The World Cup umbrella expands significantly this year. Enduro (EDR) and cross country marathon (XCM) racing join Olympic cross country (XCO), short track cross country (XCC) and downhill (DH) under the new, overarching UCI Mountain Bike World Series banner.
While all give disciplines, and E-EDR, are now World Cup events, they are clearly not all equal in the eyes of the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) or organizing partner, WarnerBros Discovery (WBD). That is clear in the coverage, where XCM and EDR get highlights packages instead of a full live broadcast. The newcomers also aren’t paid as much.
Looking at UCI’s list of 2023 Financial Obligations for mountain biking, and the recently-released EDR Rule Book there are clear divisions between the old guard and newcomers. At least when it comes to prize money.
Steep entry fees for 2023
Entry fees are equal across the board. Lining up to race a World Cup now costs €150 (except DH juniors, who pay €80). That’s nearly double what an XC or DH World Cup entry cost last year (€80 for elites, €40 for juniors).
While top athletes have these entry fees paid by teams, anyone racing as a privateer or through a national federation might not. For cross country racers, that can be up to €300 a weekend for racers that qualify for XCC and XCO events. Or €450, for weekends that include an XCM event. For Canadians, that’s a steep ask on top of steadily climbing international flight fares.
Team registration fees are also dramatically higher. UCI Elite MTB Teams pay between €11,000 and €23,000, depending on how many disciplines they race, compared to €3,500-€6,000 last year. UCI Teams, one tier down from Elite Teams, also see their fees doubled across the board to pay between €1,000 and €5,000.
While every racer pays the same entry fees, the prize money paid out to winners is far from equal.
For the series’ overall winners, it is mostly equal. Enduro and Marathon season champions get the same €10,000 already paid to the winners of the DH, XCO and XCC overall. For EDR-E, the electric enduro series, only €5,000 goes to the champion. The difference between legacy and newcomer events is in how deep the payout goes. Where the original three, XCO, DH and XCC, pay out 10-deep, EDR and XCM only pay the top five overall finishers (same as U23 XCO). EDR-E, only the top three.
The real discrepancies start at individual events. Each World Cup XCO and DH win is worth €3,750. For XCC, that drops to €1,750. An XC Marathon World Cup win is worth €1,500. Win a full, day-long enduro race? Your prize is still just €1,500. This was, originally, the same as winning an E-EDR (€1,000) but is updated in the latest EDR rulebook. It’s also just €250 more than a rider receives for finishing third in an XCO or DH World Cup (€1,250).
Under-23 XCO and DH junior racers get even less, though both categories are at least paid 10-deep. An u23 World Cup win is worth just €400, just over twice what it cost to enter the race. A junior downhill win is half that, just €200. A 10th-place finish is worth a paltry €30 or €20, in u23 XCO or junior DH, respectively. For both races, an athlete has to finish fourth or better to make their entry fee back.
The lines are drawn slightly differently at world championships. At the one-day event, XCO is the highest paying at €8,000. Downhill world championships are paid the same as XCC, XCM and, inexplicably, E-MTB (electric cross country) despite the latter, if we’re being honest, a bit of a joke. All get €5,000.
Age groups get less, though not necessarily along the lines you’d expect. Under-23 XCO world champions earn a €4,000 payday, junior XCO €2,000 and junior DH just €1,250.
Enduro does not yet have a single-day world championship event, which makes the minuscule payout for individual ERD events all the worse.
Why the differences?
So, why aren’t there equal prize payouts across all the new Mountain Bike World Series disciplines? It likely has something to do with tradition and perceived competitiveness. Enduro is a newer discipline, as is cross country short track. As a result, both are rewarded slightly less. Cross country marathon is not new, but it is new to World Cup racing, and is also paid less. The discrepancy between cross country and downhill at world championships is likely due to the fact that XC is an Olympic sport while downhill is not.
There is one area where mountain biking prize purses do stand out in a good way. All these cash awards are equal between men and women. No matter what World Cup you win, you’ll earn the same whether you’re winning the men’s or women’s race. That should be obvious in 2023 but it isn’t true in all sports or even all forms of cycling. Pro road racing, for instance, is still wildly unequal between men’s and women’s events, even at the WorldTour level (except road world championships, at which UCI finally moved to equal prizing in 2016). Where events do pay equal money to the men and women, it is often due to the initiative of the race organizer, as when Flanders Classics decided this year to reward its men’s and women’s winners equally for the Spring Classics it organizes.