Flèche Wallonne victory big for USA women's Olympic hopes

With the clock ticking down on the qualification of spots for the 2012 Summer Olympic Games in London, the victory of American Evelyn Stevens in La Flèche Wallonne Feminine today was an important points haul for the USA.

Jim Miller, USA Cycling's Vice President of Athletics, said the 100 points awarded to Stevens for today's win was "huge on a number of fronts".

At the beginning of the year, the country faced an uphill battle to get into the top five nations in the UCI's rankings, a designation which would net the team four places instead of just three in the Olympic road race. Heading into the season seventh behind Great Britain and Russia, the women on the US national team and the professional Americans on trade teams were given one directive: score points.

"All of the girls know the points are important," Miller told Cyclingnews. "We've been keeping a running spreadsheet for a year and a half. It's why we've been sending teams to the far ends of the earth - we started the season in New Zealand and raced in El Salvador - the whole point of this spring was to get points."

With strong performances by Stevens, who also won the Women's Tour of New Zealand, Kristin Armstrong (second in the Tour of Flanders World Cup), Megan Guarnier (seventh in Flèche Wallonne, third in the Ronde van Gelderland), Amber Neben and Carmen McNellis, the USA surpassed Russia and is closing in on Great Britain.

While the UCI has not updated the rankings since March 25 as of today, by Miller's calculations, the USA is within 80-100 points of taking over fifth in the nations rankings.

"For Great Britain and Russia to get zero points today is as important as Evie's win," Miller said. He will now look to the North American UCI races to help push the USA over the top.

"We're having a hard time getting a team together for China," he said of the UCI 2.1 Tour of Chongming Island and Chongming World Cup. The races come at a time when the women's trade teams are focusing on the SRAM Tour of the Gila, but the Chrono Gatineau time trial in Canada (ranked UCI 1.1) and the women's Exergy Tour (UCI 2.1) in Idaho will be key for the USA women.

"It was important that the Exergy Tour is ranked 2.1, because the points are double that of a 2.2 race," Miller said, not denying that USA Cycling had a role in raising the status.

"It's not anything the other countries don't do. El Salvador and Russia always host a number of UCI races in an Olympic year, but you won't see them hold any UCI races in a non-Olympic year."

Once the rankings are closed on May 31, Miller said that USA Cycling's next step is to select the lucky riders to fill the roster. That announcement comes June 15th, and will be based "on a history of international performance".

With two spots in the road race already decided by the riders chosen to fill the USA's time trial squad for London, either one or two riders will be selected in June to join them.

"Our next step is to ensure that the riders who make the Olympic team have the optimal preparation, whether that comes from their trade teams or the national team."

Following the Olympic Games, the USA will then focus on selecting riders for the UCI Road World Championships.

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