|I got a pretty strong response to this Tweet over the weekend.|
If you've been reading this blog the past three to four years you've probably seen a few takes of mine regarding how the UCI/USAC governing bodies have been poking around trying to get in on the gravel scene. Several overtures and meetings were taking place throughout 2018 and 2019 which were pointing to a serious bid, on the part of USAC, to become a part of several of the bigger gravel events in the U.S. Then we had to hit 'pause' on all of that due to the pandemic.
Well, now that we have been seeing vaccinations, events seem to be well on their way back to 'normalcy', and society, at least in the U.S.A., seems bent on ditching pandemic protocols, we are hearing more about this push from the governing bodies of Pro road and MTB racing. This seems, at least to my way of viewing things, to be the 'now or never' moment for gravel/back road cycling to become elite level, governed racing with points, series, and rules set up by the UCI, and by extension, USAC.
You can bet that the cycling industry is 100% behind this as well. They, for the most part, are members of the 'old school' way of thinking about cycling- That being that the 'pinnacle' of the sport should be Pro level, elite athlete populated racing. None of this goofing around with ultra-distance, self-supported style cycling and none of this 'having fun' stuff either. This would be 'serious cycling' and would, in effect in the US anyway, be the de facto replacement for road cycling, criterium cycling, and to an extent, MTB XC racing, at least for the mostly white man entrenched cycling industry. You can toss in endemic cycling media writers and anyone who thinks the best days of cycling were when Lance, or LeMond, was wining the Tour.
|Expect to hear about a new gravel bike from Cannondale soon based upon the Super-Six EVO|
And manufacturers are already pushing Pro level design for 'gravel' bikes to the same levels which they had for Pro road racing. Look for aero bikes, super lightweight, efficient frames, and prices topping out at 8-10 grand for the best bikes in the gravel category in 2022 and 2023. With the equipment that will be available, Pro level teams would not bat an eyelash at being sponsored by such brands, or use current sponsors bikes, if they are up to this level of quality and competitiveness.
But you need venues, right? Where are these supposed teams going to race under USAC/UCI rules? Well, the scuttlebutt I am hearing is that USAC/UCI has already been pressuring promoters to fall in line with their way of doing things, promising higher level status and coverage, (re: more revenue ) , and a pathway for prestige heretofore unheard of for gravel racing in the US. What I have heard is that- so far- promoters are resistant to these overtures, but you know that sooner than later resistance will erode and the promises of fame and money will overcome any objections.
And I say, "So what!" Let USAC and the UCI come into the gravel scene and see what they can do. I don't have to support it, and neither do you. As I have said all along, the gravel scene is a grassroots scene which started- in large part- due to a feeling that USAC/UCI regulations and total focus on elite level athletes was sucking the fun-factor out of competitive events. Typically, that is what happens when governing bodies think about funneling athletes toward the Olympics, World Tour Racing, or the upper echelons of competitive cycling. Then cycling becomes a game of politic, 100% focus on competition, and on high end gear, to the detriment of anyone who is down further on the talent gene pool and/or has a 'real life' which precludes training for hours everyday.
Not that there is no place for such competition, or people suited/privileged to be a part of that, but let's be honest here- that accounts for a super-small percentage of cyclists. The rest of us are expected to fall in line, pay our dues, and cheer on our elite level athletes by sacrificing our money, time, and fun. We get pretty much nothing in return for supporting a bloated governing body that doesn't do anything for the common cyclist.
To be fair, USAC has said that they want to change exactly that- but so far? Nothing. History says that they will not do it either. The grassroots beginnings of gravel is much like the grassroots beginnings of the 29"er movement, and the cycling industry didn't understand that either. It is not about money, prestige, or Pro anything. How an entity that is entrenched in everything that is antithetical to what the gravel scene is will come in and be successful is pretty hard to see. But money talks, and well.........
As I've written before, the gravel scene is too tantalizing an opportunity for USAC/UCI to ignore. There's money out there to be had, and they are eager to win the hearts of gravel cyclists to their way of thinking. Some will be won over, no doubt, falling under the spell of potential fame and fortune. Some already have fallen under that spell. As for me, I'll not be very supportive, nor hopeful that this will be an improvement for cyclists such as myself. History says it will be just like it always has been when entrenched leaders who have no new vision come in to take over.
Change my mind....