On the "Saturation Point" of UCI races in the US
Taken from an email I recently sent to all the US UCI event organizers, in response to the question, "Do we have a saturation point?"
Saturation point of what, exactly? Because one person's saturation point is another's growth of the sport. Do we have too many criteriums in America? Or do you think the Belgians complain the UCI races in France or Switzerland are "soft" as well?
I promise you, for every complaint you've heard about saturation points or soft races I've got 10 riders who are psyched about the prize money they're making, and for the travel they don't have to do in order to compete in quality events. UCI events are job opportunities for bike racers. Further, the abundance of races is pushing every race to improve, at every level. A local race in New England now is the same quality as what a UCI race used to be. And to really stand out nationally, you need to put on a C1 event now. That's positive growth and improvement.
If you want to talk about saturation, are you talking about all of the United States? Because we know all the races in Belgium happen in a very, very small area of the country. Do not compare the US to Belgium. When there are as many UCI races in Massachusetts as there are in Belgium, then we can start to talk about saturation. A much better comparison would be how many UCI race there are in Europe as a whole to how many there are in the US.
The "saturation point" is what's bringing a guy like Valentin Scherz, the best Swiss U23, back to the US for the first half of the season to race again this year, and bringing the 2nd best Swiss U23, Anthony Grand, along with him. It's causing a guy like Luca Damiani to come back to the US for 'cross after his road season, instead of staying in Italy like he did last year. It's causing a guy like Jesse Anthony, who has been one of the riders criticizing "easy points," to decide instead to get his ass in his car, drive to Granogue, and win 2 hard fought and well-publicized UCI events, taking advantage of the opportunities instead to complaining about them. It's bringing a guy like Alex Candelario back to 'cross after leaving it to focus on the road for the past 10 years.
What exactly _is_ getting saturated, then? Points? Of course, we have a limit on C2 and C1 point totals, so there's already a check in place for that. Media? Seems like we're getting plenty of great coverage, and making stars out of the riders at every level. So what's the limiter? All I see us getting saturated with is more good events, more prize money, more press, better quality, more competition, and more growth. More please.
I do not see a situation where the UCI, or USA Cycling, would have any motivation to restrict the number UCI events in the US. This same question was raised when I was on the Commission, directed at Belgium, and the conclusion then was that it was not possible or fair to the riders to limit the number of races there so that the scenes in Italy, Germany, Spain or France could grow. Curtailing growth or strength in one country was not the way to encourage growth or strength in another.
This topic comes up once a year. It came up when we first had more UCI races than the what was just in the 6- or 8-race national series. It came up again when we started to have conflicts on opposite coasts. It's apparently coming up again now, I assume because we've had another big jump in the total number events. The sky was not falling back then, and it's not falling now.
I honestly think we are just scratching the surface of growth of a pro 'cross scene in the US. Until there's a UCI race every weekend in each region at the same time (like there is or was in Switzerland or Italy or France or Belgium), we have room to grow. And until there's a C1 every weekend in the US the same way there's a $10,000 or $15,000 NRC criterium or road race during the summer, we have room to grow. And until more European riders are choosing to come to the US to race (the way they do right now for the US road scene), we have room to grow.
I'm going to save this for next year, and save myself the work of writing it again.