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Nations Cup – WTF?

Buried in UCI Cycling Regulation 2.14.024 (you know, on page 99 of the 2018 edition) is the second most helpful rule in world cycling. “The Nations Cup awards points, but only to nations”. (The best rule says that sickness is only an Act of God if the race doctor says it is, which is not a great deal more use.)

But what does the U23 Nations Cup award points for, and why?

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What for?

Well. Obviously points are awarded for doing well in 1.NCup and 2.NCup races, but more specifically to the first rider from each nation in the top 15 (one dayers) or 20 (on GC, for stage races) scores points. I repeat: only the first rider from each nation scores points. In stage races, the top 3 on each stage also score points.

It looks like this:

One day races (1.NCup)

This is pretty easy. When Jacob Hennessy won Kattekoers-Ieper in 2017, Great Britain scored 20 points. The United States scored 17 for Ian Garrison’s second place, but Neilson Powless’ 14th place didn’t add to the USA’s score as he was the second rider for his country. 

In the UCI ranking for the race, this is why Powless is named but shown as having scored 0 points.

Stage races (2.NCup)

Stage races add a bit of maths. Taking the recent “Coupe des Nations de l’Espoir Blue Line” as an example, Rwanda left with 35 points. This was made up of:

  • 30 for Joseph Areruya’s 1st on GC; 0 for the other three Rwandan riders in the top 20 overall.
  • 3 for Samuel Mugisha’s 1st on stage 3; 0 for Areruya’s 2nd place on the same stage.
  • 2 for Jean Paul Rene Ukiniwabo’s 2nd place on stage 2.
  • 0 for Didier Munyaneza’s 9th placed GC ranking. 
  • Total 35. 

As Hilary Duff would say, “if you can’t do the math, get out of the equation”. 

What do you win?

As well as the “distinctive emblem” and “trophy”, Nations Cup races completed before 30 June each year inform qualification for series races after 1 July. It’s slightly more complicated than that: the organiser of races in the second part of the year looks at the ranking 60 days before their race and must invite the top 15 teams (plus any others of their choice to fill the field).

In practice, as this only affects qualification for the Tour de l’Avenir it’s not worth worrying about too much. Qualifying for l’Avenir is like getting into the Tour de France and is the most public showground for talented riders in the category. It also means yet more access to even more Nations Cup points

Most importantly, the Nations Cup qualifies teams for additional places in the World Championship road race. Qualification for the Worlds is mainly based on the U23 Continental rankings, but the top 5 teams in that season’s Nations Cup are allowed 1 extra starter on top of their regular allocation (although no nation can start more than 6 riders, including their bonus rider).

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The Nations Cup also acts as a ‘fall-back’ system, to give a World Championship team (of 3 riders) to a nation that comes top 3 in the Nations Cup but otherwise wouldn’t qualify for the Worlds. A good idea, but this is perhaps unlikely to kick in unless riders have a heavy bias towards the Nations Cup races and don’t score UCI points in the regular season.

So it’s a complicated system but one that aims to (i) give opportunities to riders not on the top ‘trade’ teams, and (ii) make sure the best nations and riders make it to the Worlds. The nations requested the series in around 2007 to aide development and 10 year on, it’s still doing its job. Enabling the move into non-core areas of the cycling map which no ‘commercial’ under-23 events could risk has proved its worth this season, with no doubt more to come.

(If you really can’t do the math, ask the soigneur. They do everything else anyway.)

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