu Van Der Poel of The Netherlands (current World Road Cycling Champion) and Peter Sagan of Slovakia (former World Road Cycling Champion) be given these priority start positions, when under the rules published for season 2023 they should start in positions 102 and 103 as they have not competed in enough events to have a relevant MTB ranking at these World Championships.
The attached start list shows they now have positions 34 and 35, alongside Thomas Pidcock (GBR) who not only raced the Spring Classics on the road and the Tour De France but competed in enough MTB events to assure this better start position.
Furthermore, according to the attached communiqué, please explain how Peter Sagan with a UCI Road Ranking of 311 qualifies for an improved start position under this new change.
The XC Elite teams met last night and were shocked by this decision which not only shows us that autocratic decisions seem to be made on a case-by-case basis regarding an Olympic qualifying event, with disregard to the athletes that choose this discipline as their primary profession, in favour of road riders of a high profile seeking an Olympic start if not assured one in their primary professional discipline. Mountain Bike XC cannot be seen as “back up plan” for Olympic spots for athletes from road racing disciplines.
We urgently seek a review of the decision process and an explanation as to how this has come about so late prior to this important 2024 Olympic single qualification race.
The UCI has not yet responded to our request for comment. We will update this story as it develops.