Orica-AIS and Cervélo-Bigla on skipping WordTour events in pursuit of Olympic success

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When the 24 teams for the 2016 Giro Rosa were announced on May 12, one team that was surprisingly missing in that line-up was Orica-AIS. It isn’t the only race where the Australian team has been absent this year, having skipped the past three UCI Women’s WorldTour events in China and the United States.

In the latest update of the Giro Rosa rider startlist, Cervélo-Bigla had disappeared from the list as well. This means that now, two big teams with serious contenders for stage wins and the overall will not be present in this year’s tour of Italy.

We cannot help but wonder if this is an indication of what the summer events will be like or whether attendance will improve once national team selections have been announced.

In the meantime we reached out to Orica-AIS and Cervélo-Bigla to ask them about their choice to skip a number of significant Women’s WorldTour races.

Orica: “We will not send another team to China”

Annette Edmondson (Orica-AIS) wins the 2013 Tour of Chongming Island ahead of Chloe Hosking (Team Hitec) and Lucy Garner (Argos-Shimano).
Annette Edmondson (Orica-AIS) wins the 2013 Tour of Chongming Island ahead of Chloe Hosking (Team Hitec) and Lucy Garner (Argos-Shimano).

With both Annemiek van Vleuten and Gracie Elvin in the top 10 of the UCIWWT ranking after the Flèche Wallonne Femmes, it was a bold move for Orica-AIS to not line up at the following Women’s WorldTour event, which was the Tour of Chongming Island. They were, however, not alone in their decision as Boels-Dolmans, the team with three riders in the UCIWWT top 3 at that point, chose not to go to China either. And neither did Cervélo-Bigla.

Orica-AIS team manger Martin Barras explained that the decision to skip China was made in light of the intricate and expensive travel arrangements needed to get a cycling team and equipment to China as well as the organisation’s late invitation.

“We requested repeatedly from the organisers to obtain an invitation from them before our riders depart the country for the European season, as obtaining a Chinese visa away from your country of citizenship is a particularly long and difficult exercise,” said Barras, who has travelled with the Orica and Australian national team to China for several years.

“Every year we received our invitation once we were in Europe. In 2014 we finally ran into trouble with delays at the Chinese embassy, meaning our visas were delivered late, incurring us the cost of rescheduling flights – but most importantly missing the Tour, which technically could mean a fine from the UCI as well,” Barras continued. “I have provided ‘feedback’ to the UCI on the matter and will not send another team there as long as we cannot get our invitations in a time frame that does not leave us exposed to missing the event and incurring extra cost.”

It means Annette Edmondson will not be getting a successor from the Orica-AIS team as winner of this Chinese stage race, at least not for the time being.

| Related: We’re off to China – Seven things to know about round seven of the Women’s WorldTour

No pressure to race in the USA

Orica’s reasons not to go to California and Philadelphia were of a financial nature, too.

“We were interested in going there, as we see racing in the USA as a vital part of the development of the Women’s WorldTour and women’s racing at large. On top of that, having an American rider on roster (Tayler Wiles) made it more attractive…But not going came down to a series of factors, mostly financial,” said Barras.

“If we are to fund such a trip, we would like to get more than one race in a reasonably compacted period of time. That is not the case yet [with 13 days between the Amgen Tour of California and the Philly Cycling Classic] and when we compare that with funding our annual May training camp and the results we get in UCI events coming out of that camp, the decision is relatively simple for us,” explained Barras. ” There is also no pressure from our sponsors to race in the USA.”

Tayler Wiles, however, did start in the 2016 Tour of California as part of Team USA. She finished in the top 10 in stage 1, and 20th place in the overall classification.

| Related: Big day as Megan Guarnier wins the first stage of the women’s Tour of California

Giro Rosa: toughest decision of the season

The absence of Orica-AIS is most notable in the Giro Rosa, but this time it’s the Olympics that were the motivation not to start.

“That decision was by far the toughest we made this season. We are an Australian team, but we reside in Italy and enjoy racing there as much as we can, the Giro Rosa being top of our list,” said Barras. “Owing to Olympic preparation and the prospects of selection across all the riders we have on roster, it became evident that the period of the Giro Rosa was when all those riders wanted to be preparing for the Olympics at altitude. This potentially left us with barely enough riders to race the Giro – and without our leaders.”

Missing the Giro Rosa particularly affects Orica rider Annemiek van Vleuten, who has been very successful in this race in the last couple of years. Van Vleuten won the Giro Rosa prologue in 2014 representing Rabo-Liv, and again a year later, in the Bigla jersey. For two years in row, she got to wear the first leader’s jersey in women’s cycling’s biggest stage race.

Giro d'Italia Internazionale Femminile 2015 proloog
Annemiek van Vleuten (Bigla Pro Cycling) at the start of the 2015 Giro Rosa prologue, which she won.

But Van Vleuten was also recently given a spot in the Dutch Olympic team and is one of the women who prefers training at altitude instead of racing the Giro Rosa.

“If we start in the Giro, it means there’s a gap in our race program between July 11 and August 6; almost a month,” says Van Vleuten. “We will now start in the Thüringen Rundfahrt, taking place from July 15 to 21. We have eight days to recover from that until we fly to Rio, which is ideal. Also, the racing in Thüringen is much more suitable to prepare for Rio. The Giro has either bunch sprints or mountain stages, while the racing is always dynamic in Thüringen.”

Although she does regret not being able to go for a hat-trick in the Giro Rosa prologue, logic dictates that skipping the Giro is the best decision. “It’s all about choices, especially in an Olympic year.”

Cervélo-Bigla: Roster too small, Olympic stakes too high

Carmen Small at training camp in the new Cervélo-Bigla kit

For Cervélo-Bigla, it was their small roster that kept them from going to China and the United States, while Olympic aspirations trump the Giro Rosa.

“A nine-rider roster doesn’t allow for a big calendar like we had last year, with 14 athletes,” explained Xylon van Eyck, Cervélo-Bigla’s communication manager. “We’re more streamlined this year with only nine riders. Because it’s an Olympic year, everything is built around that, so we’re carefully managing our program to support the riders going to Rio, to ensure they’re in peak form there. So far the more streamlined program has worked well, as is evident with the results the girls have been achieving the past few weeks.”

Among these victories are Carmen Small’s recapturing of the US national time trial title last month, and Lotta Lepistö won the SwissEver GP Cham on May 22.

Orica-AIS and Cervélo-Bigla will take to the start in round 10 of the Women’s WorldTour, the Aviva Women’s Tour, which takes place from June 15-19. 

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