This week, a portion of the elite domestic mountain bike community, led by sponsor Sho-Air, demonstrated the effectiveness of collective action and civil disobedience in the cycling world when they voiced an intention to attend the Whiskey 50 — characterized by the UCI as a “forbidden event” — and thereby caused the UCI and USAC to postpone until 2014 their planned enforcement of a UCI rule barring its licensees from racing such unsanctioned events.
While the road cycling community lacks a similar lucrative unifying race outside of USAC sanctioning, the protest and its outcome bear relevance to the entire domestic peloton, hinting at our ability to affect the design of our sport’s rules through a unified stance.
Rules in sport are essential. Regulations remove gray areas and provide assurance of a level playing field. But selective enforcement weakens the authority and effectiveness of the entire set of rules.
Remember those once-ubiquitous rain capes made of clear PVC? Though the UCI requires racers to wear rain jackets that are either transparent or resemble their jerseys, this rule is largely ignored. Precedent, however, is not reasonable justification for the UCI’s recent encouragement of widespread disregard for rule 1.2.019, the one that threatens licensees with fines and suspensions of they take part in unsanctioned events. I want our rules to make sense and to be enforced in full. Rule 1.2.019 should be abolished, not temporarily ignored.
In practice, rule 1.2.019 directly contradicts portions of both the UCI and USAC mission statements: “to develop and promote cycling,” and “to grow competitive cycling in America,” respectively. If the long-ignored rule starts being enforced, it will soon bar me from competing in my favorite race, Burke Swindlehurst’s Crusher in the Tushar, an innovative event suitable for many types of bicycles that represents a healthy direction for mass-appeal bicycle racing.
I spoke with Burke at length during his planning of the event as he considered whether to sanction it through USAC. Ultimately he decided it was not appropriate given the unique nature of his event.
As a member of Jamis-Hagens Berman, a UCI Continental team, I am not guaranteed a minimum salary by either the UCI or USAC, and therefore I should be free to use my skillset to represent my sponsors and seek prizes at bicycle races outside of their sanction, like the Crusher.
Further, simply possessing a UCI license should not bar me from being a cycling enthusiast and supporting my good friend’s endeavor.
Promoters and racers should be able to make these decisions without hindrance.
While domestic cycling and the mountain bikers’ unified stand are far cries from the NFL and its players’ association, it’s worth discussing more popular sports’ use of collective bargaining and thinking about how it might affect our sport.
In all four of the United States’ premier sports — football, basketball, baseball, and hockey — players’ unions formed as the sports grew in popularity and profitability. The unions legally represent the athletes’ interests and negotiate with teams and leagues on their behalf, including petitioning the rulebook. Similarly, in the European professional peloton the International Association of Professional Cycling (AIGCP) lobbies the UCI on behalf of the major cycling teams.
The domestic peloton lacks such a collective voice. Sho-Air’s foray into civil resistance revealed the strength and potential of such an approach to representing cyclists’ interests with respect to our governing rules. My goal with this essay is to point out the potential of this approach and encourage discussion on the topic.