In September the UCI announced that it was "reducing the number of riders at World Cups and increasing team registration fees" for 2016. Intrigued, we reached out to UCI MTB Coordinator Simon Burney to find out more, here is what he had to say:

Vital: The UCI announced a while ago that you would reduce the number of World Cup entrants (and also increase team fees). Can you provide any more details today? What kind of reduction are we talking about? What will be the minimum criteria to decide who is in, and who is out?

Simon Burney: Changes only apply to Elite Men and Women. Basically, the UCI points required to register for a World Cup have been increased from 20 to 30, and National Federation selection for riders without the required points reduced from 5 to 3.

We hope there will always be a wildcard for the #Vanzacs - photo @maddogboris

Vital: What was the main driving force behind this change, from the UCI’s point of view?

SB: There are a couple of reasons. At the most popular events the number of riders is such that there is a lot of pressure on the tracks, which need a lot of work to keep in good shape. And, with so many riders taking part, we also see over-crowded training times, long lift queues, and even medical services that come under extra pressure at times. Right now training is starting at 7.30am and there is something going on all throughout the day, we can’t fit more time in.

It’s a balance between "the show" which is the TV product (I guess we could call that group the top-80/top-20 who qualify for the Finals), the Elite teams with the star riders who we need to focus on and who need their own training times, and the other 100+ riders who are there for the World Cup experience. These riders are there because they get to race quali on the course, they want to try to qualify, and they are there to be part of the event because it’s the chance to compare themselves with the best in the world.

However, the reality is that the riders at the back end of that group don’t have a realistic chance of qualifying, some don’t have sufficient experience of racing in general or of World Cup courses in particular, and they also tend to be the majority of the riders who get hurt during an event.

Increasing the minimum points requirement will only reduce the World Cup field by 20-30 men and 5-8 women depending on the venue. Currently 478 men and 199 women have 20 UCI points or more, while 408 men and 172 women have 30 points or more.

It's a numbers game. Tissot timing chips from MSA - photo Sven Martin

Vital: Were teams and/or riders pushing the UCI for this change?

SB: There was an approach to the UCI by some of the Elite Teams last year for us to look at a larger reform of the World Cup, reducing numbers significantly and considering a second-tier of racing on a World Cup weekend that gave the best in that event entry into the following day's "main event" World Cup that would be televised. I set up a working group which included the rider representative (Greg Minnaar), 3 Elite team managers, Red Bull Media House, a World Cup organizer, plus UCI Gravity Technical Delegate David Vazquez and myself. We opened the discussion up to a large group of teams in Lenzerheide and it was evident that there was a lot of differing opinions between the teams as to what they considered the best format to agree on. From a UCI perspective the request for a change initially came from some of the teams and I’m only interested in positive change if that’s what the main players in the discipline (teams, riders, organisers, television) want. I can facilitate it, but they need to have ownership of it.

At the end of the season it was agreed that a quick decision to get something into the rule book for 2016 would be a mistake so we left it with the main teams, for them to further discuss the topic between themselves and come back to the UCI early in the 2016 season with a proposal we could then work on implementing, if in fact the consensus is still to make a change.

In the interim after the discussions that had taken place and for the reasons given above, I implemented the entry requirement change just to ease the pressure on numbers slightly.

Rush hour during Leogang track walk - photo Sven Martin

Vital: Were the event venues consulted? What do they think?

SB: A few of our venues (Fort William, Lenzerheide, Meribel, are good examples) are maxed-out as far as available space for teams goes. The big teams have got bigger, the small teams have become more in numbers and we are in danger of losing some great race tracks because we don’t have the room to accommodate everybody. In the big scheme of things losing 50 riders at an event doesn’t cost the organizer significant revenue but can ease some of these pressures. This was the message we got from our Organizers representative.

The pit area for the smaller teams was so far away in Lenzerheide that the UCI installed a \

Vital: Was Red Bull involved in the decision making process, or had any input to the decision?

SB: We include Red Bull Media House in all of our decision making processes, sometimes because a change will affect television, but in general we value their opinion and also the experience they can bring from other sports or events. If there are 200 or 160 men on a start list that doesn’t affect them at all, they care about the qualified riders, but we would still keep them in the loop.

Vital: This potentially makes it harder for young and unknown riders to make their mark on the sport. Do you see any changes required at the national race series level to make sure this doesn’t happen?

SB: I think young riders need a pathway from National races that leads to World Cup racing at the very top. Right now it’s not that difficult to find yourself at a World Cup when really I think it would be good if there was a tier of racing below that with a qualification into the World Cup. I like the idea of qualifying for World Cup from another group of races that are of such a quality that they could dock in or out of the World Cup calendar themselves as and when required (Windham, Meribel are good examples; they have recently been World Cup hosts, but if they miss a year they are HC class). Right now it looks like there will be around 100 DHI races on the UCI calendar in 2016, but it’s worrying when a strong DHI nation like Great Britain decide not to add their National Series to the UCI calendar.

Vital: Will there be any changes to the requirements for trade team status? Will the team clothes rule be relaxed to allow a more flexible wardrobe perhaps?

SB: No changes to team registration other than an increase in the fee to register a UCI Team. Junior riders will now count for the World Cup team competition. DHI has been removed from the clothing reg so teams have the flexibility to do what they like as far as design and colours go within the team, and race to race. We will still ask them to respect the regulations for World Cup leaders vest and World Champions jersey, that’s all.

Minnaar and Peaty - back to trade team status for 2016? - photo Johan Hjord

Vital: How significant is the increase in team fees? Was this another means to reduce the number of entrants as well?

SB: the UCI Team fee increased by €500 to €2,000. The Elite Team fee hasn’t changed (€3,500). And yes, it was done to potentially reduce the number of very small set-ups that usually register as a UCI team get the free 30m2 space at a WC event.

Vital: Talking about the 2016 World Cup, we see a nice balance in the track selection (as was indeed the case in 2015). Do you feel the sport has found the way forward, in regards to what tracks “should” look like etc?

SB: David [Vazquez, UCI Gravity Technical Delegate] can answer this one better than me! Without putting words in his mouth he certainly pushes organizers to have more natural courses with line choice options, over the "bike park" courses that were popping up. He hates too much pedalling too so Aaron Gwin winning a World Cup without a chain was his dream come true!

Chainless Gwinning at Leogang 2015 - photo Johan Hjord

Vital: Do you ever see a “Super Cup” type race series with events similar to Hardline in the UCI’s future? A super elite series with gnarlier tracks, bigger jumps etc?

SB: We see the World Cup as the pinnacle of the sport, and have no plans to add another series above or parallel to it, just maybe something that sits just below it as mentioned above. How the World Cup develops will depend on what the stakeholders that I talked about earlier (teams, riders, organisers, television, UCI) want. If an event organisation wants to develop a "Super Cup" race series and have that on the UCI calendar then that would be great, the more quality events the better - anything that gives teams and riders more opportunities to compete is what I want to see.

In cyclocross the World Cup is the main series but there are two other 8-race series (Super Prestige and B-Post Series) that all the best riders compete in and all that fits on the calendar and the events complement each other. That scenario would be great for DHI.

Vital: Any final thoughts you would like to share as we get ready for another year of exciting racing?

SB: I would like to think that the mechanism for the UCI to listen to the teams, riders, organisers and television and make changes based on their needs has improved over the last couple of years. I feel we are now in a good place to keep improving the World Cup.

Interview by Johan Hjord

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