June 25, 2019

13 comments


Criticism for UCI changes to track racing!

Cycling's world governing body has announced major changes to the sport of track cycling that we believe will cause irreparable damage to the sport.

Sports journalist Tim Heming shares our view and wrote this opinion piece that pulls no punches in explaining why...

Feel free to share and comment your personal opinions on the latest announcements below.

I'm sorry UCI haven't a clue

Just occasionally in sport a story emerges that has all the ingredients to remind you why you love it so much in the first place: underdogs battling the odds, innovation pitched against financial might, mavericks obsessively challenging a system devised for the powerful to prosper.

Like Billy Beane’s Oakland Athletics following their Moneyball philosophy or Wimbledon football club’s Crazy Gang of the Eighties, or more pertinently, Graeme Obree, the Flying Scotsman, who built a bike from washing machine parts, broke world records and stuck it to the establishment. Bold, brash and endearing, they are always memorable in plotting an unlikely path to success.

When four lads from the East Midlands attempted to gel for the team pursuit in the track cycling national championship at Manchester in 2017, it raised few eyebrows. When they won the title in record time, it looked an impressive cameo, yet little more. But when Dan Bigham, rider-cum-aerodynamicist, factored in the limited preparation and did some maths on drag coefficients, he calculated that this fledgling trade team might just be a little competitive – and cause a stir – racing on the World Cup circuit. And he was right.

Team KGF, named after a local charity, the Karen Green Foundation, was born and their journey has been a delight. They failed fast, learnt faster and beyond the predictable hiccups, they stood atop a World Cup podium in Belarus that winter.

With support from HUUB and Wattbike they managed to up the ante again last season, the sweetest success being a prized win in London’s Lee Valley VeloPark in December – the scene of so much British Olympic glory.

This is no Team Ineos, bankrolled by a billionaire to fly in memory foam mattresses for overseas training camps. In fact, before the first sponsors stepped in, the team would sleep top-to-tail in a less than salubrious two-bed flat in Derby.

The funding to take a British track team to one overseas competition would sustain Team HUUB Wattbike for an entire season, but they constantly defeated national opponents, including Team GB quartets on multiple occasions, representing an embarrassment to a governing body that never looked sure how to handle them.

To see Team HUUB Wattbike topping the leaderboard on terrestrial television and hastily-briefed BBC interviewers bemused as to where these upstarts in cowboy hats representing the nation of Derbados had sprung from, was a joy. With their lively responses and irregular tactics, it also spun an engaging narrative and added some much-needed levity. Those watching started to take note. Just how much further could these boys go, and how fast could they get there?  Nowhere and Fast, the Union Cycliste Internationale, the world governing body, decreed last week – not so much putting a spoke in their wheels as ramming one firmly up their jacksies. In fact, the detailed decision is more eye-watering still, because in its baffling wisdom, the UCI now says that World Cup racing should be restricted to national federations. There was no consultation, just an effective and immediate banning order on track cycling’s most celebrated success story of the past two years.

The official word is that the reforms were intended to “develop the sport and strengthen the good governance of the international federation.” Looking through the numerous reactions to the announcement, there seems unanimous consensus that this is anything but. “I’m not surprised in the least,” said one commenter. “In all sports nowadays the national and international bodies act in protection of themselves rather than the sport.”

It’s easy to be conspiratorial about a circling of wagons to protect self-interests, yet as if to accelerate the implosion, the series will also be slashed from six to three rounds and switch to the summer months – clashing with the road racing season – when everyone in the northern hemisphere clearly wants to be stuck indoors! Further proof the UCI really has its fingers on the pulse … of a corpse.

It’s not just Team HUUB Wattbike that will be affected, but 21 other trade teams, including BEAT cycling club from the Netherlands, in what is an absurd decision that can only stymie the development of track. When your sport consists of men and women in absurdly tight Lycra moving their feet in small circles to push around a bigger one, you need characters, not robots forged in national systems too frightened to speak out for fear of being stripped of funding.

It only works if fans buy into those performing, have their attention piqued by their back stories and charisma. The who, how and why become just as important as the what. Or even the watts. There are echoes of the treatment of Obree here – a former fly in the establishment ointment. The extended arms ‘Superman’ position the Flying Scotsman used to help him become 1995 individual pursuit champion was subsequently banned by the UCI, a position it would relent on 19 years later. Not that Team HUUB Wattbike will be hanging about for two decades for a change of heart.

“I really don’t think you could come up with a more comprehensive way to completely ruin track cycling than by these changes,” another commenter added. I’d tend to agree. Just in stronger tones. The only cranks in cycling are supposed to be on the bike.

Is that it for Team HUUB Wattbike then? The UCI looks hellbent on making it so, but we’re not talking about an ordinary team with – in every way – an ordinary track record. Bigham et al have already proved they don’t shy from a challenge, their raison d’etre is to push through a headwind as efficiently as possible. The UCI decision is just the latest twist in a story that isn’t finished yet.


13 Responses

Colin Taylor
Colin Taylor

July 23, 2019

I read this article with great sadness, I foolishly thought that that the main ethos of any sporting organisation was to grow it, not limit participation.
Cycling is one, if the biggest growing sports and should be moving heaven and Earth to accomodate and welcome all necomers not slam the door in their face , or in this case frog March them out of it.
One previous contributor suggested a breakaway series should be formed , if ever there was a case for it , this is it for sure.

Tim Kingston
Tim Kingston

July 23, 2019

I agree that it is ripe for a rival body to move in as happened in cricket with the World Series when the governing body wasn’t delivering on what either the fans or the players wanted. However this needs a Gerry Packer like character to drive it through. You could put some spin on it like prizes for beating the times of the World (sorry I mean Nations) cup events on that particular track – to push it into being the Ultimate track events.

I have heard differing stories as to British Cyclings involvement / knowledge of these changes. If they were informed then that is really sad as I thought that they were supposed to act for their members which will include many of the riders in team Huub/wattbike as well as many fans of the team that have enjoyed their story.

Richard Eastham
Richard Eastham

July 23, 2019

Aside from the questionable issue of “national teams only” which is understandabley the focus of this article, the switch to summer months makes no sense whatsoever. Some years back, there was a welcome rearranging of the calendar to create a logical winter programme of track racing, culminating in the track world’s around February or March. Made a lot of sense… cyclo-cross and track as winter disciplines; road and MTB in the summer. Makes no sense to unpick this.

Thomas
Thomas

July 23, 2019

Maybe there are some countries like say… Republic of Kiribati or Republic of Nauru that could adopt these riders and teams and "…ramming a spoke in the jacksies of the UCI! "

Jim Blackwell
Jim Blackwell

July 23, 2019

I do not cycle, but I love sport. What HUUB Wattbike and other teams like them have achieved is the embodied in essence of the invitation offered at the end of every Olympic games. It “calls upon the youth of the world to assemble four years from now in” whatever city the games are to be held to celebrate the Olympic games. It does not talk about nation states or federations; it is participation for the pure love of the sport. If that is denied then sport itself is denied.

Dennis Bailey
Dennis Bailey

July 23, 2019

It appears that the goal of the UCI is to kill cycling as a professional sport. I agree with Tim that this was a ill informed decision by the UCI. An example of protectionism. I also agree with the comments of Mr. Miller that maybe it’s time that there was another governing body for cycling. Unfortunately the UCI could effectively blacklist any riders/teams in that group from riding in any of the major world cycling events like the TDF as long as ASO are in their back pocket.

Roger Young
Roger Young

July 23, 2019

The UCI was always French dominated and the French have been resistant to any innovations. Look at the way their own federation failed to move with the times. Now I see the sense in a combined world championships to create a major multi discipline event but the change to summer only track cycling and just three world cup events some what side lines Track Cycling. There are far to few top class events for track cycling has it is. Without a better plan track cycling is never going to be the sport it should be and is capable of being. I personally have introduced many people to the sport who are now ardent fans. If track cycling was just going to be a summer sport why indoor velodromes? Track cycling is a terrific spectator event with a wonderful atmosphere and it is a great night out. It brightens up many a winter evening for me other fans. UCI you must come up with better plans than this.

Brian Gibbs
Brian Gibbs

July 23, 2019

I’m thinking that maybe it’s time for the pro teams to start their own international series. If the UCI isn’t going to allow them to race in WC events (that don’t much matter anymore now that there will only be three), it might be time to take matters in their own hands. It’s been done before on the road.

Best of luck!

Peter Berrie
Peter Berrie

June 26, 2019

I am almost 70 and have been a cyclist for many a year road and off-road but mostly road. Track was something I never tried but enjoyed watching it, that is until Hubb-Watt bike and Beat came on the scene. Now I realise what was missing, these teams have rejuvinated track cycling in a way no national body could and without the media circus.
I love cycling but will not be flowing the track this year if these changes are implemented.
Do these people have such a high opinion of themselves they cannot see the damage they are doing to our sport. Self preservation doesn’t work, remember the Dodo

Darren Hepworth
Darren Hepworth

June 26, 2019

Inside every Sunday morning cyclist, inside every tiny club peloton, amongst every post ride coffee, lives a dream. For those who pursue their dream HUUB Design we ride beside you. In the spirit of your pursuit of innovation and strives for perfection the UCI responds by reinventing the wheel?

David Miller
David Miller

June 26, 2019

With 22 teams affected it sound like it’s time for a rival world governing body. The UCI are only strong while everyone kowtows to their archaic rules and practices. If they are going to continue to strangle innovation and development then it’s time to have a breakaway “world series”. Every sport is only as strong as it’s participants and fan base and if there is a more innovative, more exciting form of the sport then people will get behind it

Jeremy Wright
Jeremy Wright

June 26, 2019

It’s a story that repeats itself no matter what the sport. You are right there has been a circling of the wagons by interested parties. No doubt money has changed hands and the UCI will be found in the future to be as corrupt as FIFA, UEFA, and IOC. Old farts in blazers springs to mind.

John Durance
John Durance

June 26, 2019

Well said Tim, the UCI are clearly going to kill the sports if this follows through, most baffling decision ever, didn’t even consult or get feedback 👎

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