Great Britain Cycling Team Olympic mountain bike coach Phil Dixon has confirmed that while important, the opening round of the 2014 UCI Mountain Bike World Cup will ultimately serve as a marker before qualification for the Rio 2016 Olympic Games gets underway from May 25.
Dixon travels to Pietermaritzburg, South Africa with Olympic Academy athletes Grant Ferguson and Kenta Gallagher, whose job it is to deliver solid opening rides in the under-23 events, resulting in achieving a grid position for the second round of the world cup series.
Dixon’s strategy for qualifying a nation place for the men’s Olympic cross-country race in two years revolves around the two youngsters, following the retirement of stalwart Oli Beckingsale and long-term injury of Liam Killeen.
Following an eight-month break since the last major international competition, Dixon has had to rely on training data as Gallagher rode two training camps with Scottish Cycling and Ferguson spent two weeks with the Team Sky professional road squad in Majorca.
According to Dixon both have progressed, however caution prevails before a race in which anything can happen.
“The figures are a good baseline” Dixon confirmed, “but a lot can happen in a bike race.”
“It’s important for Grant and Kenta to come away from the race with a grid position. Then you see where you’re at, get your marker and push into the two European rounds of the world cup.”
With Olympic qualification at the forefront of his mind, Dixon also explains the rationale behind selecting no women’s contingent for the opening races of the season.
“The fact that qualification opens on May 25 is massively on my mind. This is an Olympic based programme and in order to stand any chance of getting a medal performance in Rio, first we have to qualify nation places. Because of that it makes sense to invest in the right period.
“That means it’s extremely important to be knocking world class performances out in world class events for both men and women after May 25. With that in mind Alice Barnes and Beth Crumpton are training hard to be ready for the first European round of the world cup.”
“The girls are going to have quite an intensive programme from then, so it’s important to get as fit as they can before they start racing.”
While in the same qualification period for London 2012 Dixon had Annie Last to score points, an injury keeps her from competition for the immediate future.
That means Pietermaritzburg marks the moment for Ferguson and Gallagher to emulate the performances achieved by Britain’s first female Olympic mountain biker in over a decade in the first skirmish before the road to Rio begins.