Annie Last

What’s the Deal with MTB and the Olympics?

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If you’ve ever looked into qualifying criteria for the Olympics, you’ll likely agree that it’s a confusing affair. So what exactly goes into qualifying? What about when it comes to mountain biking? With the Olympics due to start on 21 July, we take a closer look at what’s happening, and who may be representing Great Britain in Tokyo.

Frazer Clacherty. Image Credit: British Cycling

There is still some speculation as to whether the games will go ahead, or indeed, if they should. Compared to the UK, there have been fewer Covid related deaths in Japan. However, their vaccine rollout has been slower, potentially leaving the country vulnerable to new outbreaks. There have been several public polls in Japan, with the majority of respondents voting in favour of cancellation. There’s also a possibility that the current state of emergency in Tokyo will be extended past 31 May. However, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) have said the Olympics will go ahead despite the circumstances. In a recent news release, they confirmed that, “it has become clearer than ever that these Games will be safe for everyone participating and the Japanese people.”

On 24 May, the Japanese Ministry of Health, Labour and Welfare reported that there are 718,864 people infected with the coronavirus. Travel into Japan will only be permitted in exceptional circumstances. There are currently 159 countries on the list that will be denied entry. It’s been confirmed that International visitors are not allowed to travel to spectate at the games (this includes both the Olympics and Paralympics). All visitors need to apply for a visa, provide two negative tests before arrival, and quarantine for 14 days. 

Evie Richards
Evie Richards performs at UCI XCO in Nove Mesto. Photo: Red Bull Content Pool.

How the rankings work

The top two ranked nations get three places each, rankings three to seven get two places each. Then nations ranked eight to twenty-one get one place. In terms of how you rank, there are two separate qualifying years. Your top three highest-ranked riders’ rankings combine points that add up for your nation’s ranking.

Simon Watts, Lead coach for British Cycling’s XC riders

The ranking years for the Tokyo Olympics were May 2018 to May 2019, which ran as normal, but the second year was cut short. It was due to run between May 2019 to May 2020. When Covid struck, the UCI made the decision to freeze the Olympic qualification structure. On 3 March 2020, rankings were frozen to relieve pressure on athletes to travel during the early days of the pandemic. Following this, the Olympics were also postponed, leaving the UCI to decide how to proceed with rankings. Once the new Olympic date was announced, the UCI marked the way forward.

Women’s rankings

In the first year, our highest-ranked female riders were Annie Last, Isla Short and Kerry MacPhee. During year two, Annie Last, Isla Short and Evie Richards were the top three. In May 2018, GB were in a great position, ranked 5th thanks to great results in the Commonwealth Games and World Cup events. Unfortunately, towards the end of the qualifying year, both Annie and Evie were out. Annie with concussion, and Evie with a knee injury. We finished up year one in around 14th.

Annie Last
Annie Last in Nove Mesto 2021. Photo: British Cycling

In early 2020 GB were steadily moving back up the rankings and roughly 140 points behind Germany in 7th place before Covid led to the freeze on the Olympic qualification structure.

The revised qualification process meant that the first two XC World Cup rounds of 2021 counted towards Olympic rankings. Both Albstadt and Nove Mesto were the last chance for riders to gain points for their nation. As a result, our female riders ranked just behind Germany, closing the gap from 137 points to 29, finishing 8th.

Men’s rankings

In the men’s, things are a little more confusing, there are three riders on the shortlist and only one spot. Tom Pidcock had incredible results in both World Cup rounds but prior to this, he was racing road. Although Tom raced mountain bikes as a youth, his commitments to road racing and his team mean despite wanting to, he wasn’t able to compete in XC until recently. 

Tom Pidcock
Tom Pidcock in Nove Mesto. Photo: Red Bull Content Pool.

“Looking at section D4* as a sort of back up for gaining a spot if you’re outside of qualifying, the two highest-ranked performances from non-qualified nations at the 2019 World Championships in the elite and U23 race also sweep up a few places.” 

Simon Watts, Lead coach for British Cycling’s XC riders

*The rules for qualifying aren’t the simplest, but can be found here. 

In the men’s Olympic rankings we finished outside of the top 21, not gaining a place. It was Frazer Clacherty’s performance at the 2019 World Championships in Mont-Sainte-Anne where he placed 14th that helped the rankings and enabled us to gain a male position at the Games. In short, this could be Tom Pidcock’s ticket to the Olympics.

Round-Up: Highlights from Nove Mesto UCI XC World Cup 2021

Round-Up: Highlights from Albstadt UCI XC World Cup 2021

Who will be selected?

This time around we have two spots, one for a male rider and one for a female rider. Britain narrowly missed out on a second spot for the women by 29 points. Unlike a World Cup, there are only 38 places in an Olympic XC race. Simon Watts explained that selection is ongoing, but we should find out who will be representing Great Britain on 15 June.



Annie Last
Evie Richards
Isla Short


Tom Pidcock
Cameron Orr
Frazer Clacherty

No matter what happens, and who is selected, the future is looking bright for XC. There’s been some incredible racing already this year. Plus, looking forward we have the 2022 Commonwealth Games in Birmingham and the UCI World Championships in Glasgow in 2023. Simon hopes this is the start of an exciting few years for XC mountain biking, and with some of the highest viewing figures on Red Bull, it certainly looks like it will be.

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Comments (4)

    Olympics with 159 countries denied entry. That reminds me of the time I won a race because no one else turned up.

    Thanks for writing this Lauren – I was wondering what the status was after watching the Nové Město race.
    I guess even though there is a general exclusion of 159 countries, there will be Olympic exceptions (with strict protocol) should it go ahead.

    Hey Alex, there will indeed. Most of the time the team will be confined to accommodation and unable to go anywhere outside of when they are practising or competing.

    Ditto that , thanks Lauren and Simon for the explainer, much clearer.

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