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Wout van Aert leads Mathieu van der Poel, Michael Vanthourenhout, and Tom Pidcock up a small dirt rise at the 2024 Benidorm CX World Cup round.

The new CX World Cup: mandatory races and protected events

The UCI announces new rules to ensure the series’ primacy.

Joe Lindsey
by Joe Lindsey 29.02.2024 Photography by
Kristof Ramon
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The 2023-2024 cyclocross season is barely wrapped, but the UCI is already busy making plans for next year’s events. In particular, it’s following through on its plans to elevate the World Cup series above others and essentially compel rider participation.

The discontent bubbled up last November when the UCI’s Peter van den Abeele complained to Sporza that riders were treating cyclocross’ top series “as a toy” by prioritizing racing in Superprestige and other series over the World Cup. Last season, for instance, the Dublin round of the World Cup saw an elite men’s field with only 28 starters, less than half of what some of the rounds in Belgium and The Netherlands see. UCI president David Lappartient threatened to ban riders who skip World Cups from competing at World Championships. 

The organization hasn’t gone that far, but in a brief news release on Leap Day, the UCI outlined several substantial changes to the cyclocross calendar that have the effect of giving the World Cup series highly preferential status.

The all-important start grid will change, with the first two rows at World Cup events now ordered strictly by overall series ranking. Obviously, the more World Cups you compete in, the more chances you have to score points.

But that’s relatively minor compared to the other two shifts.

The UCI will flex its muscles as the sport’s sanctioning body by bestowing “protected event” status (their quotes) to as many as half of the World Cup rounds, which means the UCI can refuse to sanction any other event that happens the same weekend. Protected event status will conferred “only when the event is of particular importance for the international development of cyclo-cross.” 

Longtime observers of the UCI will recognize the classic approach of wording a rule vaguely enough that it can be interpreted almost any way the organization likes. But reading between the lines, the “international development” phrase would seem to mean protected status would be bestowed on events like the U.S., Italian, Spanish, and Irish rounds from this past season and perhaps Flamanville, the most geographically distant of the two French rounds. In that sense, the rule might really help, as riders and teams would not be forced into either/or choices about which races to attend in a given weekend or commit to expensive travel logistics and itineraries to do both events, an approach that might hurt riders’ performances.

The UCI wants big crowds at World Cups, which are attracted mostly by the presence of the sport’s biggest names.

But if extended to half the races in the currently 14-round World Cup, that could put a serious calendar crunch on the Superprestige, X2O, and other series. Last season, there was a World Cup every weekend from mid-November through early January, meaning at least several weekends in the heart of the season would be ruled off-limits to non-World Cup races.

Finally, teams are compelled to send minimum numbers of riders to World Cup events. Teams registered as UCI cyclocross teams must send at least one elite man or woman to at least five rounds. UCI Professional cyclocross teams – which right now comprises only Baloise-Trek Lions, Deschacht-Hens-Maes, and Pauwels Sauzen-Bingoal – must send at least three riders to all the rounds.

That two-tiered approach helps teams like Alpecin-Deceuninck, which is registered only as a UCI cyclocross team, by allowing six-time World Champion Mathieu van der Poel to continue to do select races. But it’s harder on many smaller teams which only have a few riders, as well as vastly more limited budgets.

What’s missing from the UCI’s announcement is any mention of penalties or formal enforcement mechanisms, not to mention how, for small teams in particular, it would handle extraordinary circumstances like illness and injury that might prevent a team from meeting the requirements. Separately, some UCI-registered cyclocross teams largely don’t compete in Europe, which will likely force them to a national-level registration. How those concerns and logistics will be handled seems to be very much TBD.

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