Will We Ever Win?
If you are a British cycling fan this is a question that comes up each New Year as the cyclo-cross world championships come around.
Most of you will know that Roger Hammond won the junior version in 1992 and you may even remember the win by Stuart Marshall (1986) or the second places for Louise Robinson (2000) and Robert Dane (1984). But nothing the senior men.
But often than not there is little to celebrate. Why? I don’t know - but there is the old cliche - “you have to be in it to win it”. And a run down the start list for ranking ‘cross event will show that few if any British riders are present.
A quick analysis of a recent top-ranked event shows that of the 57 strong men’s elite field the nation count was 7 Netherlands, 3 Czech, 3 Italy, 2 Poland, 2 Spain plus 1 Germany and 1 USA. For the women the non-Belgians break down as 8 Netherlands, 3 Germany, 2 UK with 1 each for France, USA and Japan. Looking to the Under-23 field the pattern was much the same with just one UK representative. It doesn’t take a genius to work out that it’s the experienced riders that are going to have the best chances at the championships.
If you think this sort of analysis is too simplistic - then the season-long rankings table makes the point just as well. The lack of British ranking events plus an absence of Brits in the continental events mean that Paul Oldham leads the British in the rankings - but is still well outside the top 50. In contrast the boom in US ranked events + racing in Europe gives no less than 12 Americans a higher placing.
For the British elite women the position is quite different. Regular rides against the best in the world not only mean ranking points but also provide that vital experience needed to have a chance when the Worlds come around again. So with Helen Wyman at 7th and Gabby Day at 20th in the rankings it should be a clear choice for the selectors - and our best chance of a medal come 27-January at Treviso.
So British success has come on the track - and to a lesser extent with MTB and BMX - and may yet come on the road given the new talent coming through. But no medals at cyclo-cross with the current levels of support. And more support seems unlikely without that all important Olympic status and the funding that it attracts in Britain. So even though British Cycling’s Annual Report records a 10% annual increase in cyclo-cross participation for 2006-07 and over 16,000 rides in British events, there is little chance of success at the men’s elite level for years to come.
And having just revisited a report of the 1971-2 World Cyclocross Championships (see ICS Article) it all seems rather familiar.