Go to almost any elite mountain bike race and you will hear talk of the Olympics and UCI Points. The points chase to get to Beijing in 2008 is on. Look for racers to go to great lengths to travel far and often to satisfy the quest to accumulate the valuable points.
A recent example is Canada sending only its top elite men to the Continental Championships in Argentina to collect needed points to boost its standings. The team accomplished its mission perfectly--taking one-two in the elite men's race. On the other hand, Canada's women's team has generally faired better in the rankings lately, so they were spared the time and expense of traveling to the southern hemisphere.
Although the Olympics aren't until next year, 2007 is an important year for every nation with an internationally-focused mountain bike program. Throughout the season, top racers will compete for points for their respective countries. On December 31, 2007, the countries will be awarded start positions for the 2008 Games based on the official nations' rankings per the UCI. For men, each country may earn up to one, two, or three starting positions; but for women, only one or two slots are available.
Nations ranked in the top five can send a maximum of three men to the Games, while a top-four ranking in the women's standings results in the maximum of two starts. A nation's final ranking will be determined by a combination of 2006 and 2007 rankings.
Then the important competition will shift to filling those hard-earned spots within each team. While riders from each country may work together to secure points in the interest of having more possible spots open to them, look for competition between them, too. Although each country has a different procedure, many are using those same UCI points as an important factor in selecting individual racers for their Olympic team.