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Page Q&A: UCI rule banning unsanctioned races ‘very negative’

U.S. cyclocross champion details his run-in with the UCI over race insurance and talks about racing for three more seasons

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Jonathan Page, the reigning U.S. national cyclocross champion and a veteran of European and American cycling, has told VeloNews that a controversial rule from the UCI, the sport’s global governing body, which recently had been enforced by USA Cycling, is one that could have significantly negative effects on his livelihood, his family, and his career.

UCI rule 1.2.019 states that all riders holding a UCI license are barred from competing in unsanctioned races — that is, most events falling outside the umbrella of the UCI and USA Cycling.

Like a number of riders who compete year-round in unsanctioned races across the country, Page said he counts on such races for a part of his income and for training and preparation. Race promoters often offer high-profile riders like Page a start fee just for toeing the line, as well as money to cover travel and accommodation, all of which are critical to Page who in recent years has not had a major sponsor.

On Thursday, the UCI said that it had decided to postpone enforcing the rule for 2013, but that it would “discuss and do what is necessary to prepare for the rule’s full enforcement in 2014.” USA Cycling quickly announced that it would follow suit.

Page, 36, is one of the most decorated cyclocross racers in American history. In January, he won his fourth elite national cyclocross title in Verona, Wisconsin. In early March, he returned from Europe with his family to their off-season home near Park City, Utah, after a full season racing at the sport’s highest level.

On Thursday, VeloNews caught up with Page to discuss his reaction to today’s statements from the UCI and USAC, and to talk about his plans for the end of his career.

VeloNews: What’s your opinion of USA Cycling’s enforcement of the UCI rule barring riders from unsanctioned races?
Jonathan Page: I just have a hard time thinking it’s anything but a money situation with USAC and a monopoly-type of deal. I hate to see anything take away from cycling. It’s already such a small community. For me personally, I would like to promote any type of activity in cycling. It’s been good to me for so long. I think in general it’s just kind of a crappy thing to do.

VN: Today the UCI and USAC announced that they were postponing strict enforcement of the rule for 2013, but would work to do what they needed to in order to enforce it fully in 2014. What do you think of their apparent about-face?
JP: I think it’s a wise idea. Making no friends, maybe they realized it would work better on their behalf and make it easier on the riders themselves. Keep the numbers up that are participating. They need to think of the whole picture before making rules that might hurt other people in the process.

VN: Do you remember a time when this rule was applied in the past, before all the recent talk of enforcement? A lot of riders had been doing unsanctioned races for a long time with no issues, until now.
JP: No, I can’t remember issues before this. I never really paid attention to it, to be honest. And in my situation, it could be very negative actually, because I’m not on a UCI ProTeam or Continental team or what have you, so whenever I can get any racing in, especially in the off-season, it would obviously be an easier thing to do.

I can do training races around here [in Utah] and different events to fill in the gaps. It makes it easier for me and my family because I don’t have to travel all over the place. It takes a lot of money to travel. It would only hurt my situation. I think it’s all just a waste of time, really.

VN: The UCI and USAC say that one of the main reasons they bar riders from competing in unsanctioned events is insurance — that is, unsanctioned events don’t have as robust insurance policies as they do.
JP: Well, that’s what’s ironic about this thing for me personally. Back in 2007, I was doing my warm-up laps before a World Cup race in Aigle, Switzerland, on the very grounds of the UCI headquarters. I was on my bike five minutes and went down and ripped my shoulder apart. I had to go directly to the hospital.

Turned out I’d ripped both major tendons from my bones on the shoulder, and I had to have surgery. Because I thought I had insurance somehow, some way through the UCI and USAC, I thought, “well, it’s worth a trip, so maybe I could get some help.” But when I asked — and I asked people high up in the UCI because they were all right there — they had no answer for me, and basically said, “no, we can’t really help you.”

VN: Did you file a claim?
JP: We tried to file but they wouldn’t accept it. We got shut down on both ends. They just kind of dismissed it, and I didn’t even know on what grounds. It was about $5,000 out of pocket for us, but that was actually cheap because I had the surgery in Belgium. If it was here in the States we’d be out of hundreds of thousands of dollars. It would be ridiculous. Thankfully, the surgery worked out fine, though I still feel it here and there, and it’s never going to be as strong as it used to be.

VN: Will you be racing during the off-season in 2013?
JP: Yeah, that’s the plan. This weekend I’m doing a race up in Canada called the P2A, or Paris to Ancaster. Apparently it’s a fancy race they got up there. It’s on a railroad bed or something, so you can do a ’cross bike or a mountain bike. I’m going to do a ’cross bike, because that’s what I have at the moment. The guy who runs the race is a cyclocross fan, so that’s why I’m doing it.

VN: So he’s paying you a start fee and covering your travel expenses?
JP: Yep.

VN: That would be an example of an unsanctioned race that you typically wouldn’t be able to do, at least in the eyes of the UCI and USAC? [The Paris to Ancaster race, or P2R, is sanctioned by the Canadian Cycling Association, the Ontario Cycling Association, and UCI. —Ed.]
JP: Typically, and what a bummer, because that’s another part of my income. And it’s also an important part of my training and preparation for other events. And I’m trying to get to more of them. My career only lasts so long, so the more I can earn money to race my bike, the more I’m going to try to do it.

VN: Especially while you’re wearing the stars-and-stripes jersey.
JP: It’s a helper, for sure.

VN: It’s helped attract news sponsors.
JP: [Laughs] You know, I won the national championships, but I’m still the guy who has really no major sponsor. At this point it’s funny. It’s coming together nicely recently, but it’s just funny. My wife and I have this woman who does our taxes, and she emailed us the other day asking, “Is this it, or am I missing something?” [Laughs] So that answers how much money we’ve made. We’ve been calling this past year the Poor Year. It worked out in the end, but there you go.

VN: So who’s supporting you going forward?
JP: Fuji Bikes will be sponsoring me for the next three years, for the rest of my career, basically. Shimano will be on board for shoes, components, and probably wheels. I’ll be wearing Lazer helmets and Spy Optic glasses, and I have a new clothing manufacture in Sommerville Sports. Then there’s Clif Bar, and Greg Nelson is a friend and a lawyer who also sponsors me, as well as the Fulcrum Group. I’m trying to sign everybody for the last three years of my career.

VN: You’ve talked about racing a full season in the U.S. Will that happen?
JP: It’ll probably be two more years in Europe, then I’d like to try to do the last year in America. That’s the plan right now anyway. That way my family will be in one place for the whole year round. Traveling and logistics are getting more difficult, with my kids getting older and school. Not to say they’re aren’t very adaptable, which they have been.