Our recent conversation with a little outfit known as the UCI, something is cooking up…

For those unaware, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) is the world governing body of cycling. It groups together 190 National Federations and oversees international competitive cycling events. The UCI is based in Aigle, Switzerland.

The UCI issues racing licenses to riders and enforces disciplinary rules, such as in matters of doping. The UCI also manages the classification of races and the points ranking system in various cycling disciplines including road and track cycling, mountain biking and BMX, for both men and women, amateur and professional. It also oversees the World Championships.

uci gravel fondo world series

Contact from the UCI

May 14, 2020

The UCI reached out to me on this date with a proposal for a potential gravel gran fondo series. My response is below.

11:50am Note: Our original article was edited due to the threat of legal action from the UCI. It should be noted they contacted us, without any solicitation from us, and there was no mention of confidentiality in those emails. We kept their proposal confidential, out of courtesy.

Additionally, the UCI did not present a non-disclosure agreement or a request for confidentiality in any way. We never signed anything! This is the definition of bullying 🙁

Gravel Cyclist’s (JOM) response to the UCI Proposal

Due to my respect for confidentiality, I cannot share the UCI’s proposal with you. However, you get the idea in my response to the UCI.

Good morning,

Essentially, your presentation is the antithesis of gravel riding. Regulations, tyre widths, distances and so on.

Other points:

1. UCI Gran Fondo World Championships is an oxymoron. It’s the champion of non-racers. Leave the championships to real races. Not tours. This is akin to having World Championships for all categories. Category five world champion, means what? Fastest of the not-so-fast guys?

2. UCI Gravel Grand Fondo or World Series… see above.

3. The gravel world developed independently of UCI and other organizations because those organizations are toxic to the spirit of Gravel riding. UCI rules, categories, championships etc, are antithetical to the grassroots, participation oriented gravel cycling phenomenon.

4. Yes, you will find some former and current roadies who want to line up with the best ProTour guys. Most will never see them again, a few stars will hang with them and beat them occasionally. You will also get a few former World Tour Pros who have reached the end of their competitiveness as World Tour Pros and want to extend their careers by racing against folks they can still beat.

5. The UCI and satellite organizations are largely responsible for the culture of bike racing that led to over-commercialization, doping, cheating, poor financial models that teeter on the brink of disaster at all times, risking the viability of the sport.

6. Gravel rides and races do not need or want the UCI involved. That they exist and are so popular without UCI involvement is a testament to the lack of need. They are working so well because they were developed and attended by the people who wanted to do them.

7. The UCI and national organizations are only interested in Gravel because their poor financial and membership status is making them desperate. The UCI wants to monetize the Gravel genre for its own needs, not the needs of the riders. The riders are fine (see point 6).

8. The UCI model will result in the Gravel genre suffering all the ills that UCI road cycling has experienced, and will risk the viability of gravel as it has road.

This isn’t necessarily what you wanted to hear. I would like to ask, can your presentation be shared with my audience for their feedback, or is it confidential?

58 comments on “Our recent conversation with a little outfit known as the UCI, something is cooking up…

  1. Who enjoys a gravel event where there are 1k to 3k riders at the start? That is the antithesis to the gravel culture.

    1. Jack,

      Dirty Kanza has upwards of 2,000 riders at the start. Field size does not define gravel for most people one way or the other. For me, that seething mass is part of the palpable electricity in the air at 6am Saturday in Emporia. I get that for some riders, smaller fields are better though.

  2. JOM,
    Thanks for expressing to the UCI so directly and eloquently what I believe is the shared opinion of the majority of us who enjoy this segment of cycling.
    Keep up the “good fight”!
    Craig

  3. UCI? Never heard of them.
    Gravel Worlds? We already have one in Lincoln, Nebraska every year thanks to Pirate Cycling League.
    ‘Nuff said.
    K-Dogg
    Woff!

  4. Thanks, JOM, you said everything that needed saying. The last thing that gravel needs is a governing body like UCI getting involved in the sport and ruining the homegrown, grassroots, rider focused, fun times that currently exist. I hope the UCI reads these comments but they often show themselves to be arrogant and closed minded to everything but what they want to hear.

  5. I am truly surprised it took them this long. I fear with the sponsorship and now ownership of prime events it is only a matter of time before the UCI is involved by those organizations. Your comments were spot on. All this said it will inevitably rest in the hands of the gravel community. They can put on their “championships” but the gravel community can vote with our money and by not participating in their events. Better yet we can stop paying attention to the events they currently have in their rotation if they insist on messing about. Gravel events are meant to be like the ground we ride. Unique, simple, ever-changing, yet pure. The UCI is too late. According to Gravel Stoke, these are the 12 most influential gravel races in 2020 and arguably the WC already exists:
    https://www.gravelstoke.com/gravel-cycling-gear-blog/top-gravel-events-2020

  6. World championships are a bit over rated. We all appreciate them for the history they bring. Gravel is a grass roots event even if the participants grow to be more than 3k. I am guessing that some events will have a cap because of permitting or parking. Those events are more special because of it. I think if you asked a retired UCI pro what is appealing about gravel they will reiterate what you said. They may also add the added safety, less restrictions to the events you have to and can’t participate and all the negative things a governing body wants to bring with it. Love your reviews keep up the great work!

  7. Wholeheartedly agree with your response and could not have worded it better myself… Gravel needs to stay gritty and grounded to its roots.

    From a true, grassroots, gravel racer… one that’s been racing off-pavement events for the last decade; the Pros, Ex-Pros, and UCI are not welcome… they are a blight on the sport of cycling and bring far too much ego baggage with them to what has been, until recently; a very light-hearted, inclusive, and cooperative sport.

    I can recall when lining up for the DK start line didn’t mean having to wait in the wings for over an hour while the new “Pros” were called up to line up in front of the pack to ensure they got their media glamour shots done and could have a clean start off the front.

    Paragraphs ramble on about an ex-pro’s career stagnating, then suddenly having an epiphany, and finally adopting gravel as their chosen sport… it’s all theater, these “Pros” were either never going to make the GC cut on World Tour teams, or they were aging out of the peloton and they felt like they could get better media exposure in a less densely packed category… they’re like a virus (pun intended), that seeks out a more accommodating host, one that allows them to grow, spread, invite their other burned out peers to join in so they can all have a laugh and reminisce. Meanwhile; the true grit privateer racers that have dedicated years to supporting the grass roots organizers, attending the races, traveling at our own expense, building and testing bikes, wheels, tires, and gear that were never intended for such use… we’re forgotten in the dust.

    We built the sport and grew the sport to be inclusive to the racer that maybe didn’t have the latest, greatest, wind-tunnel tested gravel arrow in the quiver. Openly sharing knowledge, experience, and failures to further everyone’s stake in the game.

    Now, all I see, are dollar signs popping up everywhere… companies jumping on the gravel bandwagon to nickel and dime the same privateers that shed sweat and blood over those roads to build the sport. Not all are greedy, mind you, and we are collectively benefiting from technological advancements in tires, wheels, and frame design, but that advancement comes at a cost… both financially and to the detriment of keeping the sport affordable and accessible for entry level riders.

    Allowing the UCI (or any overbearing sanctioning body) to “organize” it would be another nail in the coffin that buries gravel racing.

  8. Hello JOM !

    I cannot thank you enough for sharing my exact thoughts on the UCI and of course USAC and their plan to gouge money from the promoters and the riders of gravel type events.

    The promoters are the key to this, if the riders express their distaste for governance, then I believe that is what promoters will do, give their customers what they want right? But these governing bodies did not get to be as big as they are by accident. They have been very successful at manipulating/cajoling/bluffing, whatever ways possible to get promoters to give them money for inflated insurance, requiring attendees pay the governing body a license and paying for ‘officials’ to walk around doing nothing that wasn’t being handled by the local team that started the event. Don’t forget that includes paying for travel and lodging for officials and a host of other bitter carrots that they hang over the promoters heads. All these so called services come at a cost, that comes right out of the promoters pockets. So either event fees have to increase or the promoters make less. I really don’t want either. Event promotion must be an arduous task, and entry fees for the bigger events are already pushing $200. I am OK at this point with the cost, but I really don’t want to increase what I pay for so called services the USAC / UCI bring to the event. And we all know what happens to event promoters that don’t make enough money.

    I hope that the hardworking gravel/ multi surface type event promoters remember that a bureaucratic entity like UCI/USAC, once having the power over your events, have no plans to relinquish it.

    Long live the independent event promoters who have proven a hundred times over they can give the people what they want, as expressed in fantastic growth and miles of smiles for everyone in attendance.

    David Turner
    Founder
    Turner Bikes

  9. Great response. I know of people who put on races here in the US that have been approached by the USCF on much the same basis – with a view to USCF’ing Gravel.

    Funny they said you are not a fan of the UCI – if you talk to many pro riders they are not fans of the UCI:)

  10. JOM,

    1. Love your well-thought out rprose – you nailed it! Thank you for taking the time to compose and write an “eloquent” response. You hit all the points that went through my my mind:
    A. UCI is NOT NEEDED or DESIRED in the world of gravel. And, We already have a World Championships! (We don’t need your stinkin’ badges/stripes)
    B. We don’t want 1k-3k people at events nor could majority of events handle those numbers.
    C. As far as I am concerned – UCI is trying to “poach”!
    D. I enjoy gravel because it is counter-culture to the UCI
    E. “I was hoping for some kind of cooperation”…This made me laugh so hard. Thanks for sharing. Let’s just say that everyone sees through their facade: UCI “wants” us…we don’t “need” them.

    I just hope that other gravel enthusiasts and promoters see what the UCI is trying to do. Long Live Gravel (and it’s counter culture)!

    ps.: Congrats on being recognized as Gravel “influencer”! You are a wonderful ambassador for the sport of gravel. Ride On!

  11. I enjoy having former/current pros participate in grassroots events. Having a UCI tour can only benefit the UCI. Prior history shows the lack of rider independence once UCI becomes involved. It seems they want something with little in return.

  12. Basically agree. While I think it would be cool to have a Gravel World Championships for both Elites and Masters, I know the UCI would not bring anything other than a very specific winners Jersey design. I currently compete in Cross Country, Marathon, road racing, and cyclocross, traveling to Europe for UCI Masters World XC & CX Championships. I also do Kanza, Crusher, RPI , BWR and Rock Cobbler every year. On the one hand, collapsing on the hot pavement, crusted in dirt with a cold beer and rinsing the grit away while listening to a local garage band is one of the best things about gravel, the actual hard core competitive part at the front end of each age group is a complete rush too. The UCI is good at putting on Races. But they are absolute shit at building viable business models or preserving culture. Gravel has a near-perfect business model and is the pinnacle of cycling culture in my view. You are absolutely right in that gravel does not need the UCI, but the UCI would sure like a piece of the gravel pie.

    The only way I would be interested in participating in a UCI qualifying race, is if they basically had no rules whatsoever. No UCI officials at qualifying races. If you finish a qualifying race in the top 10 of your age group then you get to go to Worlds. Organizers do not pay a dime to the UCI but allow them to use the results for worlds qualifying. UCI would simply have to trust the results, and that is the spirit of gravel right there. Of course the UCI would have no interest in this model because they are not going to make money off a single gravel world’s event to make it worth their while.

    While I would love the chance to win hey Masters World Championship rainbow jersey in gravel racing, say in Italy or something, I can’t think of any model that the UCI would actually be interested in and not detract from the gravel experience the rest of the year during qualifying races.

    If UCI is willing to hold an Elite and masters gravel worlds but have absolutely zero interference in qualifying races then I would be interested.

  13. Epic response JOM. You have hit every nail on the head as to why there should be no UCI involvement in gravel riding. I’m sure that’s why so many attend Non UCI sanctioned events: because they love to ride, and don’t necessarily need to beat someone else to have fun (unless it’s your training buddies of course!!).
    I particularly liked your comments on the UCI stuffing things up with their rules. Ridiculous tubing, handlebar and SOCK regulations and the antiquated 6.8kg rule. I mean, really?
    Well done and keep up the great work.

  14. As much as I love your writings/musings tend to disagree with a good chunk of your reaction. First it’s a testament to your reach that the UCI reach out to you and you should feel pretty good about the UCI seeing you as an industry expert in all things gravel! Kudos JOM. However your reaction was a touch brusque in that you basically accuse the UCI of all things bad in cycling. Yes they could’ve handled all of the things that ya mentioned better by throwing $$ at it. However I think that this pandemic brought to light how fragile even the shiny exterior (impressive HQ and all) they really are. I think there is and has been corruption however really the only thing to cure many of the ills you mentioned would be to throw a bunch of $$ and resources at it which they did’nt nor do have to do it all right.
    But the premise of the letter and your reaction, should the UCI be involved in gravel racing (key word is racing)? I think so as long as they don’t take valuable resources away from smaller promoters, racers and sponsors. Whom else here proposes organizing a world champs (yes I do realize of the GWC’s and truly think the UCI needs to buy that event…shame on them for coming to the party late). These organization’s (USAC, UCI,etc) are only doing what they’ve done in the past. Look at MTB XC or DH…did they necessary “ruin MTB racing”. No not really and they have existing resources to put on large cycling events that a startup world gravel race organization could not do nearly as well from a resource/organization/media perspective (at least at the start). Gravel is a pretty close cousin to road racing (I race my “gravel bike” in crits, road races, ally cats and all other road events). Not saying it should be lumped into road but eventually if gravel gets big enough, teams, road tactics, support, and all the things that may make you cringe is coming to gravel (and really already has). There are ways in which different promoters, racers sponsors etc can work together yet stay and keep the flavor of gravel independent. Com’n at ‘em with a semi-toxi reaction when they’re just reaching out for advise only slows their response (which might just be inevitable) and potentially the growth of our beloved sport. My2cents
    PS.. I do see your point in them getting involved in gran fondos which I’ve never done, don’t get (is it a race? Is it not a race? How did someone get caught for doping?) but I hear they’re “fast and competitive.

  15. Thanks JOM, you’re right on the money with your assessment of the need of the UCI structure being applied to what we have come to know as “Gravel Riding ”… no need at all!!
    Whatever the pretext, there is no place for the UCI Rules and Regulations to be applied to freedom of gravel riding or competition, and gravel riding must never be squeezed into the box that is the UCI.

  16. Thank you for your clear response message to the UCI appeal.
    Gravel races allow all people to join in, regardless of their competitiveness level and bicycle technology. I’m in good shape for a 60 year old and love the openness of joining in with everyone else. I am under no illusions that I will see the fast racers for more than a minute after the start. But those same people tend to be friendly and approachable after. Try that at a sanctioned road race.

  17. Jom – I couldn’t agree with you more. I rode my first bike race as a 15 year old junior (before the USCF even existed). Raced in Belgium as a 19 year old amateur; then in the 1962 amateur world road championship in 1962 representing the USA. I retired from cycling in 1964; but returned as 40 year old Masters age group cyclist. Over my career I’ve won several NYS road and ITT championships, as well as a silver age group medal in the USCF Masters National ITT Championship. Over my career I’ve had first hand experience with the ineptness, corruption, nepotism of both the USCF, and UCI. One additional corrupting factor is the Olympic games. USCF/UCI control cycling in the Olympic games which frankly, at least for the USCF, is their main source of revenue. Neither the IOC, nor USOC are democracies! Money talks, and your interests are of no consequence. Let’s not be seduced by the UCI or IOC.

    1. I had the same issue on my mac with firefox. Switched computers and now I can see the “light”. Good luck!

  18. Excellent response to UCI Gravel inquiry. I have raced sanctioned MTB, Fondo and Cyclocross events and have enjoyed them immensely. HOWEVER, Gravel is my go to for unsanctioned events. Enjoying friends, scenery and a rides that I push (or not) as hard as I want. Riding with friends solving earth’s problems and just generally freeing the mind is what gravel is all about. Let’s keep it that way.

  19. I have first-hand experience dealing with the UCI and I can’t agree with you more, JOM. Some of you might remember when the UCI decided to get into mountain biking. If you don’t, let me say that their involvement, while not entirely responsible for the demise of MTB racing, had a significant hand in changing a sport that was very much like gravel racing is today, into a turd. As the old saying goes, if it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.

    1. Just curious how do you think that the UCI ruined MTB racing. Not trying at all to be confrontational but aside from some cheesy equipment restrictions and allowing pit crews at OXC’s, MTB racing has evolved organically as many sports fade in and out with popularity. Yea they (the UCI) and I know USAC makes it expensive for promoters and thus racers to race in WC, Nats and other top races but at the grass root levels how did they ruin the popularity where races and promoters come and go season2season.

  20. Keep the fees to a minimum. Keep the rules to a minimum. Let people ride whatever bike they want. Let the pro’s mass start with everyone else and deal with the pack like everyone else. Let everyone have an equal chance of being on the podium whether they are a pro or a local privateer. Ban the use of teams. Everyone competes on an equal footing as an individual. Let the pro’s sign up for entry like everyone else. If there is a limited number of entrants, everyone has the same chance of getting in. No special rules or exceptions for the pro’s. You could have different categories for different age groups or for men and women but no other categories than that.

  21. Totally agree with JOM on all 8 points. Keep Gravel racing free from the UCI. We do not need the UCI. Rules, regulations, obstacles, controls and what not. We are doing well here in America without them.

  22. Agree wholeheartedly but we will see the day of UCI Gravel Worlds and limitations on bikes, tires and gravel size. Just surprised that e-bike Worlds isn’t their first priority. Meantime we can join local rides and evemts and continue to let USAC and UCI know they aren’t wanted and delay the day.

  23. It’s disturbing but not surprising that they would want to get their greedy fingers into a slice of the gravel pie, and it’s great that you shot them down so straightforwardly.

  24. Wow! Amazing consensus amongst the replies. You got less than a 1% objection or rather a compromised stance RE what you wrote. It looks like the people have spoken and their vote is almost over 99% unanimous AND very full of powerful emotions! So both the sheer quantity of replies coupled with the very strong qualitative emotional content should give you hogweeds a big flashing neon sign of a hint as to what the gravel crowd thinks of your behaviors. Hello UCI. Read this loud and clear you buzzkills. Leave us alone, we’ve never been more happy than without your BS. UCI, you’re like an abusive X, saying all the right things and romancing until your fully sink your fingers and take control and then we get to see your ugly abusive actions. GFY UCI.

  25. Bravo. Best response that could have been supplied.

    Let’s do everything we can to keep the UCI out of gravel. They bring nothing of benefit to the table.

  26. Speaking truth to power takes courage, conviction, and total mastery of the issue(s) in dispute. You have all three in abundance. Kudos to you Jayson!

  27. UCI has become a corrupted organization, selling itself out for money in support of dreadful violations of human rights around the world. Gravel should have nothing to do with them.

  28. Much like the IOC, the UCI has become a money maker serving their interests, not the athletes. Athletics meaning track and field has a diminished fan base due to the management of the IOC

  29. The UCI is a poorly conceived, archaically structured, and financed solution looking for a problem to solve. It thinks it needs gravel, GRAVEL does not need or want, it. The problem is the UCI and outrageously gender-biased European race owning organizations like ASO, all wishing to maintain the status quo. UCI and ASO begone.

  30. Great response. Only thing I would add is that we would not want UCI gender inequality to contaminate the gravel scene and restrict women from racing head-to-head with men in major events.

  31. The UCI should pay attention to your survey results from last year.
    I think the demographics from the survey probably reflect the gravel community
    as a whole.

    A lot of the community is older, have families and careers. They are there
    for the experience and to test themselves. They fit the training and the events
    in around their busy schedules. Having a gravel series is not going
    to make most of them go to more event to qualify for a UCI series.

    As someone who raced the road in the 80’s hopefully the gravel promoters pay
    attention to the lessons learned there. Cycling in the early 80s was a small counter culture community where you could race the weekly race and the time trial for a dollar. Fast forward to the 90’s and you could not race the weekly race without a license in addition to the fee or you had to pay a high on a relative basis fee to get a one day license. Liability insurance had become an issue as racing got more visibility. Most of the large races in urban centres also became cost prohibitive and a logistical challenge. For those old enough remember the Red Zinger stage race, Ore Ida stage race and some of the major one day races. Most are gone or had to take a hiatus due to the cost and the logistics of holding large events. Larger events meant larger sponsors and larger events ended up with a lot more people with their hands out to get a cut of the pie, cities included.

    As someone who only discovered the gravel community late in 2018 and have returned to riding after a multi-decade hiatus I have been racing, pun intended, to experience the events as they should be before they change. I already hear comments about the change in the way the events are run and the make up of the participants in this short period of time.

    The change part is inevitable how the promoters choose to manage it is not. They can be the short flash in the pan that was the road scene in the 90’s or they can choose to grow more slowly and deliberately.

    We saw similar trends in triathlon and the Red Hook fixed gear series. In some case the big events have managed to survive but the communities are smaller. In other cases the big events are gone completely.

    Hopefully the promoters and the community though what events the choose to participate in choose wisely.

  32. This is hard stuff from the uci to go this way and to threaten you with lawyers. i agree with your opinion and i am afraid that a uci race series will not be good for the gravel scene. So far everything has worked wonderfully and very well without the uci.

  33. If we can get the top level gravel “racers” to all come together and participate at gravel worlds, in Lincoln, NE I think we could have a shot at flashing the bird at the UCI. Show them that the racers want grassroots, not drug tests, and tire width enforcement.

  34. To hell with the UCI. They’ll take away the essence of gravel too and only add costs that the cyclists have to pick up. HELL NO WE WON’T GO!!!

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