Track cycling is one of the most-watched disciplines at the Olympic Games, both inside the velodromes – where 100% of the seats available in the stands are occupied – and on television. The discipline attracts the best riders on the planet. However, between two editions of the Olympic Games, track cycling struggles to attract such audiences and maintain a consistent quality of participation throughout a season. Several studies, carried out on behalf of the UCI and its partners since 2016 and based on consultation with numerous stakeholders, have shown that track cycling has considerable potential but that its organisation suffers from problems that clearly prevent it from being reached. It was therefore necessary to overcome these obstacles to make the discipline more attractive, in line with Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)'s Agenda 2022, and to now ensure that it achieves the same success every season as it does when the Olympic Games are being held.
UCI Track Cycling World Cup: a model in need of review
The UCI Track Cycling World Cup currently consists of six rounds, held right across the globe, which allow athletes to qualify for the UCI World Championships and the Olympic Games. The way the rounds are spread out geographically, combined with the total number of rounds, burdens National Federations with very high, and sometimes unsustainable, participation costs. In addition, significant demands are placed on the riders (long journeys, time differences, etc.), while the vast majority of them are not in a position to make a living out of being a track cyclist. As a result, riders skip certain destinations once their qualification for the major events is guaranteed, when not simply because of a lack of resources. This – perfectly understandable – strategy damages global interest in the series. More often than not, spectators don't see the best athletes come together in the different rounds, and their level of racing is consequently very unequal. This is all reflected in audience figures (trackside and television) that are often below expectations.
The sporting programme of the UCI Track Cycling World Cup is very rich, with its nuanced speed and endurance races that satisfy the real enthusiasts. Yet this richness can actually be a barrier to making the discipline accessible, where events are seen as unclear for a new, less expert audience who may be following the competitions on new media.
The existence of a qualifying series for the UCI Track Cycling World Championships and the Olympic Games cannot be jeopardised. Such an event is crucial to providing National Federations with an equal chance of qualifying for the greatest sporting spectacles, and giving the most knowledgeable fans the opportunity to enjoy the beauty and complexity of an historic discipline whose first World Championships were held back in 1893.
A new structure to realise the discipline’s potential
This is why the UCI Track Commission proposed a series of changes to the way track cycling is organised. These were then discussed by the UCI Management Committee meeting in Lavey-les-Bains (SUI) in June, where the reform – the main points of which are presented below – was approved. The structure will be implemented from 2020-2021 onwards.
- The UCI Track Cycling World Cup would become the UCI Track Cycling Nations’ Cup
From 2021, the current UCI World Cup will undergo fundamental changes:
- the number of rounds in the series will drop from six to three;
- it will be held April-September, rather than October-January;
- it will become the UCI Track Cycling Nations' Cup, for national teams only.
The Nations' Cup, like the current World Cup, will allow National Federations to earn valuable points that count towards qualification for the World Championships (and the Olympic Games).
The reduced number of rounds will lower the overall cost of participating in the series for the National Federations, allowing more of them, even those with limited resources, to participate in every UCI World Cup event. In addition, restricting the series to National Federations only will prevent nations from being able to increase their chances of participating in UCI events (World Cup and World Championships) by having riders from their country within UCI Track Teams, to the detriment of other nations that might not have that luxury. The new formula will therefore strengthen equal opportunities between different countries.
UCI Track Teams were launched by the UCI in 2004, but their participation in the UCI Track Cycling World Cup has steadily decreased over the past ten years, such that last season they only represented a small proportion of the teams involved (on average, 10 UCI Track Teams compared with 41 national teams). One of their main objectives had been to pay riders a proper living wage, something which, barring a few exceptional cases, has never been achieved. UCI Track Teams will still be able to compete in Class 1 and 2 events on the UCI International Track Calendar.
- The World Championships move to the autumn
From 2021, the UCI Track Cycling World Championships (Elite) will no longer be held in March, but in October, following on from the UCI Track Cycling Nations' Cup.
This change of date will encourage endurance riders to take part in the UCI Track Cycling World Championships. Road teams are often reluctant to release their riders to compete in the UCI Track Cycling World Championships in March, however, this will generally be less of a problem for an event taking place two weeks after the end of the UCI Road World Championships.
Furthermore, the month of October will helpfully coincide every four years with the date of the UCI Cycling World Championships, which will bring together the World Championships of all the different disciplines and whose first edition will take place in August 2023 in Glasgow and Scotland. This ensures the consistency of the calendar from one season to the next.
- A new, innovative series begins
A new series with an innovative format will be launched, and first held between November 2021 and February 2022.
The new series will be an event formatted to suit television, and will therefore play a key role – along with the UCI Track Cycling Nations' Cup – in growing the audiences and overall popularity of track cycling. This will mainly be achieved through its dynamic programme (consisting of some speed and some endurance events in an adapted format), which will be easy to understand and follow, including by new audiences.
The chosen riders will participate individually, according to qualification criteria yet to be determined but based largely on the previous UCI World Championships.
UCI President David Lappartient said: “With the UCI Track Cycling Nations' Cup, the UCI Track Cycling World Championships and the launch of a new series, the track cycling calendar of the future will be clearer and more attractive, with the discipline's visibility consistently high throughout the year. The UCI Nations' Cup will be the gateway to the UCI World Championships, while these Championships will determine the riders who will participate in the new series starting a month later, in a format that is compatible with the requirements of television and new media. The reform will ultimately benefit everyone involved in the discipline, from riders to National Federations to its various other stakeholders.”
Further information on the reform of track cycling will be announced following the next UCI Management Committee meeting in September 2019, alongside the UCI Road World Championships in Yorkshire (GBR).