Despite the fact that more British riders than ever before are competing in cycling’s top races, Mark Cavendish looks likely to have the support of just two team mates in his attempt to win the World Road Race Championship in Australia in October following the news that the country has fallen to 14th place in the UCI World Rankings.
Last September, nine British riders started the event in Mendrisio, Switzerland, won by Australia’s Cadel Evans. Cavendish, who had pulled out of the Tour of Missouri earlier that month through illness, missed that race, which in any event was held on a course ill-suited to his abilities, and the top British finisher was Steve Cummings in 52nd place.
The disparity between the number of riders the country was able to field in 2009, and the three who appear likely to start this year is due to the subtleties of the UCI qualification process which, if our understanding is correct, means that Great Britain will qualify for Melbourne by virtue of its position on the UCI Europe Tour and not its place in the world rankings.
Under UCI rules, those countries ranked in the top ten of the world rankings – currently Spain, Italy, Belgium, Russia, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Germany from Europe, as well as Australia, USA and Kazakhstan in the latest standings, published yesterday – will be able to field nine riders from an initial squad of 14.
Those rankings are determined by the points accumulated by the top five riders from each country in the individual rankings, which are themselves based on their performances throughout the season in 26 events including the three Grand Tours, the Spring Classics, and other high-profile one-day and multi-stage races.
Last year, buoyed by Bradley Wiggins’ fourth place in the Tour de France and Mark Cavendish’s Milan-Sanremo win and stage victories in the Giro d’Italia, Great Britain qualified for Mendrisio as one of those ten countries.
Currently, however, with Wiggins failing to repeat his 2009 Tour de France success and Cavendish missing the chance to defend his Milan-Sanremo title through illness and also skipping the Giro this year, the country has slipped down to 14th place, 88 points behind Germany.
With just two races left before qualification for Melbourne is finalised – the Tour of Poland, currently taking place, and the Vattenfall Classic –it’s extremely unlikely that the gap will be bridged, especially with HTC-Columbia’s André Greipel scoring sprint points in Poland.
Instead, it seems almost certain that Great Britain’s qualification will depend on its standing on the UCI Europe Tour, where in the latest rankings, published on July 25th, the country lies 21st, based on points scored by riders such as Dean Downing of Rapha Condor Sharp, Chris Opie of Pendragon - Le Col - Colnago and Ian Bibby of Motorpoint-Marshalls Pasta in qualifying events.
Under the qualification rules for Melbourne, the top 16 countries on the UCI Europe Tour, excluding those that have secured their berth through appearing in the top ten of the world rankings – currently, Spain, Italy, Belgium, Russia, Luxembourg, Switzerland and Germany – qualify for the championships via that route.
Six of those 16 countries are eligible to name a squad of nine riders, six of whom would line up at the start, and the other ten can name five riders, with three starting. Based on the current rankings, France, The Netherlands, Slovenia, Poland, Ukraine and Denmark are in line to secure those six places, with Ireland, Norway and Great Britain figuring among the remaining ten.
Although the presence of just two team mates would put Cavendish at a disadvantage compared to many of his rivals, the Manx Missile demonstrated during the final stage of last month’s Tour de France that he’s lost none of the skills developed early in his career of jumping from one opponent’s wheel to another to get himself in position when he’s unable to rely on the support of his HTC-Columbia colleagues.
While you probably wouldn’t bet against Cavendish being able to repeat that feat should October’s race come down to a bunch sprint, perhaps the biggest threat to his hopes is what might happen if a break gets away at some point during the race, which may well result in the British rider having to rely on the teams of others who fancy their chances in a bunch sprint reining in the escapees.
Should Cavendish’s fellow HTC-Columbia rider André Greipel, with whom he had a very public spat earlier this year over their respective sprinting abilities, feature in the Germany squad for the race, that does open up the intriguing possibility of him playing an accidental, and possibly unwilling, role in the Manxman’s own bid for glory.
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