The Bakery: Soul Sucker

USA Cycling's strong-arm tactics are hurting grassroots cycling in America

Image and text by Danielle Baker

As a kid out at a local race how excited were you when your hero showed up to compete? USA Cycling CEO, Steve Johnson, doesn't appear to think you should have that experience. In fact USA Cycling, while claiming that their mission "is to achieve sustained success in international cycling competition and grow competitive cycling in America", is essentially grinding out their cigarette butt on the very grassroots events that actually contribute to growing cycling.

Their strong arm tactics of threatening emails, leveraging fines and suspensions, and cock blocking local races from having pros in attendance is more reminiscent of Carlo Gambino shaking down shops for protection money, than it is of an organization meant to be looking out for our sport.

The rule in question is not a new one, it is just one that has, until recently, been politely ignored. Now the USAC has confirmed that they will be handing out fines and suspensions for pro athletes found in violation of it. Playing the part of an obsessive boyfriend they will be checking up on pro racers and dictating to them what they can and cannot do.

'1.2.019 No (professional) license 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.'

Bill Kellick, USA Cycling Director of Communication, told Cyclingnews "It is the UCI's expectation that we, and all national federations, enforce the UCI participation rules for all disciplines, not just mountain bike." And yet, when Barry Wicks contacted the Canadian, British, Australian, and French Federations, he found that none of them would be enforcing the rule. In fact even the UCI would not even confirm or deny if they were requiring USA Cycling to enforce the ruling.

Rumors about USAC dusting off the old rulebook have been around for some time now. Prior to 2011 the American Cycling Association operating in Colorado had no affiliation with USAC and had managed independently for fifteen years. It was therefore a surprise to some in 2011 the ACA members voted 185 to 100 in favor of joining USAC. Within a year of joining USAC, member licenses for ACA racers went from $45 (for road, mountain and cyclocross) to $115 to race in the same events. It appeared as if the smaller ACA had been pressured by rumors of rule 1.2.019 being enforced; assimilate into USAC or say goodbye to the pros at your races.

Eight months prior to being assimilated by the Borg, er, USAC, the ACA took a strong position on their bullying. In a press release dated April 21, 2011, Bill Barr, President of the ACA stated "We find enforcement of UCI Rule 1.2.019 to be detrimental to the cycling careers of American professional, who are now unable to prepare as effectively for national and international competition." Additionally they wrote "We find enforcement of UCI Rule 1.2.019 to be detrimental to the cycling communities in which these professionals reside, as removing professional riders from local races degrades the quality of local events."

The ACA appealed to the USAC to exercise the option to grant special exceptions for races in order to avoid the negative impacts they listed, at the time of the press release they stated "This appeal has not been adequately addressed by USAC at this time, and the ACA continues to pursue options to remedy this situation." At some point over the next eight months, the only option left to them to remedy the situation was to join USAC. Resistance is futile.

The ACA appealed to professional riders, team managers, sponsors and fans to contact USAC and ask that the affected professional athletes be allowed to race in local events "in order to best prepare for national and international competition, to improve the level of competition at the local level, and to provide the maximum commercial exposure for which their sponsors have so heavily invested." They neglected to include pertinent contact information however, so here you go:

Steve Johnson
President and Chief Executive Office, USA Cycling

Dual sanctioned events, a sweet little loophole that in the past has allowed pros and amateurs to race side by side while appeasing the UCI rule will no longer be allowed. Go figure. In an interview with VeloNews in December, Mr. Johnson said "Going forward we will not accept dual sanctioning with the same races on the same course on the same day." He then threw sand in the other kids' eyes and stomped out of the playground.

The USAC is putting our sport in a situation where pro racers will receive less money, have less training, and less exposure. Sponsors supporting these racers will also receive less exposure to the consumer at high profile and grassroots races. Local and other non UCI-sanctioned events will not have the media coverage that comes with the big names and have the potential of an insurance liability issue should racers try to hide their identities by racing under pseudonyms like Jack Hammer, Ben Dover, or Steve Johnson. You may be thinking to yourself, "Well, this doesn't seem like the way to grow a sport," you, my friend, are right. This isn't the way to grow a sport; this is a way to bully the industry into joining USAC's ranks and putting more money in their own pockets. Someone put Mr. Johnson in a pink shirt already!

Simply put, local races need pro racers in attendance to raise awareness for their events. The USAC is responsible for growing biking. If USAC wants to grow racing, they need to let the pros race at those grassroots events. Small or unique races that give up their autonomy to a sanctioning body, especially under duress or threat, are like the mom and pop stores that are bulldozed over to make way for a Walmart. I don't want to race bikes at Walmart, I want to see a culture of kids growing up doing Toonie races and trying to catch the favorite pro on course. God damn it, I want a Normal Rockwell painting, not some shit that matches my couch from Ikea!

USAC may have the best of intentions in mind, but they are sucking the very soul out of racing.