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UCI scraps the junior gear restriction, relaxes TT position rules

Rule changes open up gearing options, and problems, for junior riders alongside a host of TT position changes that may or may not apply.

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Commissaries and juniors alike are rejoicing in the streets tonight with news that the UCI plans to scrap its arcane junior gear restrictions. Calls for “no more roll outs” and “12 speed for all” have finally been answered as new medical evidence has emerged suggesting the 53×11 gear ratio does not cause 17 and 18-year-old knee caps to self-destruct or implode.

UCI regulation 2.2.023 currently states: “During men junior and women junior events, the maximum gear ratio authorised is that which gives a distance covered per pedal revolution of 7.93 metres.” For most Juniors that has always meant a 52 chainring up front paired to a 14 sprocket on the rear. However, riders in the recent Junior Paris-Roubaix are known to have reduced the gear ratio in order to fit much larger tyres for the Hell of the North.

Mash whatever gear you want kids.

It’s believed the gear restriction was first introduced to protect under-18 rider’s knees, presumably deemed too fragile and under-developed to sustain the forces possible with a bigger 53×11 or similar-sized gear ratio.

I have heard others suggest the rule was introduced in a bid to reduce junior race speeds, presumably because under-18 brains were deemed too immature to travel in excess of 51 kph.

Both explanations seem equally weak given said juniors could still pedal at 50 rpm on the steepest climbs in their smallest gear or freewheeling in any gear at their highest speeds racing downhill.

Regardless of the original motivation, it seems modern trends and a complete lack of availability of “junior blocks” forced the rule change, quietly published on the UCI website today.

Just finding an 11-speed cassette with a 14-tooth smallest sprocket was already tough, but finding a 12-speed version is seemingly impossible. Furthermore, with the three big manufacturers now all on 12 speed for the top two tiers of their groupset offerings and almost zero backwards compatibility, just finding a setup legal for junior racing was becoming increasingly problematic.

The abolition of the gear restrictions means finding a junior cassette is no longer an issue. From January 1 next year, juniors are just like the rest of us, unable to find or afford a 12-speed cassette anywhere.

David Lappartient’s explanation on the motivation for the rule change in his newsletter emailed to national federations today.

New time trial position changes

Other rules updated today include those which govern time trial positions, and it seems the UCI has listened to the concerns of riders. The UCI has updated the old wording dictating “the distance between the vertical line passing through the bottom bracket axle and the extremity of the handlebar may not exceed 75 cm”, both increasing and further complicating the rule in one swoop.

Previously, the UCI had an oversimplified 190cm height threshold, with riders measuring less than 190cm restricted to the 75 cm limit, and riders above this magic number were permitted to apply for a morphological exception to increase the extensions to 80cm. The rule unfairly punished riders the closer they got to the 190cm threshold without passing it and rumours suggest the rule was abused by many close to, but not quite 190cm tall.

Now the UCI has, to its credit, created three height brackets, below 180cm, 180-190cm, and above 190cm. All three categories will enjoy a full 80 cm of extension from bottom bracket to handlebar extremity, with the 180-190 cm bracket getting a further 3cm to play with and the tallest riders above 190cm permitted to extend all the way out to 85 cm.

Furthermore, the new rules now set distinct maximum height difference limits from the centre of the forearm support to the highest or lowest point of the aero extensions for each height category. The sub-180 cm category sticks with the current 10cm height difference limit, while the 180-190 category can now up that to 12 cm. The tallest riders get14 cm of height difference.

Get it? Got it? Good.

Interestingly, the UCI now removed “elbow rest” from its regulations replacing it with the phrase “forearm support” throughout, presumably to better reflect where most riders now rest their arms. It’s an interesting change if only because the old wording could easily have outlawed many time trial positions and aero extensions over the past few seasons had the UCI decided to rigidly stick to the wording of the regulations.

These updates are likely to be well received by most riders as everyone gets a bit more extension to play with. The rules now better reflect the vastly different-sized riders competing within the pro peloton. That said, anyone with an existing Hour Record might not be too happy at the extra flexibility in aero positions and riders in the 190+ cm category must still submit a rider height attestation application form available from the UCI website.

So far so good. But wait, there’s more.

None of these new rules applies unless the rider mentions their height to the commissaire at the pre-event bike check. The old 75 cm bottom bracket to handlebar extremity and 10 cm height difference from the forearm support to extension tip are now listed as “default horizontal distance” and “default vertical distance” measurements which will be applied by the commissaires conducting bike checks, unless informed otherwise.

A rider who considers that he needs to make use of a distance between 75 and 80 cm makes use of a rider height category exemption, must inform the commissaires’ panel at the time of the bike check. For clarity, the default distances mentioned above will be applied by the commissaires panel if the respective height category exemption is not communicated by the rider.

New UCI regulation overriding the other new UCI regulation, reimplementing the old UCI regulation unless the rider wants to use the less-new UCI regulation, in which case the rider must inform the commissaire they do not wish to adhere to the old UCI regulations and instead wish to adhere to the new but not the newst new UCI regulaiton. Cool cool.

As with the junior gearing rule, the new and new-old position rules come into effect as of January 1 2023.

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