Just what is British Cycling doing with MTB?

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By Dan Jarvis


Last year Singletrack asked me to jot down my thoughts from the Vallnord World Championships, with an eye on the Rio Olympics. I think it was pretty evident that British Cycling and I have rather different views on qualification for Rio 2016…

I voiced my concerns at the time of the World Championships, questioning whether British Cycling actually understood the qualifying process. I was amused to see an interview on Sport Style Fashion’s YouTube Channel where BC’s Head Coach Ian Dyer said the team were “on a points gaining mission to make sure we qualify our places at the Olympics next year in the men and women’s cross-country”. How do you do that without any senior men and only two senior women?

Can’t see the video? Click here.

We’re behind such superpowers as Portugal, Israel and Hungary and only a handful of points ahead of Greece.

So how has the situation developed since Vallnord? You may recall that Phil Pearce, reigning National Series Champion and Silver medallist at the 2015 British Championships, was not selected for Vallnord. I’m sure many people were as pleased for Phil as I was when we heard that British Cycling were taking him to compete at the Rio test event, his first outing in GB colours. The trouble is though, I am a cynical old git – and after my delight had ebbed a little I had to ask – why? What was the point in taking him to ride in Rio when he had previously been deemed not good enough to race at the Worlds by the GB Team Management? As it turned out, Phil held his own against full-time pro riders in Rio but with no meaningful ranking points available all the trip really did was give him some more international experience.

Rio 2016’s course looks to be a blast – but will we field any competitors? Photo: Paulo Mumia/ Rio 2016

In terms of men’s qualifying it’s been a while since the UCI updated the Qualification Rankings but at the last count GB sat in 23rd place, the last automatic qualification spot. We’re behind such superpowers as Portugal, Israel and Hungary and only a handful of points ahead of Greece. Taking the various permutations of the UCI’s qualification process into account we should be able to get a single male rider to Rio… but only just.

The view of the women’s side of qualifying is far less rosy. Crazy when you consider Annie Last finished 8th in London, around 100 seconds off a medal finish. Annie has won World Championship medals, and is the only woman since Caroline Alexander to score an XC World Cup podium finish. In the reduced, skewed field at the Olympics she is a potential medallist. So why aren’t British Cycling working to get her there? Is it because mountain biking just isn’t something that British Cycling are really interested in?

Annie Last
Annie Last now rides for Novus-OMX

Annie is no longer on the GB Plan, arguably a beneficial move for her. This year she has signed for Novus-OMX, the Essex-based team that has shown British Cycling how to take on international competition. As things stand, the team will have at least two of its six rider line-up racing in Rio in the form of Israeli Champion Shlomi Haimy and one of the South African duo of Mariske Strauss and Cherie Vale.

They’ve done this by targeting races for UCI points. Annie has already banked valuable points with a big win in South Africa but it looks like she might have to do most of the points chasing on her own. The fact that Evie Richards and Alice Barnes, two of our brightest young stars are racing early season road races rather than supporting Annie in a late push for points seems to bear out these concerns. In the women’s rankings, Great Britain were sitting in 20th place, more than 400 points behind the Netherlands who occupy the final automatic slot.

There is a chance that, due to Brazil’s pre-qualification, the task might be slightly easier, but we may be having to hope for nations who finish above us in the rankings not taking up their spots. Frankly, I believe that British Cycling owes mountain biking more than that.

Comments (1)

    Good article, great to see such a critique of the situation on these pages. Love to see it more often!

    I don’t have experience of the Olympic qualification points system but I do have experience of sniffing out where priorities lie for an organisation. You could infer from Iain’s comments that BC’s Key Objectives place the long Rio game as a lower priority than the short game of top placings, which is why you are getting seemingly odd selections. He also seems to have a slight issue remembering who the riders are which is telling.

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