AusCycling have just laid out the selection criteria for the 2021 MTB World Championships. But many won't make the cut, with nothing to do with performance.
On May 18 2021, AusCycling announced the selection criteria for the 2021 Mountain Bike World Championships, which will take place in Val do Sole in late August 2021.
In 2020, the World Championships ran as a combined event at Leogang, Austria, amidst a greatly reduced World Cup season. Now in 2021, the World Cup is underway, with the first and second rounds of the XCO races already having run. There's face masks, no crowds, and excellent racing. It's clear that much of the world is working to operate within a new set of rules.
Here in Australia, we're lucky to currently have minimal restrictions on movement, especially when it comes to sport. But there are some parts of the selection criteria that have left many top mountain bikers baffled. In short - no national team will be sent to Val di Sole for the World Championships. However, riders who are on a UCI MTB Team can apply for individual participation. This would be similar to riders at the Cross-Country Marathon (XCM) World Championships in other years, where a national federation needs to nominate riders for entry, but they do not commit to any staff or support.
So, what's the difference?
There are a few key differences here, and a lot is about AusCycling reducing the risk for their staff who would normally accompany a National Team. That is typically a few people covering coaching staff, a mechanic and media staff. All those staff would need to be flown, accommodated, and would need to go into hotel quarantine on return (based on the current situation with vaccine roll out). Flight costs are a lot higher, and the $3000 per person is a much larger cost.
As such, having no team from a staffing stand point is an understandable position.
But the selection criteria means riders who are not on a UCI registered team means they cannot attend, even if they meet the selection criteria. The main reason for this is the duty of care that AusCycling has over National Teams - it cannot be removed by a waiver, or memorandum of understanding. And in a global pandemic the risks are too high to staff and riders. For a UCI registered team, things are a little different given the Covid protocols that all teams have had to set up for UCI events. This is something, we're told, cannot be replicated by privateer riders.
So how does a National selection for World Championships within UCI registered teams look?
Based on the top 5 riders in Elite men and Elite women, Troy Brosnan (National Champion, with automatic selection) can race. Dean Lucas and Luke Meier-Smith (3rd and 5th, respectively) are also on UCI teams and can apply for selection. Connor Fearon, Kye A'Hearn and Mick Hannah could be selected if they chose to, based on UCI team status.
None of the Elite women in the top 5 at National Champs are on UCI registered mountain bike teams.
Elite and U23 Cross-Country
Both Bec McConnell and Dan McConnell are already racing in Europe with their UCI registered team (and Bec was 3rd in Nove Mesto!). None of the other riders would be elligible. That includes 2nd place Jared Graves, and 2nd place Zoe Cuthbert, who was 5th in Junior XCO in 2019.
In the U23, Cam Wright (Giant Factory Off Road Team) is already overseas and racing World Cups. But neither the men's or women's U23 National Champions are able to be selected based on this policy.
Things look a little better here, with Remy Meier-Smith and Oli Davis both on UCI registered teams. But none of the Junior women are.
Development for riders
I spoke to Evan James from AusCycling in our new issue, as he acknowledged the likelihood of no team being sent. It's far from a brick wall on the development opportunities for younger riders, as they have other training and development camps in the works - including opportunities with Cycling NZ.
However, that says nothing of the semi-professional riders who are not part of a UCI registeresd team, who are effectively blocked from racing the World Championships. Typically, a World Championship campaign is self-funded. A rider may have their own private local sponsors to assist, but their direct costs are not covered by the National Federation. But their participation is wholly reliant on selection by the National Federation.
This is no doubt a complex situation. AusCycling are clearly remaining committed to Junior riders in managing their rider development. And the options are clear for riders on UCI registered teams. But there are some high calibre athletes that fall between those two. Australia has a history of producing some very high performance athletes, and a World Championship performance can help secure a ride on a UCI registered team
What about World Cups?
They're not off the cards. If a rider is able to secure a travel exemption, and they sign a specific consent form. This is primarily for U23 and Elite riders (unless they are a Junior rider already living overseas). More details can be seen here. The catch here is getting a travel exemption - they're not being handed out willy nilly.
While the initial look of AusCycling not sending a National Team can be pretty confronting - the reality isn't as harsh. But it's certainly challenging for many riders - even National Champions - who may have been in the position to otherwise support their racing season and a World Championship ride.
This is a situation with ongoing updates, and given the AusCycling announcement lasts until August 31 2021, there may well be scope for some amendments before that date - or after it - just depending on progress on our shores and beyond. So we hope that Australia's situation with vaccinations allows our top riders to compete on the world stage again soon.