The Fundamentals – how we’re in danger of winning nothing in Rio 2016

by
September 29, 2015

Dan Jarvis has run mountain bike teams and commentated at more international mountain bike events (including Fort William and the London Olympics) than anyone else in the country. He loves mountain biking in the UK – which is why he has this warning message for British Cycling in the run-up to the next Olympics: Stop concentrating on podium finishes for long enough to make sure that we qualify, OK?

If you merely looked at the medal table from the recent UCI World Championships in Andorra, you could be forgiven for thinking that Britain is in a healthy position on the international scene. Surely that bodes well for Rio next year?
The application of science has been at the heart of the success of British Cycling over the last 17 years. So why are they so fundamentally bad at basic arithmetic when it comes to Olympic qualifying?
I ask because as the two year Olympic Qualification cycle is entering its final phase as we approach the May 2016 deadline, Britain is once again scrapping for a qualifying place amongst such XC powerhouses as Hungary, Greece and Israel. No disrespect intended to the riders from these countries but… really?

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How can we be so dominant in the DH discipline which, let’s be honest, is pretty much dealt with at arm’s length by British Cycling, and yet be struggling in XC?
Maybe that’s just it? The powers that be are trying to apply their logarithms to a sport that defies scientific compartmentalisation. There are just too many factors involved to be able to fit the otherwise successful BC template to XCO… punctures, weather, constantly changing tracks. Downhillers are free to do what riders do best – ride.

This being an Olympic discipline, we have to have BC performance planning involved, but they seem to have forgotten something of vital importance – first we have to qualify. This is where there appears to be a massive flaw. If there is a qualification strategy then it doesn’t appear to have been written by someone who understands how the UCI’s qualification system works.

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Essentially qualification depends upon the UCI ranking points scored by a nation’s top three riders over two year-long ‘windows’ running from May to May in 2014-15 and 2015-16.
British Cycling’s selectors decided not to take any Elite Men to the World Championships in Andorra. Their reasoning? There were no riders who were likely to put in a World Class Performance. For me this is the clearest example of the failure to understand how the qualification system works. The men’s ranking is decided by the aggregate score of the top three men. At the time of the World Championships, within the May 2015-16 period, the British number one was Grant Ferguson, pretty much the shoo-in for Rio in most people’s book. Restricted to riding the U23 race, Grant rode a brilliant race to take the Bronze medal and some much needed points. 2nd and 3rd ranked Phil Pearce and David Fletcher were ignored. Even if they had only lasted one lap before being caught by Nino Schurter et al they would have scored 5 points each… That’s 10 points more than Grant can score on his own.
Our only other U23 man, Iain Paton, has been racing an odd mix of criteriums, road and mountain bike. No insult intended to Iain, he is a talented rider, but his contribution, in terms of bolstering Olympic aspirations, could have been better managed. A mixed road/off-road programme indicates where BC’s plans for him lie. In terms of qualifying points, if he, alongside Pearce or Fletcher had been selected as part of a relay squad for GB we would have been competitive [nobody was selected and we didn’t race – Ed]. In terms of XCO racing Paton, Pearce and Fletcher will always be hindered by relatively low start numbers and the subsequent battle through back markers. In the relay they would have lined up against around 20 or so other riders. Having spoken to Pearce throughout the season I strongly believe he would have given his all to keep the GB team in the mix. Also the relay allows riders who might otherwise not be included in the ranking to contribute points to their nation’s total. Without a relay team however GB were again effectively surrendering points to all of the other nations in the race.

Annie Last did nearly all the work of getting us qualified for the last Olympic XC race

Annie Last remains the top scoring rider in the women’s rankings for GB, backed by Alice Barnes. The third highest scoring rider Sally Bigham was not selected for Andorra, opting instead to race the TransAlp stage race. Our other world class rider, Beth Crumpton has been dropped by British Cycling. An addition to the all too long list of riders that BC have failed to nurture. Last is still coming back from a potentially career-ending injury but is showing glimpses of the form that took her to 8th in London 2012. If truth be told, I feel the Worlds came a month too soon for Annie.
When you look at recent international success at World Cup level, Last, Ferguson, Barnes and Kenta Gallagher all benefitted from being placed with UCI trade teams. In fact all four have ridden under the colours of Olympic Champion Bart Brentjens. For me that is the way forward. In 2015 there were three UK registered UCI XC Trade Teams. Of these only one, Novus OMX had a British rider on their roster!
If riders from Great Britain make the start line at Rio 2016, I fear it will be just as much in spite of British Cycling as because of them.

Listen BC – we don’t need medals, we need riders to cheer for above all.