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GB slips out of UCI rankings Top 10 – risks Worlds & Olympic qualification issues

Meanwhile Gilbert consolidates individual top spot, while Leopard Trek take lead in team standings

Great Britain has slipped to 11th place in the latest UCI WorldTour Rankings and the country risks not being able to field a full complement of riders in this September’s UCI Road World Championships or the men’s road race in next year’s London Olympics. Leopard Trek top the team rankings for the first time. Meanwhile, Philippe Gilbert’s Ardennes hat-trick extends his lead at the top of the individual standings giving rise to speculation over his future.

It’s questionable, given a hilly course that saw most pure sprinters fall out of contention, whether Mark Cavendish would have contested the finish at last year’s World Championships in Geelong had Great Britain managed to qualify a full team. However, the prospect of having just two riders supporting him on what should be a much more suitable course for him this year in Copenhagen would represent a blow to the HTC-Highroad man’s rainbow jersey aspirations there.

In 2009, with Cavendish picking up stage wins at the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France and Bradley Wiggins finishing the latter race fourth overall, Great Britain was able to put out a team of nine riders in Mendrisio, Switzerland, where Cadel Evans won the rainbow jersey.

In order to qualify nine riders (from an initial squad of 14) for Copenhagen, Great Britain will need to occupy a top-ten place in the rankings at the cut-off date in August.

The ranking is based on the aggregate points gained by the top five riders in the individual rankings, and currently Team Sky’s Geraint Thomas, Ben Swift and Bradley Wiggins are the only British riders to have got off the mark. The performances of the Schleck brothers in the Ardennes Classics over the past week have seen Luxembourg jump from 26th to 10th in the rankings., edging out Great Britain.

In the event that Great Britain isn’t in the top ten of the WorldTour rankings at the cut-off date, then the number of riders will depend on its place in the UCI Europe Tour rankings, and therefore upon points accrued by riders from teams such as Rapha-Condor-Sharp, Motorpoint and Endura Racing.

Great Britain currently lies ninth in those standings, and would need to be in the top six to qualify six riders from an initial squad of nine for Copenhagen. The next ten countries can select three riders from a squad of five, the category Great Britain fell into last year.

The UCI WorldTour rankings will also have an impact on how many riders will race for Great Britain on home soil in the men’s road race at next year’s Olympics. Countries in the top ten as at 1 November 2011 will qualify five riders, while those ranked 11th to 15th will be able to enter four in the race.

Thereafter, in Great Britain’s case, it’s again down to the UCI Europe Tour rankings. A top-six place means three riders, while countries ranked 7th to 16th have two places.

With Cavendish due to compete in the Giro d’Italia, a race he missed last year, and Wiggins hopefully repeating the form he showed when taking third at Paris-Nice in the Tour de France, it’s hopefully too early to panic, but British Cycling will presumably be anxious that those and other riders can start racking up the points.

A hugely successful Spring Classics campaign has seen Belgium extend its lead at the top of the national rankings; only four other countries have amassed more points than Philippe Gilbert alone, but victories from Tom Boonen in Gent-Wevelgem, Nick Nuyens at the Tour of Flanders and Johan Van Summeren in Paris-Roubaix have all boosted the total. Australia remains second, with Spain leapfrogs Italy into third place.

Those points accrued by the Schleck brothers plus other members of the Leopard Trek squad have also seen the Luxembourg-based outfit hit the top of the team rankings just three months into its debut season. RadioShack drop to second, while Gilbert’s efforts see Omega Pharma-Lotto jump from eighth to third.

Leopard Trek general manager Bryan Nygaard commented: “This is really great news for the team and solid proof to us that we’ve been up there in all the big races. That’s what we set out to do and in spite of missing out on that elusive Classics win, we can be happy with our Spring.

Although the team has missed out on a Classics win this time round, Fabian Cancellara, Daniele Bennati and the Schleck brothers were together responsible for six podium positions during the campaign, and Frank Schleck, Cancellara, Bennati and Dominic Klemme have all recorded wins elsewhere.

“We can be content by how the team performed during the first important chapter of our maiden year and I know that our riders are hungry for more", continued Nygaard. "The Classics now make room for the stage races, and I’m convinced that we have a lot to look forward to. This first part of the season shows that we are on the right track, heading towards great things for Leopard Trek."

Gilbert’s performances unsurprisingly see him take over at the top of the individual rankings from Cancellara, although in some ways that reflects the fact that the Belgian has focused on the Ardennes and the Swiss rider on the earlier, cobbled Classics.

The big risers behind them include the Spaniards Samuel Sanchez and Joaquim Rodriguez, up respectively from 11th to 6th and 27th to 11th, while Team Sky’s Colombian rider Rigoberto Uran soars from 32nd to 13th.

With the future involvement of his team’s sponsors currently reportedly under discussion and his own contract up for renewal at the end of the current season, unsurprisingly speculation has already begun over Gilbert’s future, with La Gazzetta dello Sport saying that his Ardennes hat-trick could push his earning power up to €3 million a year.

Teams said to be interested in capturing the Belgian’s signature include Astana, with Alexander Vinokourov rumoured to be considering retiring and taking on a directeur sportif role at the end of this season, and, intriguingly, GreenEdge, the team currently being put together in Australia and which is expected to feature Matthew Lloyd, sacked by Gilbert’s Omega Pharma-Lotto team last week.

You can find the full current UCI WorldTour rankings here.

Simon joined as news editor in 2009 and is now the site’s community editor, acting as a link between the team producing the content and our readers. A law and languages graduate, published translator and former retail analyst, he has reported on issues as diverse as cycling-related court cases, anti-doping investigations, the latest developments in the bike industry and the sport’s biggest races. Now back in London full-time after 15 years living in Oxford and Cambridge, he loves cycling along the Thames but misses having his former riding buddy, Elodie the miniature schnauzer, in the basket in front of him.

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