The UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) has added another World Championship race to its roster by agreeing to sanction and regulate the Singlespeed Cyclocross World Championships (SSCXWC).
From a strategic standpoint, the UCI seems to be targeting crowd-pleasing events. Earlier this year, they resurrected the Cross-Country Eliminator format, and even included a Georgia U.S. stop for the race.
How Did This Happen?
Governing bodies, although often polarizing, are excellent at identifying growth areas in the sport, and aim to help foster further growth through proper regulation.
Our best guess is that the powers that be at the UCI took note of this year’s SSCXWC motto: “We’re Going to Make Singlespeed Racing Racing Again” and realized they’re in prime position to help as the event moves to Europe for the first time.
Perhaps they heard about Jessica Cutler’s inspirational story. Cutler, despite her recent retirement from professional racing, made it known that the 2016 SSCXWC was her top priority “A race of the season” and she was out for redemption after three near-misses at the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships.
Even more likely than those two combined was the presence of the dominant Sven Nys. With his Trek media team in tow, SSCXWC received record coverage, and the event can be credited to inspiring his comeback to professional racing. It’s been documented that without Nys, viewership of men’s racing plateaued last year, but Nys’ golden touch, even if it shied away from the Speedo, made the SSCXWC more popular than ever.
“It’s a very good atmosphere and everybody is in a very good mood,” Nys told Cyclocross Magazine in Portland. “It’s amazing to be part of this event. They are yelling and throwing beer but that’s part of the game.”
Now with the UCI in charge, that beer throwing is likely gone for good, but is this change any good?
The UCI is seizing upon the international awareness of the once-niche event and party, but is that what singlespeeders want?
Where Did Things Go Wrong (or Right)?
The infamous event has certainly morphed over the years, as it passed between cities and promoters, and as a result, some argue, became decidedly less race-oriented and more of a course-cutting shortcut to the closest beverage hand-up.
Racers had to pass a test of speed through the one-lap qualifying heats to make the finals, and if such an attempt wasn’t successful, push their way in through several short last-chance qualifying sprints.
Amidst complaints that fair-weather ‘crossers had an equal chance of getting into the race than those who race singlespeed regularly, while some tenderfoot UCI racers felt unwelcomed, we’re guessing that someone at UCI felt compelled to make things a little more even.
Plans for the takeover of SSCXWC may have been in the works for a while, considering the location for the event this year. Verona, Italy is a mere five hours from the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, and the Italian promoters have revealed they plan to leverage the UCI’s event expertise to make the next SSCXWC the biggest ever.
“Partnering with the UCI made complete sense once we realized how much work this involves. The UCI has a stellar track record of putting on memorable World Championship events, and the beer tents are huge,” explained the Villaroca promoters. “Bieles was perfectly smooth, nothing rocky there, Zolder just hummed along, and Louisville…that day was doubly exciting!”
SSCXWC founder Dani Dance was diplomatic when asked about the dramatic shift not only in geography but spirit. “My main goal in awarding the next event to Italy was for it to go far, far away from me,” she explained. “I guess I was hoping it would kinda keep the same vibe, but you can’t get any more legit than UCI points. My baby is all grown up.”
A request for comment to the UCI hasn’t been returned, and until we hear back we can’t say what changes will be made from the classic mayhem of years past, but with UCI points on the line, it seems like the list of high-profile attendees will certainly grow.
“Bieles was perfectly smooth, nothing rocky there, Zolder just hummed along, and Louisville…that day was doubly exciting!”
With the singlespeed race at the USA Cycling Nationals attracting big-name talent, often because it’s an effective race pace course recon, we can’t help but wonder if the UCI will eventually follow USA Cycling’s lead and start the World Championships with the one-gear event, perhaps in 2019 in Denmark.
Kicking off Worlds with the SSCXWC would certainly add some legitimacy to the event in the eyes of some, while it would be blasphemous for some regular attendees.
“Maybe I could pull off the SSCXWC and UCI Worlds double,” Nys told Cyclocross Magazine in announcing his return to professional racing. Combining the two championships into one long weekend certainly would make it logistically easier for Nys to achieve such a goal.
The question as to whether WADA regulations and testing would be in place for the UCI-sanctioned SSCXWC also remains unanswered. While there may be a lot of positives coming out of such increased regulation, many of the most spirited singlespeeders will be undoubtedly unhappy with such oversight.
Stay tuned as we’ll continue to update this breaking story as it develops.
This story was published on April 1, 2017.