USA Cycling has strung together six International Cycling Union (UCI) sanctioned mountain bike races to form the second annual USA Cycling Pro Cross Country Mountain Bike Tour presented by US Cup (Pro XCT).
It aims to provide the nation's professional mountain bikers with more opportunities to collect the UCI points needed to boost the USA's participation at the 2012 London Olympic Games.
The top eight competing nations with the most UCI points will be rewarded with the maximum number of participants in the Olympic mountain bike race, with three spots for the men and two spots for the women.
"Instead of accruing points over two years, riders can accrue points over four years now," Andrea Smith, USA Cycling's director of communications, told BikeRadar. "For example, in the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games riders accrued points from 2006 and 2007. For the 2012 London Olympic Games, riders accrue points from 2011, 2010, 2009 and 2008. Those points accrued will rank USA among other countries."
Furthermore, a larger tally of UCI points will provide the US national team with a better starting position at the UCI World Mountain Bike Championships held in Mont Sainte Anne, Quebec, Canada in September 2010.
The individual athletes collecting the points aren't necessarily the same individuals who will compete in the Olympic Games or the world championships. But there are extensive selection procedures for mountain biking for Olympic Games and world championship spots. According to Smith, it stands to reason that the riders collecting the most points for the USA will be the country's strongest riders.
Replacement for NORBA
The Pro XCT was launched in 2009 and is the only top-level mountain bike series held in the USA. Its six participating races are the only UCI sanctioned races offered in the country. It marks the first series since the NORBA series disbanded in 2007.
"It was kind of a no-brainer in terms of how to make up the calendar," Smith said. "We started the USA Cycling XCT because we are trying to offer more UCI points domestically. We are also trying to encourage promoters to put on UCI sanctioned events to get qualification points and really to raise the calendar of mountain biking events."
The Pro XCT was headed by USA Cycling mountain bike event director Kelli Lusk, along with essential input from race promoters, organisers, teams and riders.
"They all have to buy into it because it takes all parts to bring this to the highest level," Smith said. "We can have a lot of great races. But, if you have a top level series, where people can follow a rider, it gives them a stage to be showcased and build that hype and excitement around those events."
The first three events are held in California, starting with the US Cup Bonelli Park held in March in San Dimas and the US Cup Fontana in Fontana followed by the US Cup Big Bear in May. The racing continues in June with the Bump ‘N Grind in Birmingham, Alabama and the Subaru Cup in Mt Morris, Wisconsin. The series will conclude in July at the CTS International Classic in Colorado Springs.
"These events are stand-alone races in their own right," Smith said. "As a tour, we have things that tie them all together like leader's jerseys, number plates, awards of recognition... We will offer some consistency among the top-level races. A lot of these races have been very successful races for quite a long time."
2010 USA Cycling Pro Cross Country Mountain Bike Tour
- March 13: US Cup Bonelli Park – San Dimas, Calif.
- March 27: US Cup Fontana – Fontana, Calif.
- May 16: US Cup Big Bear – Big Bear, Calif.
- June 5: Bump ‘N Grind – Birmingham, Ala.
- June 26: Subaru Cup – Mt Morris, Wis.
- July 10: Carmichael Training Systems International Classic – Colorado Springs, Colo.