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The International Cycling Union have turned down a request made by the organisers of this year's World Road Race Championships in Salzburg that the elite men's road race be reduced from 265km to 220km. The request was made in order to avoid extended traffic problems on the final Sunday of the championships in the Austrain city, and also because the organisers claimed a shorter race would be more exciting. They were also hoping to cut television production costs.
Philippe Chevalier, of the UCI's road commission, wrote to the Salzburg organising committee earlier this week to inform of the decision. "Cycling World Championships are one of the biggest events on the international sport calendar. Just like the traditional Classics, Milan-San Remo, the Flanders Tour, Paris-Roubaix, Lige-Bastogne-Lige, Paris-Tours and the Tour of Lombardy, the World Championships live on the myth that comes only with distances of 250 and 280 kilometres. And we do not want to change this."
Chevalier countered the argument that a shorter race would be more exciting by pointing to last year's race in Madrid. "These World Championships were thrilling from beginning to end at high average speeds of more than 42kph," he wrote. "Another important issue is the cut in the number of team members from 12 riders from the best nations to nine since last year. This allows for a more open race, which makes it more difficult for the large nations to use tactics."
Chevalier concluded, rather reasonably it would seem: "The organisation must adapt to the event and not the other way around!" Chevalier did say, though, that the UCI would consider some of the Salzburg organisation's suggestions about making "cycling races more interesting for athletes, spectators, and media representatives. We will definitely discuss it further and include the comprehensive concepts of the World Championships in Salzburg into our planning."
Salzburg Worlds secretary-general Wolfgang Weiss accepted the UCI's decision, saying: "The UCI is the organiser and has the final say. In the future, however, it would make sense to take the interests of the various groups into account. This applies to everyone from the athletes - the principal players - the visitors, media representatives, the organisation on site to the local population."
Weiss's point is a good one, but surely comes at a ridiculously late stage. Why bid for the Worlds, which has a long-established format, win that bid, and then try to change the format of the main race? And, although Weiss mentions the interests of the riders, it is almost that most of the sport's major names would be against any reduction in the difficulty of the Worlds because it would make the event less selective.
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