Olympic Dreams - what Flèche Wallonne means for the USA and Great Britain


Evelyn Stevens' spectacular win at La Flèche Wallonne was not only a great result for her and for her team, Specialized-lululemon, but also for the USA's Olympic road cycling hopes. The women's Olympic team sizes are decided by their UCI rankings on 31st May, with the top 5 countries getting 4 riders each, 5-13 getting 3, etc etc (you can read more about the rules and the races here). This is especially important for the USA - the last time the UCI rankings were published (25th March), the USA was sitting in sixth place, on 1,069 points - with Great Britain just ahead of them in 5th, on 1,310.

The UCI women's rankings are worked out by adding up the individual scores of the 5 top-scoring riders from each country. It doesn't help maths-phobes like me that they are only updated monthly, but below the jump, I'll tell you what I think Flèche has done for the USA and their nearest rival, Great Britain - and some more about the American racers who are hoping for their chance to ride!

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First, more on the UCI rankings. Here's how the top of the rankings looked at 25th March, with more details here:

1. Netherlands, 3,797
2. Germany, 2,430
3. Italy, 1,699
4. Sweden, 1,334
5. Great Britain, 1,310
6. USA, 1,069
7. Russia, 929
8. Australia, 800

The UCI regulations (Chapter XII, page 63) are complicated, because not only do riders get points added to their totals for the month just passed, they also get them taken away, from the same period in the preceding year. So the ranking isn't this season's total, it's how the riders have done in the whole year, and when we come to 31st May, Olympic decisions will be made based on how riders have done since 1st June 2011.

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I've calculated this roughly - maths-phobic, remember? But this is how I think it all looks now. (If you think I've got it wrong, feel free to let me know in the comments!)

I am assuming that the UCI are comparing their rankings periods rather than actual dates. That's important, because the March period last year finished on 27th March, the date of Trofeo Binda, which Emma Pooley won, and if we're looking at the equivalent period last year - from 28th March-18th April 2011 - that would mean her 100 points for that win have already been wiped off the UK's score, but if it's from the actual date - 26th March - those come off this month too!

Let's assume we're going on UCI periods - 28th March to 23rd April, using points to today (19th). We subtract about 8 points from GB (Lizzie Armitstead's 10th place from Drenthe) and approx 50 points from USA (all won by Shelley Olds). Then we add the points won so far since 25th March this year - 198 to USA, from Kristin Armstrong's results at Flanders and in the EnergieWacht Tour, and Megan Guarnier's at Ronde van Gelderland - and 8 to GB (Nicole Cooke at Energiewacht) - taking to USA to 1,207 and GB to 1,310 before Flèche Wallonne....

Which takes us to today's race. With 3-time winner Nicole Cooke abandoning in the early kilometres due to stomach problems, and Emma Pooley taken out by a series of mechanical disasters (including one caused when a race moto hit her), GB's highest-placed rider was Sharon Laws, finishing 20th, and outside the UCI ranking cut-off at 18. And the USA did fantastically - Evelyn Stevens' win gives her 100 points, Megan Guarnier brings in 15, with her 7th place and Amber Neben 4 at 14th - by my calculations, the UCI ranking today would be 1,326 USA, 1,310 GB!

Edit! That's great for the USA, who, if the decisions were made today, this very minute, the USA would take 4 riders and the UK 3 - would take 4 riders - but all is not lost for GB, as it looks like GB have overtaken Sweden, and would take 4 too, with both able to have two riders in the ITT, who have to be included in the road race teams. It's not over yet, though - we've still got six more weeks of racing to go, but it looks like it'll be a neck-and-neck battle between the tree countries right to the finish!

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So who are the riders in the running for the USA Olympic team?

Last December, Cycling USA published a long-list of riders they will choose their team from - Evie Stevens & Amber Neben (Specialized-lululemon), Robin Farina (NOW and Novartis for MS) and Megan Guarnier (Tibco-To The Top) were automatically added, because of their 2011 results. They were joined by Kristin Armstrong, Kristin McGrath, Lauren Tamayo, Theresa Cliff-Ryan & Andrea Dvorak (Exergy 2012), Amanda Miller (Tibco) Janel Holcomb & Carmen Small (Optum Pro Cycling), and Shelley Olds (Diadora-Pasta Zara).

You'd think Evie Stevens has her place locked down, especially with her national ITT Champion's title, but she faces some stiff competition - and the first two are both former World ITT Champions!

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They're both such great riders! Kristin Armstrong won the Olympic ITT last time, in Beijng, but she retired at the end of the 2009 season to have a baby, only to be lured back by the prospect of another Olympic gold. She had been involved in setting up Peanut Butter & Co TWENTY12 - now Exergy 2012 - and as her baby son was so young, focused her 2011 season in the USA, and has only come to Europe for a short spell so far this year.

Neben, too, has only just started back in Europe this year - and her results in all the big ITT competitions of the last few years have been excellent. I've no idea how USA Cycling will make up their minds about this - we had a taste of the problems of this year when Armstrong was chosen to ride the Worlds ITT over Neben, and Neben's appeal over this decision was upheld. Armstrong decided not to race the Road Race in Copenhagen as a result - and given the fact that all riders who compete in the ITT have to ride in the Road Race too, Team USA might want to include a sprinter in there, especially if Britain's fortunes change, and they overtake the USA in the rankings again...

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So who are the other options?

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The best sprinter the USA have is Shelley Olds, but she's had a lot of problems over last year. She crashed in the 2011 Ronde van Drenthe - and then had to pull out of the Giro Donne, after a crash in the USA resulted in a cracked rib that wasn't picked up. She started 2012 well, but then crashed again in the Trofeo Binda, this time breaking her wrist. it's a huge shame, because she's been aiming at the Olympics since she started cycling, first setting her sights on the Points race on the track, and then, when the UCI took it out of the Olympics, shifting all her focus to the road. She'll be hoping that the selectors look beyond this year's results, to her great sprint and ability to get over hills - but if they don't, who might they choose instead?

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A hard job there, isn't it? That's who I think are in the running for the team... but this is just from my fangirl perspective - if you agree, disagree, or can think of the perfect combination of riders for a team of 3 or 4, add it to the comments! And I'll keep you updated on what i think is going on in the UCI rankings, and the battle between the USA and GB!

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To find out more about these riders...

And for more information on the rules behind Olympic team numbers, and the Olympic races, here's my article all about it!

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