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UCI, USA Cycling clarify rule barring UCI-licensed riders from unsanctioned events

USAC, OBRA officials and riders weigh in on flare-up over licensed riders in unsanctioned races

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A tense flare-up between USA Cycling and the UCI on one side, and event promoters and racers on the other, hit the news again on Friday when the former issued a statement clarifying a ban on licensed riders taking part in unsanctioned races.

A long-overlooked rule from the sport’s global governing body bars UCI license holders, professional and amateur, from participating in most events falling outside the umbrella of the UCI and USA Cycling. USAC has used the UCI’s new-found interest in the rule to influence the Colorado-based American Cycling Association to re-join USAC in 2011 and, as VeloNews reported in December, notified a number of parties in 2012 that participation by professional riders in Oregon Bicycle Racing Association events and unsanctioned mountain bike races like the Breck Epic would be met with a penalty going forward.

While riders, promoters, and OBRA officials have cried foul against USA Cycling, the organization’s No. 2 man shot back on Friday, claiming USAC was caught in UCI crossfire and was simply enforcing a rule as it is required to do.

USA Cycling issued a statement on Friday seeking to clarify its position regarding the controversial UCI rule. In its statement today, USAC prefaced an updated clarification letter from the UCI, saying:

There has been a tremendous amount of discussion and misinformation recently in articles and forums regarding UCI rule 1.2.019, which prohibits all UCI licensed riders from competing in events that are not sanctioned by a national federation. USA Cycling received the following letter from the International Cycling Union (UCI) on March 26 to all national federations clarifying its expectations in the enforcement of rule 1.2.019. It also explains what the few possible exceptions to its rule are.

The UCI confirmed that Rule 1.2.019 and the related sanctions in 1.2.020 and 1.2.021 must apply to every UCI-recognized national federation in the world. Therefore, as a member of the International Federation, USA Cycling will comply with the direction from the UCI.
The letter below was communicated to USA Cycling members today.

The UCI’s letter reads:

Dear President,

It has recently come to our attention that some National Federations are experiencing difficulties in the interpretation and application of the rules relating to “forbidden races,” namely Articles 1.2.019, 1.2.020, and 1.2.021 of the UCI Regulations.

With this in mind, we would like to provide the following clarification which we hope you will find useful. Article 1.2.019 of the UCI Regulations states:

“No licence holder may participate in an event that has not been included on a national, continental or world calendar or that has not been recognized by a national federation, a continental confederation, or the UCI.

A national federation may grant special exceptions for races or particular events run in its own country.”

The objective of this regulation is to protect the hard work and resources you pour into the development of your events at national level. It allows for a federative structure, something which is inherent in organized sport and which is essential to being a part of the Olympic movement.

Of course the regulation also allows the UCI, in line with its mission as an international federation, to guarantee uniform regulation.

Article 1.2.019 applies to all license holders, without exception. It does not solely concern professional riders or just the members of UCI teams, contrary to certain statements in the press and on some blogs.

The second paragraph of Article 1.2.019 affords each national federation the facility to grant a special exception for specific races or events taking place in its territory.

Special races or events are understood to be cycle events which are not registered on the national calendar of the country’s federation or on the UCI international calendar. This generally concerns events that are occasional and which do not recur, most often organized by persons or entities who do not belong to the world of organized sport. For example, an event may be organized by an association that does not have a link to the National Federation, such as a race specifically for members of the armed forces, fire fighters or students or perhaps as part of a national multisport event.

With the exception of these special cases, the National Federation is not permitted to grant an exemption to a cycle event which is held, deliberately or not, outside the federative movement. For example, in no case should an exception be granted to a cycling event that is organized by a person or entity who regularly organizes cycling events.

The objective of Article 1.2.019 is that exemptions should only be granted in exceptional cases.

License holders who participate in a “forbidden race” make themselves liable not only to sanctions by their National Federation, as scheduled by Article 1.2.021 of the UCI regulations, but also run the risk of not having sufficient insurance cover in the event of an accident.

Thank you for your attention to this matter. Please accept our kindest regards,

Pat McQuaid

New interest in the rule

The UCI rule is not new, but USA Cycling has just begun enforcing it rigorously in the past three years. In that time, it has been met with criticism from many riders, race promoters, and fans.

VeloNews reported in December that a number of professional riders, including Tom Danielson and Georgia Gould, had received e-mails from USA Cycling informing them that they had broken the UCI rule by competing in an event not sanctioned by either the UCI or USAC, namely Vail’s Teva Mountain Games, a multi-sport event that includes bike racing, kayaking, rock climbing, and trail running. That event, like a number of others across the country, operates independently of the UCI and USAC.

The UCI rule affects all UCI license-holders, a number USA Cycling chief operating officer Sean Petty said was 3,000 individuals in 2012, and its ramifications could be significant and damaging for racing, according to some riders and promoters. Barring UCI-licensed riders from participating in the so-called unsanctioned races limits their freedom to participate in local races, race for fun in lower-category events, and even earn prize money to supplement their income.

As such, some observers have argued that the athletes affected by the rule are professional cyclists and therefore it is wrong to interfere with their right to pursue a trade, business, or profession. Others have criticized USAC for allegedly taking aim at so-called breakaway leagues, such as the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA) and its popular Cross Crusade cyclocross series in Portland.

But on Friday, Petty told VeloNews that’s simply not the case.

“This letter from the UCI only reinforces what they would expect to happen on a regular basis, and that is enforcement of their rules, including this one,” Petty said. “Anyone who’s taken out a UCI license certainly has agreed to abide by the UCI rules and regulations. This is what we have to do going forward.”

Going forward, according to Petty, UCI-licensed riders caught riding in unaffiliated events will face a fine of 50 to 100 Swiss francs and a one-month suspension.

Brad Ross, owner and race director of Cross Crusade, told VeloNews on Wednesday that he was “mystified” by USAC’s motivation for wanting to enforce the UCI rule.

“They’re discouraging where they should be encouraging racing at all levels,” Ross said. “They’re discouraging their top riders from going out and being the rock stars we want them to be. Why would you take somebody like Todd Wells, who’s an Olympian, and discourage him from going out and showing off to his fans?”

UCI representatives did not return e-mails requesting comment this week.

Bend, Oregon-based professional Ryan Trebon (, who holds a UCI license, said he sees USAC’s enforcement of the UCI rule as a power play.

“I don’t understand why they give a shit,” Trebon told VeloNews. “I can understand why they’d care if people are racing, because they’re losing money and because people don’t see USA Cycling as necessary. If promoters say, ‘Well, we don’t need USA Cycling to put on these races,’ it’s a way to try to play their hand to say, ‘Yes, they need us to be at the race. They need us to be an organization to be behind bike racing.’ But I think it’s a bad way of going about it.”

In its defense, USAC has said that in addition to helping grow the sport on the national and international levels, it brings anti-doping controls to races and more robust insurance.

As VeloNews reported in December, USA Cycling president and CEO Steve Johnson said, “The problem that you run into is conflict of liability. We issue a permit in a situation where you have multiple events running under multiple permits on the same day. Then you have the potential for confusion as to whose insurance covers what. Our insurance is much more robust than the OBRA insurance, so we would probably be the default party. We are trying to avoid that.”

But for Ross, USAC’s insurance argument is “bogus.”

“You can’t put a bike race on without having insurance, and we all have the same insurance,” Ross said. “To say that a race is ‘unsanctioned’ is really a misnomer. Every race is sanctioned in this day and age of litigation in the United States. You can’t put a bike race on without having insurance.”

Ross added that it is easy to get insurance for a bike race “that’s just as good as USAC’s insurance,” as ORBA has done.

“With regard to anti-doping, I guess they have a point,” Ross said. “For instance, at the Cross Crusade and basically any race that takes place here in Oregon, we don’t really have an affiliation with [the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency] or any anti-doping organization. But whether it’s a valid argument, I don’t know.”

Still, Petty holds that USAC’s insurance is, in fact, more robust compared with any other cycling event in the U.S.

“All of our research of what we’ve seen on OBRA’s insurance and that of others is it’s not comparable,” he said. “We just believe in a higher level of coverage for the race directors, the riders, the sponsors, everyone involved, and the volunteers in the race. I understand what people are saying [about their insurance being comparable], but we’ve already done the comparison and it’s not comparable.

“Now, if it’s what people are comfortable with, that’s up to the race director. But we expect a higher level of insurance coverage than a lot of people provide. In our case, it’s very comprehensive and covers everyone in and around the race.”

Beyond matters of insurance, the rule-enforcement issue presents problems for everyone involved, according to Trebon. The UCI-licensed riders lose out because they are prevented from racing; the promoters lose because they don’t get the big-name professionals showing up at their races; and amateur riders and fans don’t get to see the country’s best talent come to local events.

In terms of public perception, the biggest loser could be USAC. The so-called unsanctioned races, said Trebon and Ross, are not going to stop, and there is a growing tide of backlash.

“Promoters are not going to risk their bottomline and pay a premium to USAC just to appease the handful of professionals who attend the unsanctioned races,” Trebon said. “So why else would USAC care? Like with the cyclocross races in Bend, they’re saying they’re not allowing dual-sanctioned races anymore. But does it hurt them at all, besides monetarily?

“I think this comes down to pride, too. … Nobody likes to be told what they do sucks. And it’s not that they suck. It’s that they need to work on their model. The tack they’re taking is just not the right one.”

A source close to USA Cycling who preferred to keep his identity anonymous because of the sensitivity of the matter told VeloNews that he believed USAC’s enforcement of the UCI rule has completely backfired.

“I don’t think they had any idea how pissed off people were going to be,” the source said. “And not just promoters. Everybody’s pissed. It actually affects promoters much less than USAC thought it would.

“USAC looks at high participation numbers and thinks, ‘Oh, how can we get our hands on that?’ Part of the success of so-called non-sanctioned races is that they are not affiliated with USAC, so they can kind of do what they want to do. But the people they’re pissing off are their own, the people they are supposed to be making happy.”

Asked if USAC had any motivation to benefit monetarily from events outside its current reach, Petty denied any such claims.

“Would we like for the Cross Crusade to be part of USA Cycling-permitted events? Sure,” he said. “You always want any event or series to be part of USA Cycling. But none of these actions or this rule or anything that’s happened here is related to targeting any series or organization.”

Shining example OBRA thrives on independence from USAC

For eight weeks in October and November, the Cross Crusade attracts 1,400 participants weekly. It is the largest cyclocross series in the world, according to Ross.

OBRA and its Cross Crusade series are widely considered successes because they are well organized and affordable. An annual license with OBRA costs just $10, and each race in the Cross Crusade is $25 ($175 for the entire series). Every year OBRA runs 335 races, Ross said, all of which are covered through OBRA’s insurance policy.

Trebon said he likes OBRA not only because its races are well organized but also because racing smaller races means less stress. Each season he does just four or five so-called unsanctioned races, and with his packed schedule he’s lucky if he can make it to one Cross Crusade.

“I don’t go there to win the prize money. I don’t go there for the training. I go there because it’s fun,” Trebon said. “It’s a chance to be around your friends. … I’m planning on doing whatever races I can get to in Oregon [this year]. That’s where I live, that’s my community of cyclists, and that’s my community of racing. That’s what I want to be a part of.

“[USAC] would be better off listening to what promoters like and don’t like about what they do and improve their product,” Trebon added, “where people want to be associated with them, not force people to be associated with them.”

For Ross, the rule-enforcement issue ultimately perplexes him.

“I’ve tried to draw a parallel to other sports. Here in Portland, we’ve got a famous runner. His name’s Galen Rupp. He’s a young guy out of the University of Oregon, and he won a silver medal at the Olympics last year. USA Track & Field really wants to show off Galen Rupp. And they encourage him to go out and race in what USAC would call ‘non-sanctioned races,’ like your local 10K runs for citizens and charities.

“Rupp will occasionally show up at these races and it’s awesome. USA Track & Field totally encourages him because he’s showing off one of their success stories. Whereas USA Cycling is doing the exact opposite. It seems to me they’re actually trying to hide away their success stories. They got these rock star athletes like Todd Wells and Adam Craig and these guys who’ve come up through the USA Cycling system, and instead of showing them off they’re hiding them away.

“I wish that USAC would get back to what they do,” Ross said, “which is concentrating on national championship events and high-profile events. And if they do a good job of that, then they will bring more race promoters into the fold instead of being heavy-handed like they’re being.”

For Petty, he reiterated that the issue is ultimately not a USAC matter, as a lot of people have painted, but part of the UCI’s rules and regulations.

“Our membership has grown every year for the past eight years. We’ve got about 74,000 members now. We’ve got 600,000 racer days. There’s no desire on our part to put OBRA out of business or anything like that. There’s no merit to that.

“This is simply what is now the enforcement and awareness of the UCI rule. It’s simply that.”

OBRA claims unlawful enforcement

Later Friday, OBRA executive director Kenji Sugahara distributed an e-mail to his membership and others that claimed the UCI rule violated the Ted Stevens Act, which governs amateur sports governance. Sugahara wrote, in part:

Under 36 USC § 220524 — General duties of national governing bodies — “For the sport that it governs, a national governing body shall — (5) allow an amateur athlete to compete in any international amateur athletic competition conducted by any amateur sports organization or person, unless the national governing body establishes that its denial is based on evidence that the organization or person conducting the competition does not meet the requirements stated in section 220525 of this title;”

Here is the link to the Section 220525 (which lists out the requirements).

The UCI letter and subsequent USA Cycling language are likely unenforceable given that there has been no evidentiary inquiry as to any races per 220525. Given the plain language of the statute the burden lies on the UCI/USA Cycling to establish the evidence for a denial.

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