Should downhill mirror international rugby by making it a requirement to play at home if you want to play on the international stage?
There is a growing trend for our international superstars of downhill to sit out the British National Downhill Series and National Champs, while the events don’t always sell out.
Should British Cycling be looking to mirror the example set by many international rugby federations and make it a requirement for those looking to go to the World Championships in a GB jersey that they have to attend a certain number of British national races?
In international rugby, obviously those born in that country automatically make eligibility in advance of the other performance criteria. After that certain residencies can allow a player of a different nation to play for a team.
Take Kiwi Bundi Aki who played for Connaught for three years and is now a regular start in a 12 or 13 jersey for Ireland. In Ireland, as in New Zealand and also England, you cannot play for your country, if like many, you head to another country where you might be able to increase your paycheck.
With the standard set by the All Blacks being something to aspire to, many players stay in New Zealand despite the lower wages in search of the coveted chance to pull on an All Black jersey.
So the question is, should we be having more of our international racers racing British national races to help bolster the numbers of elites racing domestically and increase the standard of racing on home turf by making a minimum requirement for attendance?
The Glencoe National Championships stands out as a race where the cream of the crop stayed away. That’s not to say Hart, Walker, Greenland, Brayton and Williamson didn’t have a good battle, neither did Katy Curd breeze through to her win.
There was a conspicuous lack of big trucks in that car park that weekend. We counted big names into double figures that were absent from the Glencoe National Champs. The opening two rounds of the British National Downhill Series were better attended, but after May, the big dogs were elsewhere.
With an early World Cup in Croatia then two more European rounds shortly after, it’s not like they were on the other side of the World.
There is always some contention around Team GB down to the depth of talent that we have at the moment to pick from. You only must look back to this year and Gee’s exclusion from the team down to not meeting the criteria that is set out by the selection committee. However, would he have been in contention if he had won a British National or was crowned National Champ? The answer is simply, yes.
So, what is keeping our best riders away from the series where they honed their craft? The UCI points debate is irrelevant here as they all have more than they need anyway. The argument that lack of new venues also seems somewhat redundant in the face of a World Cup series that rarely shakes things up.
There is a demand to have the GB regulars on the World Cup circuit at the British Nationals. Let’s face it, 3 of the top 10 in the 2018 World Cup standings were British, with even more in the top 20.
If these guys are at the UK races, then it is only going to breed more competition and foster more talent through the ranks. Plus, there is the draw of having these top racers that people tune into watch on TV race competing on home turf. With that, the racers of tomorrow get to ride with the racers that they aspire to be as well as the public wanting to see the fastest in the world race their local.
So, by making a certain number of national races compulsory to make the criteria for World Champs selection you bolster numbers at the races, make Nationals a bigger spectacle and in turn bring in more support to the UK scene.