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Masters can race Shivs, USA Cycling says. But no one else can.

U.S. masters racers who plunked down big bucks for Specialized Shivs just like Alberto Contador's won't have to sell them this year. USA Cycling announced Tuesday that it will follow the UCIs lead and enforce rules barring some frame shapes for any racing bearing UCI points or qualification potential — except for masters competition.

Now young bucks will have an excuse when a masters racer blows by them in a time trial: masters in the U.S. are now exempt from two key UCI aero bike rules, the same rules that kept Alberto Contador from using a Specialized Shiv at the Tour of Algarve in Portugal last month.

USA Cycling announced Tuesday that it will follow the UCI’s lead and enforce rules barring some frame shapes for any racing bearing UCI points or qualification potential — except for masters competition.

The so-called “3:1 aspect ratio” rule has been on the books for several years, but became a hot topic at the 2009 Tour of California when the UCI indicated it might start strictly enforcing it. USA Cycling’s technical director Shawn Farrell said that last year he and his staff fielded a number of inquiries USA Cycling’s stance on the rule in domestic competition.

“We began getting calls from our members and even from the industry wanting to know what our take was on some of these interpretations of UCI rules and what we were going to do about that,” he said. Farrell said that even local bike shops were fielding phone calls about the legality of one bike versus another.

Farrell said the USAC decided to follow the UCI’s lead on the interpretation of that rule for elite and junior competition, UCI races, elite and junior national championships, National Racing Calendar events, and any selection races for international competition.

On the other hand, for masters competition, including the national championships, the same rules applied in 2009 will apply for 2010, with specific exclusion of strict application of UCI rule 1.3.020 (8 cm height rule) and UCI rule 1.3.024 (3:1 aspect ratio).

“A bicycle that was legal in 2009 is legal in 2010. All other UCI bicycle rules (weight, wheel type, rider position) will remain in effect as they were in 2009,” a UCI statement read in part.

“The reason we pulled the masters out for this year anyway is partially to see what the evolution is going to be at the UCI level,” said Farrell. “And also just because with masters (racing) is not qualification for anything. A lot of our masters go to masters’ worlds, but none of our races are qualifications for that process,” he explained.

“Because masters are quickly approaching 80 percent of our membership, and they were asking the question, ‘what are you guys really going to do at nationals?’” Farrell said the decision was made within USA Cycling to exclude their bikes from certain elements of the increasingly restrictive UCI technical regulations.

“The real desire in the background was to essentially have bicycles that were legal last year still be legal, and looking at how to do that we decided that the best way is at least for this year to pretty much say that,” said Farrell.

In conversations with riders and manufacturers, Farrell said, “the main thing we got was that they just want the answer. They wanted it soon. We’re in the racing season now.

“Every time there’s a major international race like the one that just led to the questions about the Specialized Shiv and Transition, then that question comes up again,” he added.

In justifying the rule clarification, Farrell said, “What we feel is that the masters is such a huge group, but at the same time it’s not the same as a professional team. A professional team has the resources to go buy new bikes if they have to. Whereas if we suddenly said, ‘oh yeah, all you guys with this particular bicycle that you used last year, guess what? It’s no good anymore,’ that’s an awful lot of riders that suddenly have to buy new equipment,” said Farrell. “We didn’t feel that was in the best interest of our masters population,” he concluded.

On the other hand, for many aspiring professional cyclists in the USA, USA Cycling doesn’t have the option to pick and choose which technical regulations to enforce. “We don’t have a lot of choice when it comes to elite racing,” said Farrell. “If the race is going to score UCI points, select riders for UCI worlds, it’s got to be whatever interpretation the UCI is doing at the time. It’s why we had to put in the article that we’re going to have to follow the UCI rules to the letter for those races,” he pointed out.

“Right now we needed to get the information out pretty quickly so that riders who are planning to do masters road or masters track nationals will have an idea of whether they can continue to use the bikes they used last year,” concluded Farrell.