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

by 15

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?

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.

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.

Chipps

Singletrack Editor

Chipps wasn’t around for the dawn of mountain biking in the UK, but he likes to claim that he arrived in time for second breakfast (about the time he shows up for work, then…) starting in the bike trade in 1990 and becoming a full time mountain bike journalist at the start of 1994. Over the subsequent quarter century, he has seen mountain bike culture flourish and diversify and bike technology go from rigid steel frames to fully suspended carbon fibre (and sometimes back to rigid steel as well.)

His riding style is best described as ‘medium, wheels on the ground, trail riding’ though he’s been spotted doing everything from endurance downhill racing to 24 hour cross country racing. He favours mid-travel trail bikes and claims to be wheel-size, gear, brake and tyre agnostic. In fact, his garage spans most bicycle flavours, taking in steel hardtails, carbon trail bikes, even a mountain bike tandem, along with road, touring and gravel/cyclocross bikes.

While he’s happy to chat about bikes all day, his real interest is in the people and places that bikes can introduce you to and he talks as fondly about the trails he’s ridden and riders he’s met as the bikes that took him there.

Comments (15)

    Ouch. A worrying set of thoughts. Sadly, it confirms my thoughts that BC exist not to serve the sport(s) many love and participate, but to perpetuate jobs, complexity and historically held views….

    And their proposals to ban U13s from competitive racing smacks more of funding stream issues rather than welfare ones. Their pitiful attempt at demonstrating their position is a disgrace to an organisation that receives so much funding through it’s members and Sports England. BC don’t want to support disciplines that aren’t track or road pathways. I used to admire them but the closer you look the more incompetence comes to the surface.

    Anyone read Nicole Cookes autobiography? Seems like bc are still up to there old tricks

    My wife raced at the mtb worlds a couple of times – way before performance plans etc. Back in 1995 (the year before the first mtbs at Olympics) it was a bit underfunded and shambolic, but they had at least 4 riders racing in each category. And one thing I remember clearly – riders were told that whatever happened they had to FINISH as it affected quotas the following year.

    And I guess watching 170 riders was a bit more interesting for the spectators than the 55 that raced this year……..

    From what i’ve garnered from our local ex pro (scotland rider – commonwealth games) the BC cycling selection process and the overseers of the BC organisation are basically just a bunch of ****-wits with absolutely no idea of what to do with the XC squad, if you are not road/track then they are not interested.

    That’s why i’m a CTC member instead of BC.

    oops…sorry, i thought it would ****** it out.

    It was the hyphen. Profanity checker respects your punctuation.

    Word fixed, though the sentiment remains 😉

    My nephew is on the BC regional development scheme, and as such gets invited to do training/skills sessions. He went on one at Hadleigh in June and they spent 2 hours on the start / finish line doing the same short burst starts. (pretty boring for anyone, let alone a group of 15 year olds) He declined the next session and chose instead to ride the course whilst the other poor kids had another 2 hour start/finish line session. It needs to be fun at that age, and if it is, the desire to do more and improve will naturally follow. If it’s not, we will turn away future talent and they’ll look to other sports.

    @mattb74 I’ve done a fair few of those over the years, and while they were boring, they did teach me some pretty useful skills. It has to be said though that the Eastern/South east regional ones (presumably the ones that your nephew is on given that they were at Hadleigh?) are particularly bad. From what I’ve seen, the Scottish/Welsh/Northern ones have a lot more actual riding in, and less of doing a 10m loop hopping over a bit of plank countless times.

    I tried searching the BC website for a MTB training programme and turned up absolutley nothing, told me everything I needed to know about their stance on XC.

    @padkinson Said nephew is regularly winning DH races in Youth class, so he needs no XC skills training, I think he could benefit from energy management and race tactics within a group, (so perhaps road racing would help a bit there) but he won’t learn much riding over a plank, more to the point it will wind eager kids up if they are at a decent venue and don’t venture beyond the start finish straight). This is from my brother who runs a youth MTB group:
    “Everything is geared towards getting kids on road bikes or the track. We have had BC come to our club and tell the kids that they should be riding more than one discipline and that they should all get road bikes. The rational is that they receive funding according to how many Olympic places they can secure, for MTB there is a max of 2 places up for grabs whereas there are teams on road and track. J was told straight that there was no development funding available for DH from BC as it is a non Olympic discipline”

    I think at grass roots it is very difficult for clubs to support and train kids in mtb. My wife briefly looked into it, but you had to do a lot of the basic level training courses first, so the few people that got to mtb coach level were ones that had tons of spare time and liked attending courses. Probably open to debate as to how many of those people actually have proper mtb skills to pass on……

    Our kids are in a club to make friends, feel part of a gang and gain some road race / bunch riding skills (which are all useful). Their mtb skills have come from 10 years riding with parents and far exceed anything their club could provide. This is probably the case in a lot of places – I think the only exception is if we lived somewhere like Peebles where the club route might offer more.

    XC is also a problematic discipline when BC try to apply their formulaic approach. There are so many variables and so few repeatable, measureable benchmarks to gauge progress. It is also massively physically demanding, so riders get burnt up all too easily.

    Careful with your comments muck about grassroots coaching – they are volunteers, usually pretty dedicated, and we have some brilliant MTb coaches. Some of whom are forumites.
    I do agree about the courses though – my UKCC l2 cycle coaching is the poorest course and assessment in 20 years of being outdoor instructor, apart from GNAS L2. When that is passed, you then have to leap more and more and more courses – and at present the changes in assessments for night riding mean there is no BC insurance…so out MTb leaders insure via CtC!

    Perhaps we need lots of MTB events so we can get more medals. Perhaps 1k rooty sprint, fastest chainless downhill. Or move to short course mtb lite so that the few spectators can enjoy the event – sorry that is already happening.

Leave a Reply