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New cyclocross rules allow discs and more barriers, ban wider tires

The UCI updates its cyclocross rules to allow disc brakes, man-made sand pits, bottle hand-ups on hot days. But the organization is now drawing the line on tire width.

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Starting this fall, some ‘cross bikes will be stopping just a little bit quicker.

The UCI has changed its rules to now allow disc brakes, which the organization had banned in cyclocross in 2003. The disc ban was never adopted by USA Cycling, so it directly affected only a relatively small group of racers in UCI events. However, it seemed to have a trickle-down effect and discs have never become common in ‘cross races and in the ‘cross bike product lines.

The change is exciting to Stu Thorne, owner of and director and mechanic for the team.

“Technically, I think it would be kind of cool,” Thorne said. “I’d like to work with someone to make a tidy little hydraulic disc brake for ‘cross.”

Thorne said the weight penalty could be minor and the brakes could be an advantage in some conditions. The use of discs in cyclocross also could lead to the development of brakes that would have road bike applications.

The UCI also made a few other rule changes.

In contrast to the addition of disc brakes, which pushes ‘cross bikes closer to their mountain bike brethren, the UCI also decreased the maximum tire width from 35mm to 33mm, eliminating the popular 34mm size.

The UCI’s intention may have been to trim the cost of the sport by reducing the need to bring a quiver of tires and wheels to races (again, the rule has not been adopted by USA Cycling, so most amateur racers can still use the wider tires.)

Thorne is a little concerned that some tires might be too close to the limit.

“We (on the team) will have to be careful not to use tires that might exceed the limit at certain pressures or on certain rims. We don’t want an official on the start line with a go-no-go gauge to rule our tires illegal,” he said.

The UCI also made sweeping changes to cyclocross courses, allowing designers to include more obstacles than in the past. Language that formerly limited courses to only six obstacles has been revised to read “six man-made obstacles.” Rather than define the height of barriers at 40cm, the new rules simply state that barriers may not exceed 40cm. Rules also allow course designers to put more space between barriers than previously permitted. Man-made sand pits may be placed within the course as well.

Rule 5.1.023 now reads:

The course may include no more than six man made obstacles. Obstacle shall mean any part of the course which is likely to require riders to dismount.

The length of an obstacle may not exceed 80 metres and the height may not exceed 40 cm. The total length of obstacles may not exceed 10% of the course.

Non-natural sand pits should be minimum 40 metres, maximum 80 metres long and minimum 6 metres wide. The sand pit should be located on a straight section and requests a level entrance and exit.

On top of equipment and course changes, the UCI made changes directed at the riders themselves. A string of hot races in Europe last fall, and subsequent complaints from riders about the lack of feeding, inspired the UCI to legalize bottle hand-ups when the temperature is above 20 degrees Celsius (68 degrees Fahrenheit). Feeding will take place in the pit lane, though not during the first two or last two laps.

In addition, race officials may now invoke the “80% rule,” wherein riders more than 80% off the leader’s lap time may be pulled from the race. This will allow officials to pull riders before they are lapped, keeping them out of the way of those fighting for victory.

All of the new rules take effect in July.