Olympics 2021: Why the Nové Město World Cup matters for America’s Olympic MTB hopefuls

A win at the race is an automatic qualifier for the Tokyo games.

Photo: Bartosz Wolinski WOLISPHOTO

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For the U.S. Olympic hopefuls in cross-country MTB racing, this weekend’s World Cup in Nové Město na Moravě, Czech Republic might be the most important race of the year.

For both the men and women on the U.S. XC MTB long team, a top ride in Nové Město will punch their ticket to the Tokyo summer games. And there are multiple ways that each man or woman can qualify.

Read also: Olympics 2021: Here’s why the Albstadt MTB World Cup is so important for U.S. hopefuls

Currently, Kate Courtney is the only American athlete with a confirmed slot for Tokyo, given her top-five finish at the 2019 world championships. As of now, the U.S. has two more slots for the women and just one for the men.

The U.S. women are the overwhelming favorite to finish second in the UCI Nations Rankings, which guarantees them three spots for Tokyo. So, this weekend Erin Huck, Chloe Woodruff, Lea Davison, Hannah Finchamp, and Haley Batten will be fighting for the two remaining women’s slots. The picture is more stark for the U.S. men, who have just one spot for Tokyo. U.S. riders Keegan Swenson and Christopher Blevins are the two contenders for the men’s single slot.

So, what are the ways that a rider can punch his or her ticket for Tokyo at Nové Město?

Per USA Cycling’s Olympic selection criteria, a victory in Nové Město represents an automatic qualification for the Olympic team. If no American wins, then any American finishing second through eighth place will make the team. If more than one rider hits this mark, then the highest-ranked rider makes the team.

Should no riders win, or finish in the top-eight, then USA Cycling’s selection committee will choose the team.

Read also: An Olympic battle is brewing between MTB racers and the UCI. Here’s why

We’ve seen U.S. Olympic teams get named by selection committees before, and the process is always up for interpretation. USA Cycling has published its documents that the selection committee will follow, should the spots come down to discretionary picks. The criteria heavily weights international competitions, like Nové Město and last weekend’s World Cup in Albstadt, Germany. Per USA Cycling’s selection documents for mountain biking, that criteria leans heavily on each athlete’s performance in major races like World Cups and the UCI world championships.

Read also: Inside the collaborative mindset driving the U.S. women’s Olympic MTB long team

It’s no easy task, and the selection criteria lists three major qualities that the committee must weigh when deciding whether an athlete makes the team or stays home. Are they a “medal-capable athlete?” Are they a “future medal-capable athlete?” And finally, the somewhat opaque “Best predicted finish” quality, which is to choose an athlete who is most likely to finish the highest in the event.

You can read the full document here. For all three qualities, the committee is heavily focused on a rider’s international results.

This bodes well for 22-year old Haley Batten, who rode a scorching race to third place in Albstadt last Sunday. Her Trinity Racing teammate Christopher Blevins performed the best of the two American men, with a final finish position of 13th.

The Nové Město course has long been a favorite among riders with its technical root features and relentless uphills and descents. This year, it won’t just make for some exciting racing — it could also make an Olympic dream come true.

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