Them’s the rules – six new UCI decisions that could change DH and 4X forever

Cycling’s governing body has never been afraid to make unpopular decisions, and its latest announcement is sure to have four-cross fans seething. Details have also emerged of a series of rule changes for 2013 that have major implications for the Downhill World Cup and World Championships. We’ve been waiting for the dust to settle before weighing in – now here’s our guide to the six new UCI decisions that could change downhill and four-cross forever.

1 Death knell for 4X?

Four-cross racing was axed from the World Cup at the end of 2011 and now it looks like it’s being ostracised from the World Championships too. The UCI have announced that the 2013 Four-Cross World Champs will be held alongside the final Downhill World Cup round in Austria, not at the main World Champs event in South Africa.

Organisers cite the cost of track construction, the “tight competition schedule” and the fact Africa “doesn’t have a tradition of four-cross”. Leogang is a great venue and it’ll be cheaper and easier for most racers to get to, but this sounds ominously like another nail being hammered into the coffin. The UCI have confirmed that the 2014 World Champs will be held in Norway – the big question is, will there be any four-cross?

2 XCE here to stay

Out with the old, in with the new – while four-cross flounders, the UCI seem to be throwing their full weight behind cross-country eliminator racing. It’s being given full World Cup status for 2013 and they’re even calling for it to be added to the next Olympics. Which is odd, as we’ve yet to meet anyone who’s actually a fan of this bastardisation of cross-country and four-cross.

Flat sprints in Lycra – is this the best we can do? Picture by Charles Robertson

Flat sprints in Lycra – is this the best we can do? Picture by Charles Robertson

3 Juniors out on their own

Downhill racing’s not exempt from the tinkering. A new UCI rule demands that “separate junior events” are held at all World Cup rounds and the World Championships. The aim is to give 17- and 18-year-olds a decent weekend of racing – previously, many travelled hundreds of miles to take part, only to be knocked out in the qualifiers, where they were up against older and more experienced elites.

It’s unclear at this stage what form this “separate event” will take – though VitalMTB reckon it’ll mean a juniors’ race the day before the main event. Will standards drop, without faster riders to compete against? Or will this change push junior racing to a whole new level? Either way, last year’s top five male and top three female juniors can choose to race in elites instead if they wish.

As one of 2012's top juniors, Richie Rude can opt to ride as an elite this year. Picture by Steve Behr/Stockfile

As one of 2012′s top juniors, Richie Rude can opt to ride as an elite this year. Picture by Steve Behr/Stockfile

4 Bigger – and better?

Until now, downhill racers have had to rack up 20 UCI points at regional/national level to enter a World Cup, or in the case of juniors, be picked by their national federation or part of a UCI team. Now each federation can send up to 24 ‘supplementary’ riders (six in each category – elite/junior, male/female) who don’t have these points, boosting participation and giving injury-hit riders a second chance. But does this mean we’ll end up with riders who struggle to ride at World Cup level, like at the World Champs?

5 Shrinking podiums

Another rule change opens the way for three-rider podiums, instead of the five-rider World Cup norm. It’s believed this will only be used for junior races in 2013 but we can see it being extended to the elites before long. It should speed up the prizegiving ceremonies, but could make it harder for up-and-coming riders to get exposure.

Why not keep five riders on the podium? There's more than enough bubbly to go around! Picture by Kathy Sessler

Why not keep five riders on the podium? There’s more than enough bubbly to go around! Picture by Kathy Sessler

6 Suit up

The final rule change relates to equipment, stating that national federations can ban World Cup riders who fail to comply with their rules on protective gear when racing on their soil. It’s the riders’ responsibility to “inquire” about these regulations and “procure the gear from professional and reliable suppliers”. Does this mean we’ll see an end to certain big-name racers wearing cardboard back protectors at French races? The rule says riders must “rely on their own judgement”, so maybe not!

If you’ve got a lot of time to kill, you can read the UCI’s 2013 rules in full here.