Cycling Enjoys Unprecedented Participation, With New Disciplines Planned | Sports Destination Management

Cycling Enjoys Unprecedented Participation, With New Disciplines Planned

Oct 08, 2021 | By: Michael Popke
Gravel racing is experiencing unprecedented growth, so much so that it is being added to the UCI calendar as its own discipline. Photo © Chelsdo |

SDM recently reported that golf participation is sky high; it’s a near-perfect sport: easy to take up, socially distanced and involving physical activity and outdoor competition. Which is why nobody should be surprised that cycling, which shares many of those same attributes, is enjoying record levels of attention, too.

Last month, USA Cycling announced record participation in national championship events, including mountain biking and pro road racing. Registration for mountain biking nationals was up nearly 11 percent over 2019, with a significant number of participants in its first high school festival (held over the summer in Winter Park, Colorado). The number of junior athletes participating in racing and events is ahead of 2019, too, and overall USA Cycling membership is set to exceed 2019 numbers by more than 25 percent.

“We set out to truly champion cycling among youth this year,” USA Cycling president and CEO Rob DeMartini said in a statement. “It is clear that it is working. Events and programs like what we held at mountain bike nationals are helping to engage and include youth riders, setting them up to be cyclists for life.”

As part of its commitment to develop programs, USA Cycling’s inaugural Let’s Ride program with Free Bikes 4 Kidz and Wish 4 Wheels has donated over 600 bikes to kids. The Let’s Ride program also matches coaches and kids for skills camps on its website.

Another factor likely to influence cycling’s growth moving forward is the creation of a new discipline joining the Union Cycliste Internationale calendar next year: gravel. The discipline combines elements of road and mountain biking and takes place primarily on gravel, forest tracks, farm roads and other unsealed surfaces, notes,adding that races in the international governing body’s new Gravel World Series will be mass participation events. And participants in the new series will have the opportunity to qualify for the UCI Gravel World Championships.

Gravel riding already is kicking up some dust in the United States. “Part of why it’s become extremely popular is because you don’t have to worry about getting run over,” Deanna Duke, a gravel rider from Roslyn, Washington, recently told The Seattle Times. “ You don’t have to worry about cars or traffic, just wild animals.”

She added that the inclusive nature of gravel riding, compared to road cycling or mountain biking, also attracts her to the sport. “There’s just not that same level of intimidation factor with the technical skills or gear,” Duke said. “It’s a much more open and friendly culture.”

Some communities are going all in, hosting gravel rides like the Nepomuk Narly in Pisek, North Dakota, on October 2. The event featured two major divisions (a 50-mile Gold gravel loop and a 25-mile Silver gravel loop), plus several smaller ones.

“All of these gravel races are popping up in small towns,” Simon Murphy of the Grand Forks Ski and Bike Shop told the Grand Forks Herald, adding that he participated in the Unbound Gravel race over the summer in Emporia, Kansas, a small town in a region of the state known as the Flint Hills. “That event brings in 10,000 cyclists in one weekend in June, and all of these ex-world tour, pro athletes come and race, put themselves through a bunch of pain and have fun.”

Indeed, organizers of Gravel Unbound call their event — which takes places over four days, includes five races and features a “gravel expo” with more than 100 vendors — “the world’s greatest gravel event.”

UCI’s upcoming Gravel World Series is part of the organization’s new emphasis on off-road racing, which also includes plans to introduce a cyclocross team relay during the 2022 World Championships in Fayetteville, Arkansas, in January, according to adds that it is considered a “test event” and will be evaluated to determine if the team relay will be part of future UCI Cyclocross World Championships. A UCI Snow Bike World Cup and World Championships for the 2022-23 winter season also are reportedly in the discussion phase.

“Every day when I wake up, I want to find some new ideas,” David Lappartient, who in September was re-elected to a second termas president of UCI, said after his re-election. “Our goal here is to enlarge cycling, to bring dreams to young riders and kids, to give the opportunity to see some wonderful events worldwide for all the disciplines across the five continents. This sport is not coming from nowhere. We have a very strong history and solid routes, more specifically on the track and road, but with the new disciplines coming in we have so many opportunities. Cycling is becoming a real big sport worldwide.”

Local rides are also doing well; the recent Cycle North Carolina Mountains to Coast Ride enjoyed participation from more than 750 riders who hailed not from just North Carolina but from 41 other states, as well as from Costa Rica and the U.K.

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