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.
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.