(Reply to article 'Are UK XCO courses lacking Bite?' - Maxine Filby)

An interesting and thought provoking article, and in that vein I felt it worthwhile penning a reply from a promoters perspective.
Firstly, I think it worth saying that broadly speaking I agree with the arguments made. However, having said that I also think it's just not that simple...make courses harder and super skilled and tough riders will magically appear and we will then sweep all before us.

Given that we are the folks who have promoted most events at the Hadleigh Park venue we are uniquely placed to comment on the technical issue. So lets start by saying that Hadleigh Park is the home of our biggest ever field for a regional race, and its also the place where field sizes have been dropping at every subsequent round we have put on there. The reality is first time out everyone wanted to have a go, and then having done so many are now of the "I have to go to work on Monday" persuasion, and the reality is that it scares them.

So there you have it in a nutshell. If I put on events that only 10% of riders can ride fully, then I am going to severely limit my revenue. I know this opens me up to 'money grubbing b@&£@&' accusations, but it's just not like that. The reality is that I make next to nothing out of Elite riders. What pays the bills are the great masses of people who show up to have a go with no real expectation other than camaraderie, a good work out and a healthy dose of fun. Scaring the crap out of people or alternatively belittling them by putting out a course they can't ride just simply does not cut it.

At MSG we have been very aware of the painfully low skills bar in our region, and have in fact spent a lot of time raising it gently by increments to a point where now there is an expectation of a gnarl or two, and genuine disappointment when we don't deliver them.

This principle goes further, the consistent move to merge the boundaries of downhill and XCO that is going on at UCI level is driving the sport inexorably to an elite exclusiveness that will actually be its death knell in my view. It does not take a genius to figure out that if the qualifying criteria for an XCO event is a bloody great mountain we will effectively exclude vast tracts of the world's population from competing. It will consign XCO to the competitive backwaters of world sport as occupied by winter sports, where a huge proportion of the world neither have an interest or the opportunity to take part simply due to geography.

In my view this would be a massive own goal.

So what to do about it???

Well, personally, I'd drop the moniker MTB and pick up an equivalent to the French designation of VTT ...... Velo Tout Terrain. Yes... all terrain cycling!! If you look at the rules you will see that that is what is says...MTB courses should contain an assortment of surfaces and terrain. Not that a course should be as gnarly as hell and exclude the majority from participating.

Having dealt with that little issue, I would then be seeking to organise proper regional race series throughout the country. It can be done, we have proved it by turning the Eastern region from sleepy hollow and MTB backwater, into the most vibrant MTB region in the UK with more events than you can shake a stick at.

Personally I would also do away with the current pointless categories which are neither one thing or another. So post Youth level, have a road style category system with promotion and relegation on the basis of top third go up, middle third stay put and bottom third go down. Effectively making every rider active and pushing for something throughout the season; as opposed to now where it's all pretty meaningless for most. After that I would also be seeking to categorise courses on the basis of the tougher course will earn you more points. That is the way to increase skills; create an environment where people want to ride the more technical courses because there is a quantifiable benefit for them to do that.The rest will follow from there.

I would also want to have a national round as an integral part of every regional series instead of the current system which is to say the least pretty uninspiring. Probably doing away with Regional championships at the same time.

In my view in this general direction lies success. Trying to make the sport exclusive just will not cut it. That's what we've got now and, as Maxine rightly says, it's not good enough. So what we at MSG are saying is that sport is a pyramid, if you don't keep maintaining the foundations the pinnacle is unsupported and certainly will not rise to the heights that are perfectly achievable and our rightful place of residence. So let's be pushing up from the bottom, not down from the top.

Graham Elliot - Mud, Sweat and Gears