Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Making a point.... or a few :)

This is a post about races and UCI points (= official world ranking points). Ryan and I were recently asked how we decide on which races we do. There's a lot of factors, one of the main factors being the cost and time involved in getting to the race, the prestige level of the race, the fun factor of the race, sponsorship commitments and increasingly the UCI points you can get from a race.

Mountain bike races

Mountain bike cross country races (of the Cross Country Olympic (XCO) discipline) are categorized by the amount of UCI points that can be gained from them.

Points are only available for official UCI racer categories, i.e. Elite men and women and U23 men and women.

Race categories range from local small races that attract a local community of racers with no points to gain over increasingly more prestigious races that are harder to get into with more points to gain to the Olympic Games with only a limited number of people that have qualified for it in order to take part and where there are a lot of points to gain.

In each official UCI race, the more points there are for the winner, the more people down the list also get points.

E.g. in a Category 3 race,
  • the winner gets 10 points,
  • 2nd place gets 6 points,
  • 3rd place gets 4 points,
  • 4th place gets 2 points and
  • 5th place gets one point,
the rest don't get any.

In comparison, in a National Champs race,
  • the winner gets 110 points,
  • 2nd place gets 90 points,
  • 3rd place gets 70 points ...
and so on down to 25th place.

The world ranking position of a rider is basically calculated by adding all your points gained in the year up till today's date (it's a year's sliding window). XCO World rankings can be accessed on the UCI website, where they are updated every couple of weeks.

The different race categories in order of increasing points are shown below (indicating points available for Elite women - the points system is slightly different for men (mainly to make up for the fact that there are usually more men taking part in any one race) and for the U23 category):

  • Category 3: 10 Points for the winner, points down to 5th place
  • Category 2: 30 Points, points down to 10th place
  • Category 1: 60 Points, points down to 15th place
  • Hors Classe: 90 Points, points down to 25th place
  • National Champs: 110 Points, points down to 25th place
  • Continental Champs: 200 Points, points down to 40th place
  • World Cups: 250 Points, points down to 60th place (>60th 3 points for each)
  • World Champs: 300 Points, points down to 60th place (>60th 5 points for each)
  • Olympic Games: 300 Points, points down to 30th place

For mountain bike stage races, the categories are like this with points awarded for overall standings:
Category 2: 80 Points for winner, points down to 25th place
Category 1: 120 Points for winner, points down to 34th place
Hors Classe: 160 Points for winner, points down to 40th place

Smart racing

Usually the more points available, the more frequented the races are by good riders, the harder it will be to get points. At the same time, one can be smart and select races known to be less frequented to try and pick up a lot of points in these. This is usually in further from Europe away countries, e.g. Canada or in countries in which mountain biking is not very big, Turkey or Israel etc. - whereas Germany or Switzerland are the wrong countries to go to to if you are not one of the world's best to pick up points). A calendar of all official UCI points races is made available at the end of each year for the next year on the UCI website.

So, what do you need those points for?

Well, there's two main reasons, one is your gridding position in a race and the second is for qualification purposes. In a points race the people are usually gridded by their UCI points (with exceptions, e.g. for some series like the World Cup series, the first 40 people taking part are gridded by their series standing and the rest are gridded by their UCI points, with the first race only be gridded purely by UCI points). That means if you are the person with most points in that race, you will be gridded in the front row. However, if you have no or very little points, you have to make do with starting at the back of the pack. This is not usually a big factor in races with only a handful of people, but it does make a big difference when there are over 100 starters at the start line and you are gridded in the last row and the course goes straight into a single track section with no overtaking possibilities.... So even if you were the best rider, if you are gridded last it would be very hard to work your way up to the top and is often impossible.

Qualification for races

So, the other reason for collecting points is for qualification purposes. Most people know that not anybody can turn up and take part at an Olympic Games or World Champs. While any licensed rider can turn up to a Cat 1/2/3 or Hors Classe race, it is not that easy to be able to take part in a World Champs race, let alone the Olympic Games. Below I've listed some restrictions/qualification criteria on above named races.

National Champs:

You can only race in the national champs of your nationality. No qualification necessary, only racing license required. You can sign up by yourself to take part.

Continental Champs:
You can only take part in the continental champs of the continent that your nation is from. You also have to be selected by your cycling federation and there is a maximum number of riders that any country can send. Different countries have different rules about the selection process. E.g. in Germany you have to have placed 1x top 8 or 2x top 15 in a World Cup that year, whereas in other countries it might just be on the grounds of any recent results and believed potential.

World Cups:
Anybody who has got at least 20 UCI points can take part in a World Cup. You still have to be registered by your country's cycling federation, but no selection process takes place. You just have to ask your cycling federation to register you for the World Cup.

World Champs:
As in the Continental Champs, you have to be selected and sent by your country. A country can only send a limited amount of riders. Again, selection criteria lie with your country. In Germany for example the selection criteria are the same as for the Continental Champs.

Olympic Games:
The Olympics Games are the hardest race to get to take part in: First of all, your nation has to qualify for places. The way this is done is by ranking nations by adding up the points of the last 4 years leading up to the Olympics (i.e. for 2012 that'll be points from 2008-2012) of the top 3 riders ranked of that nation that are ranked in the top 200 (top 300 for men) world rankings. Then, for Elite women, nations ranked 1-8 reserve 2 places each and nations ranked 9-18 reserve 1 place each (it's a few more for men). In addition, Africa, America, Asia and Oceania can send the 1st ranked rider in their continent if they don't qualify in the nations ranking. This rule reflects that most of the XCO action is happening in Europe. So there is only 30 places available in total in the Olympics games for women! Once places are reserved, it's up to the nation to select their best riders - some countries do this in the form of a race-off, others just send the highest ranked rider(s) etc. Remember, highest ranked rider in a country does not necessarily mean best rider in that country - the person may just have been smart in their race selection to accumulate lots of points to help reserve a place for the Olympics.

The small number of riders a country can send to the Olympics often makes the selection criteria a dilemma, especially for those countries that have a lot of very good riders, e.g. Switzerland for men - the 6 best men in Switzerland are also in the top 16 in the world, but they can only send three of them, even though the other three are still probably better than a lot of the other country's riders that are being sent.

There's a few other rules and exceptions to the above, but this is the gist of it. More detailed information can be found in the relevant rule books available on the UCI website.

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

It's been a while...

.... and 3 races since my last blog post. The Bobby Crilly Memorial Road race, the last round of the Irish NPS and the German National Champs.

Race Report German National Champs, St. Maergen, Black Forest, Germany

My last race were the German champs – in fact, I am just on the flight home from Memmingen, after about a 5 hour drive from the guesthouse I stayed in near the race venue in the Black Forest (don’t ask, it looked a lot easier and shorter on paper to get there. I just say this much: misjudging actual driving distance, small roads, weekend, holiday and evening traffic and only a bike Garmin for directions don’t make for fast arrival). Adding to this, the weather forecast was rain rain rain and sure enough, it started already on my drive there.

Anyhow, so there was rain on the way there on Friday and rain all day on Saturday, a little better on Sunday when the race was to take place. I did my pre-ride in the rain. It was exactly the same course as last year, just soggier and muddier and slippier. I think in my last year's race report I have described the super steep and slippery and rooty downhill sections with padded trees (still wondering if the pads are supposed to protect the riders or the trees) and a superlong, supersteep slippery climb. Well, you can imagine that this was now almost near impossible to ride if you were not the Olympic Champion (who I was up against).

Inverted hill profile...

At 12pm on Sunday 14 girls lined up under cloudy skies. The race was 5 laps, 1 lap shorter than last year due to the atrocious condition of the course. The course was one big schlomp fest on the grassy sections and the downhill bits in the woods were already ripped apart by the masters races which had taken place in the morning before our race. It was so bad that in some sections you were half a foot deep in schlomp with no option than to get off the bike and wade through the schlomp. Chainsuck and only about 1 or 2 available gears were the order of the day. Here’s a thanks due to Walter for handing me the much needed bottle of water for trying to wash the dirt out of the chain rings – even though it was a mostly futile action.

I didn’t have the best of starts but was able to make up a few places again in the first lap, chasing after Katrin Schwing. I had to get off and run most of the technical downhill and some of the steep uphill, while later in the race I had to run all of the technical downhill and most of the steep uphill. From about the 2nd lap onwards I was riding comfortably in 10th place until I caught up with a girl at the start of my 4th lap, who then pulled out. I was still chasing behind Katrin Schwing who was riding in 8th place – my aim was to come top 8 this year (to improve upon my "lucky" 13th place from last year). She was in my view all the time but instead of closing down the distance, the gap seemed to widen. Then, on the last tricky downhill in the 4th lap I tried to ride the whole bit to not loose any more time. I made it down the whole bit without dabbing, but just as I hit the very bottom which was a loose muddy bit with big hidden loose rocks I lost control and crashed into a course marking post, endoing badly and taking down the post with my neck. I collected so many different cuts, scrapes and bruises on so many different areas on my body in this one crash – it's an achievement on its own!

Anyhow, after I stopped tumbling and regained my sense of up and down and found that none of my pains were life threatening, I checked my bike and started walking up the hill. I was able to get onto the bike at the top, when the course leveled out, but the pain in my thigh told me that I had to give up on trying to catch Katrin. I was barely able to pedal with my right leg, so now my aim was just to try and finish the race and not loose any more positions. I looked behind and could not seen anybody in the near distance behind me. So the last lap was ridden in damage control mode. Half way through before entering the descent I heard the cheers for Sabine Spitz who was about to win the race for her 10th time so far. I walked almost all of the technical descents and a lot of the steep slippery uphill. I made it round without being caught from somebody behind me and so finished in 9th place, only 1 place off my target and 4 places up from last year.

How much harder the course was this year in comparison to last year can easily be seen on our lap times: even though our race was a lap shorter this year (only 5 laps) than last year, the finishing times were almost exactly the same this year. Laps were on average 3-4 min slower per lap for everyone. Actually, my race was only half a minute shorter than last year, even though it was a whole lap less. At the same time Sabine Spitz’s race was 2min longer this year, so that means that percentage wise I improved by 3% - only another 13 to go..... At this rate and taking into account diminishing returns, I’ll be Olympic Champ by 2016...... ;)

Thanks also to Andy from Sport-A-med for doing my bottles and race support and to Ivonne Kraft for the horse cream and training advice. Now back to nursing my various cuts and bruises...

Short results:
1. Spitz Sabine 1:33.56,3
2. Morath Adelheid 1:36.23,0
3. Klein Hanna 1:37.11,5
4. Gradl Anja 1:38.13,7
5. Kraft Ivonne 1:39.05,3
9. Späth Melanie 1:46.16,4

Full results are available on Datasport.

Some pictures are available here. Here's one of me - notice the mud...

Race Report Irish NPS Round 8 - Djouce Woods

Entering a downhill section

The last round of the Irish NPS was organized by EPIC and took place in Djouce. As usual, EPIC put on a great show, which wasn’t even hampered by the fact that it had rained cats and dogs all day before and softened up the course. I knew the course would be a challenge: it was mostly twisty and uppy downly singletrack, a few steep technical climbs and a good few off camber sections which were hard enough to ride in the dry with a fireroad climb towards the end. At the start line I was joined by Ciara McManus and Sylvia Gallagher and we were let off with the masters for our 3 lap race.

Sean (2nd expert), Mel (1st Elite Ladies), Ryan (2nd Elite Men)

Due to the massive field of master riders this year, the first singletrack section was a walking/running affair. It took quite a while to get a flow in, but by the end of XTC we’ve found a rhythm. I was taking it comfortable enough, making up places on the climbs, but mostly loosing them again (and some more) on the muddy singletrack. I was struggling most on the off camber bits – they are definitely an “underdeveloped strength” of mine.... Each lap I concentrated on riding them well. I was most surprised when a flying Sean Downey passed me on one of the singletrack sections – he was back after exam time in great form: only a few weeks ago I was putting him under pressure! I had a few battles with some of the masters and vet riders as well and finally finished the race in 1st, 11min30sec ahead of Ciara McManus in 2nd place.

Results downloadable here.

Pics from Arek's picasa gallery.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Race Report Bobby Crilly Memorial Road Race, Hannahstown

3 weeks ago I’ve completed the Bobby Crilly Memorial Road in Hannahstown near Belfast, a race on the way to a family BBQ – Ryan has a nice report up about the race course on his blog about it. The special thing about this race is that it had a long uphill finish, not very common in Irish road races. I (the only lady) started with the Cs. I had to put in just as much work as the guys in the pace line that formed at the start and kept going for almost a whole lap and so it was hard from the start.

Course and HR profile - my chase periods easily visible... (and yes, I do have a low max HR)

It was made even harder when I stayed too far back in the peloton and the people in front of me (and therefore me too) got dropped from the peloton twice (you'd think I’d learn....). Both times I chased hard to catch back on and I was lucky both times: the first time some others who were dropped and some B riders who had caught up to us now all chased together and we got back on. The second time was a lot harder, I chased and chased and chased by myself and the distance seemed to get smaller and smaller but I just couldn’t do it. I was about to give up, when, out of nowhere another rider appeared and let me hang on to his wheel. He probably also remembered that in this part of the 3 lap course the peloton always slowed down a bit (or maybe he just felt sorry for me). He did all the work and it seemed to be working: lucky for us, we caught up with the line of cars that were caught behind the peloton, and were able to draft off them. Then, one by one, we worked our way forwards in the "wind shadow" of the cars, until finally we caught back on. Phew – that was lucky!

Needless to say, my legs were bust by the time we started on the long hill. I wasn’t able to keep the whole way with the front group (now containing also the A and B riders), who started upping the pace a lot. The group fell apart and strung out and at that stage my aim was only to finish. I wasn’t the only one suffering though and was probably adding to their pain when they saw themselves being overtaken by a girl ;) I tried to give one “the look”, but I failed and it was more of a grimace. I’m happy though that while I overtook a few more men on the way up, none overtook me
:). Not sure where I came, but I think most people in front of me were A and B riders and only a few Cs. I was in about 5min after Ryan, who had come 2nd.

Pictures from here courtesy of Marian Lamb.

Results and report can be found on Cycling Ulster.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Race Report English Marathon Championships - Crow Hill

For good measure (and since my flight was only back on Monday morning) I decided to take part in the English Marathon Championship that took place the day after the British NPS Round in Crow Hill. Since it wasn't a UCI event, I was able to take part in the race and win it, I just couldn't be crowned English champ in case I won.

The course was the same as in the NPS yesterday plus some extensions and grassy bumpy linker sections and an added loop in the forest so that each lap was 12.5km, with 8 laps, i.e. 100km to do for the champs.

The Senior 100km women were set off first. Jenn O'Connor took the lead in the first lap, setting a steady pace so that we could accustom ourselves with the newly added sections. I and Maddie Horton followed and I stayed closely stuck to Jenn's wheel, while we opened a gap on Maddie. At the end of the 1st lap I had to stop at the feed zone to get a new bottle, and Jenn O'Connor upped her speed and she managed to open a gap on me. My strategy was to keep it steady and stay on Jenn's wheel for 6 laps, and then attack and try and open a gap on her on the last 2 laps. So when Jenn got away in the 2nd lap, I had to work hard to reel her back in, which I managed by the end of the 2nd lap. In the 3rd lap then I took the lead and she stayed on my wheel, but then started to fall back a little. I took this chance and decided to attack and increased my speed. When I didn't see her behind me at the start of the next lap, I settled back into a comfortable speed and kept it steady for the rest of the race, so that in case Jenn caught back up that I would have enough energy to attack again. I constantly looked back and wondered if I would see Jenn catching back up again with me. I only found out after I finished that Jenn had dropped out after the 3rd lap due to feeling unwell.

And so I finished the race in 1st place, ahead of the new English Marathon Champion Maddie Horton. I had a really good race, and I am really happy to see that my endurance is still good, since I hadn't done very many long rides since February, until very recently in my training.

Race results are available on the timelaps website.

Joolze pics can be found here.

Britishcycling also have a report up here.

Race Report British NPS Round 4 - Crow Hill

This round I was doing by myself, without Ryan, since he was still recovering from his collarbone fracture (he's got the go ahead today to mountain biking again - have a look at his blog for the newest X-ray - he's really happy about it). Anyhow, early Friday morning I flew into Bournemouth International airport - which is located just about 20min from the race venue, so handy! After having a much needed coffee in nearby Christchurch (I've only had 3.5hours sleep due to a 4am start), I made my way to the race venue for a pre-ride.

The course was different from any course I have ridden before. It was fairly flat (but not as flat as Sherwood Pines or Thetford Forest), but had a few short kicker climbs and a bomb hole. Almost all of the course was twisty singletrack, and it really did test your cornering skills. It wasn't as flowy as other singletrack courses, since the corners were fairly tight and it was hard to keep any kind of speed going at any time. It felt like you were constantly speeding up, then slowing down into yet another corner and speeding out of it again. The ground was slightly damp in places and there were also a few very rooty sections. It was hard to find a place to drink or eat a gel, since there was barely any fireroad. It was a good course, but one that didn't suit me quite so well, with my lack of good cornering skills.

All the usual suspects lined up on the start line. Stupid I was late and I had to start in the 2nd row (I had a problem with the nozzle on my tire and it deflated when I tried to pump it up and was frantically searching for the needed adapter to be able to pump up the wheel again). It usually doesn't make that much of a difference, but in this case we went into a fire road straight after a short climb up a grassy section. I wasn't in too bad a position entering the singletrack, maybe 5th or 6th, but had to fight my way through to make it towards the front. At the front, Kate Potter had immediately taken the lead, chased by Jenny Copnall. I managed to fight my way up to 3rd position, but then had to give way to a chasing Jenn O'Connor. Unfortunately I couldn't keep with Jenn and she opened a gap on me. This all happened at the start of the 1st lap. For the remainder of the 5 lap race, I tried to close down the gap again to Jenn, but I just couldn't make up the time. I was seeing her weaving in and out of the trees ahead of me but just couldn't catch back up. I wasn't feeling tired or anything, I actually felt I had a good race and was riding well, but I just wasn't as fast as the girls ahead of me. I definitely need to work on my cornering, since I thought I lost most time due to that.

And so I finished in 4th place. I would have liked to podium, but it just wasn't in me that day. Funny enough, this means that this year Jenny Copnall, Jenn O'Connor and I are in almost the same situation as last year with regards to the series standings after the penultimate round, except for the addition of Kate Potter who has a large points advantage and is well set to win the series. But for Jenny, Jenn and I it's again head on head, this time for 2nd place, either one of us has the chance to get it since we are points-equal for our 3 best races and I am sure that we are all going to make good use of our chance in the last round! Exciting!!!

Results are available here.

Joolze Dymond has some pictures available on her website.

Britishcycling have a report up on their website.