I know this will draw little attention, given that Podium Cafe is all about Euro pro racing, but the Nature Valley Grand Prix made an announcement this weekend that has a potential trickle-down effect on the rest of the domestic circuit.
At this year's National Racing Calendar event, the Nature Valley Grand Prix will prohibit the use of time trial bikes (and certain aero equipment like disc wheels and helmets). This might not be sitting well with the top-line professional squads, which are paid to ride the TT bikes you all salivate over. But for the elite and lower-level domestic squads, it has the potential to keep them from losing time to the tricked-out pro teams and it is also a big cost-saver (given that Delta is charging $175 each way for bikes).
What will be most interesting to see is whether any other NRC stage races follow suit. This is the first year that USA Cycling has had a rule on the books allowing promoters to mandate that "mass start" bicycles are used.
Here's the entire text of the news release (with quotes from a couple team directors):
Nature Valley Grand Prix Announces Changes For Time Trial
Minneapolis – This year’s edition of the Nature Valley Grand Prix will go “old school,” with a return to Eddy Merckx-style racing for the individual time trial that opens this year’s USA Cycling National Racing Calendar event.
Executive Director David LaPorte said the Nature Valley Grand Prix has opted to invoke a new USA Cycling rule that allows race organizers to specify that “massed-start legal” bicycles are required for time trials. The rule will be enforced for the six-mile (9.6 km) St. Paul Riverfront time trial on June 16.
“The decision was made partly to simplify logistics for the teams and partly out of fairness,” LaPorte said. “We have a time cut in the time trial to ensure that no one loafs to stay fresh for the criterium that night. But in the past, we have had some strong riders cut primarily because they did not have time trial bikes. We have also had some riders in the past who haven’t competed because of the expense of bringing two bikes, particularly with the outrageous charges the airlines are imposing.”
LaPorte said he doesn’t expect the change to significantly affect the overall results of the five-day, six-stage race.
“The time trial is only six miles and the last mile is an eight-percent climb,” he said. “Also, with the new road race in Menomonie, Wisconsin, the seconds gained or lost in the time trial are likely to be insignificant. Unlike the old Mankato road race, this course will be very hilly, with lots of opportunities for aggressive teams to shatter the pack. If big time gaps don't form, it will likely be because the teams haven't taken advantage of the terrain.”
The Nature Valley Grand Prix will work with USA Cycling officials to spell out the specific restrictions regarding aero equipment (wheels, helmets, etc.), which will ultimately appear in the race bible.
The decision to prohibit time trial bikes is certainly not unique, as several international races (Tour of Qatar, Tour of Langkawi, etc.) have banned time trial bikes and aero equipment for years. In the U.S., the team time trial stage of the 2008 Tour de Georgia featured the same restrictions.
Danny Van Haute, director of the Jelly Belly Cycling presented by Kenda professional men’s team, said the decision to prohibit time trial bikes will level the playing field. “Not everyone can buy time trial equipment and if the pro teams have this equipment, it’s not fair to the riders who don’t,” he said. “I’ll bet the results will be the same with time trial bikes as they would be without.”
Team Vera Bradley Foundation Director Lisa Hunt said it is disappointing for her team’s bicycle sponsor not to be able to showcase its time trial bikes. “However, in the interest of being fair and equitable for all parties involved, I support the decision,” she said. “Clearly, our strongest time trial riders will be strong on a road bike or a time trial bike. So it's not like we are at a disadvantage.”
LaPorte said he will poll all women’s and men’s teams after the race – as he has done in previous years – to get an idea of whether the new rule should be retained for 2011.