BOULDER, Colorado (VN) — Yannick Eckmann, the promising 18-year-old German-American cyclocross racer, is a young man without a country heading into the elite cyclocross world championships in Louisville, Kentucky, in February. Without a UCI exemption, it appears the Colorado-based Cal Giant-Specialized rider will miss his first shot at the U23 worlds early next year.
Born in Germany, Eckmann became a dual U.S./German citizen in September. Now, his presence at the most prestigious road and ’cross races this season — particularly the world championship, which for the first time will take place in the U.S. — has been halted because of a UCI rule that prohibits him from racing for either country for a year.
“We’ve been living in the U.S. for eight years and not planning on moving back to Germany anytime soon,” he told VeloNews. “Being Germans, we can’t do any of the U.S. nationals races. At the same time, we can’t do any races with the German team because they’re now saying that we need to race there more often.”
Eckmann started riding his bike at the age of three. He has lived in the United States since 2004 with his parents and brother Robin, who races alongside him for Cal Giant.
The UCI rule that holds his future — at least for the next year — hostage states that “the rider who validly chose his new nationality can be selected by the national federation of his new nationality and represent it in events mentioned in [section] 1 as from the second calendar year he chose his new nationality.”
The rule effectively bars Eckmann from contesting the U23 world championship race in Louisville. Eckmann, who leads the U23 standings in the Trek U.S. Gran Prix of Cyclocross, would be a legitimate threat, alongside Washington’s Zach McDonald (Rapha-Focus), for a worlds medal.
Eckmann idolizes former world time trial champion Fabian Cancellera.
“He gives 100 percent all the time, no matter what,” he said.
Like Cancellara, the young Eckmann is not going down without a fight.
“The first thing that came to mind was, the UCI probably has a rule for switching citizenship, and licenses. I eventually found the rule, and didn’t understand it. So I’ve been trying to reach out to them ever since,” he said. “I’ve been talking to Jim Miller [V.P. of Athletics at USA Cycling] a lot to try and get help there. We’re still trying to find some way to get around the rules or find a loophole where we can get some exposure.”
In the meantime, there are other races to be run. He has first or second in each of the six USGP rounds so far. But in most ’cross races, U23s and elites fight elbow-to-elbow. His early 14th-place finish at Clif Bar CrossVegas showed he was on form; a sixth-place finish at the USGP SmartWool Cup a month later showed he was an overall threat. He recently returned from the Czech Republic where he competed in two World Cups — for Germany — and finished 28th and 14th, respectively. With the results he has posted so far, his goal of a top 10 at the world championship in Louisville seemed in reach.
That is, until the UCI stepped in.
“I feel like the rule is just unnecessary, especially for guys our age,” he said. “I feel like [it] needs to be changed so that the first time you switch your licensed nation there shouldn’t be any penalties, but if you switch back you should have to sit out a year.”
Until then, he keeps on racing.
“[Robin and I] are doing everything to minimize the whole year and find more races we can do, or try and shorten the time frame,” he said.