A couple weeks ago, the UCI expressed its interest in producing a gravel world championship of its own. And many American gravel cyclists responded with lewd creativity.
We saw the UCI as stepping on the toes of the Pirate Cycling League, which has hosted Gravel Worlds in Lincoln for more than a decade. Others worried the UCI would force-feed gravel racers a bunch of asinine rules.
This week, the UCI released its first batch of rules governing gravel segments within pro road races. And those rules are … telling.
Now, we should be clear. These rules don’t apply to any pure gravel race out there today. These apply only to UCI road races that intend to take a portion of their course off pavement. But still, they give us a glimpse of how the governing association might approach any future UCI gravel series or championship. And that approach is quite different from gravel racing as we generally know it.
To get the full flavor of these rules, you gotta read the whole thing in one gulp. Then we’ll go back and savor each tasty bullet one at a time. (First, be advised: We’re spelling “organiser” with an s now. “Stabilise,” too. You know what? Screw it. We’re banning Zs. You hear me? Zero Zs.)
Sayeth the UCI:
The use of unpaved roads
If an organiser wishes to include unpaved roads in an event, the UCI must be informed at the time of registering the event on the calendar. Furthermore, the organiser shall make every effort to ensure the safety of riders, spectators and race followers and that the event runs smoothly in sporting terms and with regards to the equitable treatment of participants. In particular, the organiser shall:
- provide the teams with a detailed description of the relevant sections (length, type of surface, degree of difficulty of each section, road width, etc.), if necessary providing photos or videos;
- ensure that the course can be traversed at all times (weather conditions, etc.) by a road bicycle as defined by Chapter III of Part I of the UCI Regulations;
- ensure the safety of the course (maintenance, sweeping and stabilising the surface, protective measures, signage, etc.);
- ensure that the following vehicles are suitable for the course and that the drivers have the necessary skills.
The UCI may refuse to register an event on the calendar and/or refuse the inclusion of an unpaved section.
As much as I expected to hate these rules, I have to admit I kinda-sorta love them.
Why, you ask?
Well, I love how removed these rules are from the reality of the grassroots gravel events we support. As someone worried that the UCI might muck up amateur gravel culture, I actually find these rules reassuring. So long as the UCI stays on Neptune, Earth should be fine.
1. “Provide the teams with a detailed description…”
I just can’t imagine any gravel race director ever agreeing to send out videos, road width measurements and section-by-section surface descriptions to help me guess which stretches of a race might be hard.
Back in October, I got my doors blown off in a race outside Nichols, Iowa, by locals who knew the best spot to attack the lead group. Was that unfair to out-of-towners like me? Heck no. That’s racing. The unknowns keep it fun.
Want to see what happens when you strip the unknowns out of cycling? Just record any flat stage of the Tour de France. Watch the breakaway establish itself after 10 or 20 minutes. Sagely predict: “The peloton will catch them inside of 10 k!” Then fast-forward four hours and check your results.
2. “Ensure that the course can be traversed…”
Is there a gravel road in America that meets the UCI’s requirement that it “can be traversed at all times (weather conditions, etc.) by a road bicycle”?
3. “Ensure the safety of the course…”
The new rules make race staff responsible for “sweeping and stabilising the surface” of unpaved roads.
Stop the truck. Sweep a gravel road? And how does anybody “stabilise” pea gravel? I imagine some sort of giant laminator or carpets…
Remember 312 fiascos ago when Trump praised Finland for the way they rake their forests? This is that color of smart.
4. “Ensure that the following vehicles are suitable…”
I’m sorry. What’s a following vehicle? And why would its suitability be a race director’s duty to determine?
I’m not familiar with any gravel race that would allow support vehicles. (Self sufficiency is a gravel thing.) But if they did, I imagine their policy would go something a little more like this: If you want to drive a Fiat down a field road to follow a fat bike on a wet day, that’s your deal, buddy. Just don’t come crying to us when you discover you’re dumb.
After studying the UCI’s new rules, I no longer worry they’ll stifle amateur gravel cycling. Stifling professional road racing is job enough.
All snark aside, I get that every rule in every sport is rooted in good intentions. And all the UCI is trying to do is protect fair play within a sport that’s been battered and scarred by cheats. I applaud them for that with all sincerity. But whether we’re racing gravel events or attempting to regulate them, we’d be wise to put one rule above all others.
The future of grassroots gravel is every bit as secure as our hold on this rule.