I caught up with Jim "Och" Ochowicz, President of USA Cycling, the day after the demanding Stage 14 to the top of Ax-3 Domaines. I asked him about the impact of having three Americans in the Top six on the day, and in the GC standings as well - and then the conversation soon turned to developing junior riders to possibly get them into the pro ranks.
Chris Brewer: Yesterday was a big day for American cycling, wasn't it?
Jim Ochowicz: It just goes to show that there's a lot of depth within the cycling community in the United States. But that didn't just start up overnight, you know - they didn't just show up at the Tour de France. All three of those riders (Armstrong, Landis, and Leipheimer) started off with youth programmes and through different paths got to the point where they were able to come to Europe and race for top professional teams.
CB: With Lance, Floyd, and Levi doing so well they're serving as great examples as to what you can become. What advice would you have for young aspiring riders?
JO: You have to start by thinking locally, by racing in local towns and testing yourself there.
CB: So what's the first step?
JO: You usually start at your local bike shop. There's always a community of local racers who come in there and shop, and often these shops are sponsoring the local racers as well. Local bike shops can be instrumental in plugging new riders into local teams and clubs that will in turn be their initial development point to becoming a racer. And once you start to work with these folks, you just have to find ways to grow within that system.
CB: So the Big Question: How do you become a pro cyclist?
JO: Like I said, you have to start somewhere. You have to get involved somehow, some place, some way - for example, we all know that Lance got started through triathlon and then somebody noticed he wasn't too bad on a bicycle...
The bottom line is that results talk, and Lance was basically scouted out of the bunch. If you want to move forward at some point you have to have results that catch the eye of those who can move you up the chain.
And there are teams trying to develop riders today in the USA much like we did back in the day with 7-Eleven and Motorola and even Team USPS. These teams give young riders a chance and more importantly expose these riders to top racing, whether that's the US domestic scene or here in Europe.
Another example that we have within USA cycling for those young riders ready to move upward is our Belgium-based U23 program. In this project young men 23 and under get to race all over Europe and in a variety of different style races. While it's not the level of the Tour de France it's the next level below.
CB: Thanks for your time, Jim - so to sum up: start locally, learn from everyone you can, and get some results! But by all means have fun in the process...you can of course get more information at the official USA Cycling web site, www.usacycling.org.
Thanks for checking in,
July 18, 2005: All's well on rest day
The team is spending a welcome three nights in a row in the same small-but-secure hotel just outside of Pau, and that means easy transfers as well.
Even so, the fans have somehow figured out where the hotel is and have camped outside the gate waiting for a glimpse or better yet an appearance by any of the riders or staff. They are respectful, though, and the well-dressed gate guard ensures that only those who are supposed to be there are allowed into this temporary sanctuary.
The guys were honored to have America's winningest cyclist Davis Phinney in the area to say hello, and Davis' son Taylor came along as well - Tay's well over 6 feet tall, lean, and spends lots of time on the bike...
The team rode either one or two hours yesterday - Lance and George opting for the two-hour version. The mechanics were working on getting all the racing wheels just right so Lance put on a HED 3-spoke aero wheel on his bike, and when he came in after the ride joked, "My team is so fast that I have to use a TT wheel just to keep up with them!"
The mood is very relaxed and confident, knowing that Stage 16 has some challenges, but barring Tour de France drama things should work out nicely all the way to Paris. The "Texas Crew" - the Discovery Channel's video team - scored a major interview with George, logging some 20 minutes on camera.
For those who know quiet George, that's an incredible amount of talking. Here's a typical interview I did with him before his stage win:
"So how are you feeling today?"
"Is the goal of the team - to stay on the front of the race all the way to Pla d'Adet?"
"Yes, but that's our goal every day."
End of interview (grin)...
All is well in the Discovery Channel camp - thanks for checking in.