I'm about to start a mini-series of speculation about which of the women cyclists we might see racing at the Olympic Games in London, because for some riders, the racing over the next months will be as much about vying for places in their national teams as it is about the race they're in
But before that, I probably need to explain about the rules behind the team decisions. Most of the big nations have submitted their long lists of riders, but we've got until the end of May before the short-lists are revealed - and as you'll see, it's complicated! Below the jump, I'll tell you about all that, and also about what the route means for the women - and massive thanks to fmk, and especially to Ben Atkins of Velonation, who answered all my stupid questions and helped me understand the rules!
You've probably all seen the pretty map by now, but you'd probably like to know a little bit more about the route? So do lots of cycling fans - so big thanks to Ross Middleton, who has added it to Map My Ride, giving us height profiles.... although it's one of those times I have to remember to look at the elevation scale before getting too excited!
On Sunday 29th July, the women will ride 140km - taking a flat route out of London, then looping around Surrey, with the first of the hills as a fine point for an attack, before two laps of Box Hill. Then it's 40-ish flat kilometres back into London, with a few little climbs en route, and back for the flat sprint finish.
But while there isn't much climbing there, the rules add a huge twist - with teams of a maximum of four riders each, the chances of sprint trains are minimal, and it will be up to the riders to add the excitement the course misses.... luckily, this is what women's cycling is all about!
So, what exactly ARE the rules on teams?
OK, here we go.
The rules, as stated by the UCI, go like this:
There will be maximum 67 riders in the peloton, maximum 4 riders per country (including the maximum 2 ITT riders).
The decisions about how many riders each country will have are decided on 31st May 2012. That's the date the UCI rankings are "set" for the Olympics - and on that day we'll know some provisional numbers - countries ranked 1-5 by the UCI will start with four riders; 6-13 will start with three; 14-23 have two each - and if they're not already included in there, the top-ranked nations in the most recent African, American and Asian Continental Championships will get one spot each. So if we were looking at the UCI rankings by nation today, the Netherlands, Germany, Italy, Sweden and Britain would start off with four places; USA, Russia, Australia, Belgium, Canada, Lithuania and Brazil three, etc etc.
But it's not quite as simple as that, because there are some ways the numbers on those teams could be reduced, and others get a spot:
- For nations where most of those points have been won by only a few riders, the number of places on the team can be reduced and re-allocated. It's a little unclear on this in the rules, because they seem to be written for the men rather than for the women, but I assume where they say "World Tour" in the rules here, they mean something like "if there are fewer riders in the top 100 of the UCI rankings than places allocated, those places will be re-distributed".
- If a nation has a rider ranked in the UCI top 100, but their nation isn't in the top 23 nations, they automatically get a place, and that place is taken from the lowest-ranked nations, in reverse order - so today, Chinese Taipei, Estonia and Slovenia would get a spot too, bringing Finland, Poland and Norway down to one rider only.
- And the top 10 of the 2011 World ITT Championships automatically get a spot to compete in the ITT, and therefore a spot on the road, so if, eg, New Zealand were overtaken in the rankings and dropped below nation number 23, they'd get a single spot that way.
- Where there are riders in the Worlds ITT Top 10 from the same country, the next country down the ITT rankings get an extra ITT spot - so although the Top 10 was Germany, NZ, GB, Canada, Canada, Netherlands, Canada, USA, Sweden, Netherlands, the countries that will get two spots (unless something mad happens) are Germany, Great Britain, Canada, Netherlands, USA, Sweden, Australia and Russia, with New Zealand and Azerbaijan getting one place each - which gives Azerbaijan a spot in the Road Race too.
Well, as I've already mentioned, any riders who want to compete in the ITT are counted in the numbers per team above,
although I suppose a team could decide their ITTer doesn't start the Road race, if they have enough numbers... EDIT! Ben Atkins has had another look at the rules, and thinks it might say that any riders who want to compete in the ITT have to ride the RR - or rather, have to start at least - so if a country decided they had better chances in the ITT, the rider could DNF... But we're not sure!
The top 15 nations in the UCI rankings get one spot to compete in the ITT AND, as described above, the top 10 nations from the 2011 World ITT Champs get an additional place - maximum two spots per nation - but remember, if a country has two ITT spots, this is included in their RR team - so they'd still have a maximum of four riders, if they're in the 1-5 ranked country, etc.
The ITT itself, on 1st August, is 29km for the women, and the course marked in red on the map - pretty much flat.
Countries will have to decide how they manage their Road Race v ITT ambitions - so, for example, a country has their maximum four places, and two spots in the ITT, do they pick riders to try to get as many spots in the ITT Top 10 as possible, or to maximise their chances in the Road Race?
The UCI will tell all the countries how many spots they have on 1st June, and by 6th June, any nations that don't want their full allocation can hand them back, and they'll be re-distributed. You can see from the points as they stand, the Netherlands, Germany and Italy can start planning for four riders quite happily - but Sweden, GB, the USA and Russia could still see some changes... they all need some nice podium places in the races between now and May.
So what next?
Well, on the one hand, we've got seven weeks for the rankings to change, and we get the final numbers of riders per country - but all that means is there's a lot of time left to speculate! Over the coming month or so, I'll tell you a little bit more about some of the riders who are hoping for those spots - and we can make up our ideal teams!