Every time a race series is announced, there is always comments about a lack of new venues or ‘why don’t you use X?’, but it’s not that simple.
With the odd exception like the World Cup or World Championships at Mont Saint Anne, which has featured in every World Cup season since the early 90s, there are always comments about a lack of new venues all the way down to regional level.
The reality is not that simple. There is an extensive list of requirements that every race venue needs to meet in order to even be considered for a race.
Starting from the bare minimum, you need a track that has been built with the landowner’s permission. If your track is underground, getting permission to run a race there will no doubt bring an end to that track when the landowner realises you’ve been building without the green light.
Then comes the track itself. Something that is great to ride might not work in a race. Too many fire road crossings might block the uplift or emergency vehicles’ access, to steep or tight might just make it awful to race on. A fully sold out race will have several hundred riders doing multiple runs. Expect your track to be unrecognisable after the first runs of practice.
The organisers at Lenzerheide proved that you can build a track from scratch with the right input. Nevis Range have proved that you can have a World Cup track run through a peat bog if it’s done right. Sometimes even with the best of everything, you can create something that doesn’t get universal approval, just look at Leogang.
Uplift then needs to be a consideration. If you’re pushing up a steep wood to get to the top of your track as the only way in, you can forget anything but a mate’s race. Strathyre was used as an SDA venue for years, being a steep, rooty delight, but the uplift was a meandering nightmare that really curtailed time on track. Gondola access to the track start is clearly the ideal scenario.
So you have your track wide, multi-line and the uplift works, but there’s nowhere to park anything more than six cars at a time. This is why ski resorts make up the lion’s share of World-level events as they have a massive car park that is empty through the summer. Even a regional race will attract several hundred vehicles.
For a regional event to work, you will probably want an uplift day there to make sure it runs and you can iron out any problems in time. A national will likely want a regional race to have been held there. For a World Cup, you will likely want to have had a UCI Cat 1 race like a National Downhill Series or an IXS Cup held on that tracl.
Even with a good track, uplift and parking, there still is plenty of work to do. Most of the venues that we race or watch people race have submitted a bid to a series organiser, a national or international body.
This is the crucial element to why we see the same venues year on year at the top level. Mont Saint Anne has submitted their bid every year since the first mountain bike World Cup. They want the race and they bid for it. The same goes for the National Downhill Series and bids in this case have to be submitted by June the year prior to the event taking place.
Bidding also costs hard-earned cash. For a single World Cup or two World Cups and a World Championships, the two options available, you’re looking at a lump sum of somewhere between £25,000 and £35,000. That is simply the fee for holding the World Cup. Everything else is on top.
Fort William is the second longest running venue without interruptions, but again, Rare Management have bid every year since 2002 for the World Cup to come to Scotland. What many people don’t realise is that the first Fort William World Cup happened by sheer circumstance. Arai Mountain dropped out just months before their event, and Rare Management, who had their bid rejected in November of 2001, were asked if they could step up in time. Read that full story with Rare’s Mike Jardine here.
There is the perennial discussion about why Leogang gets a World Cup every year when Schladming is ‘just around the corner’. The reality? Schladming dropped out of bidding for the World Cup in advance of it bidding for a World Championship ski event. Ski events require a bid too, and that money has to come from somewhere. Building bike features on the piste was one part of the argument against the World Cup downhill returning as it would affect the skiing competition.
Skiing will, no doubt, bring in reams more money than mountain biking ever will. 24% of skiers in the UK spend between £750 and £1000 per trip and ~20% between £500 and £750, while the 122,000 mountain bikers that came to Scotland last year spent on average £355 per trip.
The bid pricing structure is heavily slanted towards the three race option and we can understand why. What governing body would want a raft of new single event races when they can invest the time and energy into gradual improvements to that venue over the next three years?