(Disclaimer: I’m going to yap a whole bunch here about the elite women. There are related issues for the men and u23s for sure, but that’s for someone else to blog about)
Hey, it’s mid-September, we’ve had two weekends of domestic UCI races and BOOM – it’s time for a World Cup. And not just any old World Cup, but the first one ever to be held outside Europe! In the shining example of American excess that is Las Vegas – so very exciting! But hey, it wouldn’t be bike racing if this were entirely exciting and zero percent complicated. So far I haven’t seen anyone talking about the potential World Championship team implications of a September World Cup. Let’s think about some things:
There are seventeen American women competing in Vegas. I’m not actually sure which rule change made this possible, but it doesn’t matter. Seventeen! Out of a total 48 racing. If you have trouble counting – that’s a freaking lot of US racers. Most of them are World Cup usuals: Compton, Antonneau, Lloyd, Meredith Miller, Crystal Anthony, Kemmerer, McFadden, and Georgia Gould. Erica Zaveta has last year’s Christmas week races under her belt, as does Libby White. There are also some new faces: Ellen Noble had a monster breakout year domestically last season, but this will be her first World Cup. Amanda Miller has absolutely crushed the first two weeks of UCI racing, but also hasn’t been to a cyclocross World Cup. They’re joined by fellow first-timers Cass Maximenko, Sunny Gilbert, Beth Ann Orton, Jessica Cutler, and Laurel Rathbun.
Notably missing is Elle Anderson. Where is Elle? The internets say she’s riding her bike again after some kind of hiatus. There have been rumors flying, but none with evidence enough to consider printing. But it’s notable that she’s absent; she’s represented the US at the last two World Championships and last year earned an automatic qualification with her top five at Valkenburg.
While there are 48 racers registered, a few key players are missing: Pauline Ferrand Prevot, current World Champ in THREE freaking disciplines, is not on the list. Likely because this first CX World Cup happens before road World Championships, where she’ll be defending the rainbow stripes. Neither is million-time World Champ Marianne Vos. Also missing from the world top 20 are: Nikki Harris (6), Sabrina Stultiens (13), Pavla Havlikova (14), Jolien Verschueren (16), Christine Majerus (19), and Martina Mikulaskova (20).
Further, consider that USA Cycling has not updated the World Championship team selection criteria for 2016. Certainly they could do this after the fact, but as of now they have not. The full criteria are here but I’ll summarize, with bolding for emphasis. Note that these criteria are prioritized. As in, the qualifications higher on the list are higher priority than lower and “win” if there are too many qualifiers.
- Top 3 at the prior year’s World Championship
- Athletes with a top-five finish in a World Cup
- A win at a Bpost Bank Trofee or Superprestige Series Elite Women’s event
- The top 3 ranked athletes on the UCI individual rankings
- The winner of the 2015 Elite Women’s Pan American Cyclocross Championships
- The winner of the 2016 Elite Women’s National Championship
- Athletes with a top-ten finish in a World Cup
- Highest ranked rider in all the domestic C1 events
- Discretionary selections
Ok Erin, cool, thanks for all the rambling. Why does this matter? Well, with at least three expected top-10 riders not competing (PFP, Vos, Nikki Harris), there’s more opportunity than usual for an American besides Katie Compton to grab a top finish. Looking at the criteria above, a top five guarantees a spot on the Worlds team (unless something really bizarre happens- like eight different Americans going top 5 at a World Cup. not likely). A top 10 has historically guaranteed a spot as well.
Let’s also consider that CrossVegas is a dry grass course in the desert. Temperatures are at least a bit lower than last year, with an expected temperature of 80 degrees at race time. Also, it’s mid-September. The World Championships are in early-February. In Belgium. Without getting into a debate about how hard/not hard the course is in Vegas, the kind of rider that will be successful on a hot, dry power course in September, may not be the rider best suited for success on a possibly wet, definitely cold European course in February.
So what happens if an unexpected American scores a top-10 at Vegas? Scramble for the higher-ranking selection criteria? A season of tremendous battles at every C1? A USAC criteria revision? The World expects Katie Compton to go top-five. Nobody will bat an eye if Crystal claims a spot; she’s clearly got good form after Ellison and Nittany, and she’s been to the last two World Championships. But what if a wild card shows strongly? Amanda Miller is flying right now and a course like Vegas would seem to suit her. Cass Maximenko showed well in Vegas last year, proving she races well under those conditions. But neither have raced in Europe before. It will be hard to make the argument after the fact that someone with a World Cup top-ten finish is undeserving of a trip to the World Champs, and why would they be? Those are the criteria and a World Cup top 10 is a big freaking deal. But there’s some room for conversation here, I think. And I guess that’s really my only point.
TL;DR: CrossVegas is a big deal not only because it’s the first World Cup outside Europe. A dry, hot World Cup in mid-September has real potential implications for the World Championship team and the rest of the domestic season.