Sitting at the final wrap-up gathering at this weekend’s USA Cycling Sport Committee meetings, a distant but familiar feeling overcame me as I awaited new CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall’s closing remarks. Maybe it was the place or the lack of sleep and an early morning hike up the 2000-foot Incline Trail, but I was overcome with the feeling of excitement about something new.
Changes are happening at USAC. It's apparent from the moment you approach the USAC building. Gone are the "Executive Parking" signs that marked the closest parking slots. Bouchard-Hall is known for keeping an open door policy and is also known to be a fan of donuts, which are available in his office if you're willing to come by and chat for a moment. Though it would make a nice conspiracy story, it's rumoured to be only coincidence that the Donut Race at this year's upcoming Cyclo-cross Nationals was created for that reason. (Instead, some of the race additions to nationals are intended to create a more festival atmosphere, a common theme in most of the successful CX races around the country.)
Change is happening at the top levels of the staff. Most everyone appears pleased with the recent addition of Chuck Hodge as the new technical director. The organisation is on the lookout for kick-ass leaders (and volunteers) with cycling and data experience. The top marketing position is turning over as well. The staff members at USAC are smiling a lot and talking positively about the future. Their optimism is infectious and inspired many of the sport committee members to feel the same, a self-perpetuating and refreshing happening.
If it sounds like I've drunk the Kool-Aid on this one, you're right. I want to believe that the optimism and transformation at USAC is real. It needs to be. Our sport has serious issues that need to be addressed. Racer license numbers and race days are down -- not just from non-USAC sanctioned races, but across the board in nearly all road and dirt organisations. Insurance costs are going up.
Sponsorship is way down – major sponsor VW is having its own issues. Many of our nation's biggest stage races don't have title sponsors in place beyond 2016. Due to permitting, volunteer and policing issues, many roads and trails are more difficult to use for races. Nationwide, safety and traffic fears are keeping kids from riding on the street. The sport's largest demographic, master men, are aging into their 50s.
The revived staff at USAC plans to attack the sport's growth challenges from the front of the pack early in the race. Renewed focuses on women, juniors and amateur racing are priorities. Thoughtful and strict policies for anti-doping are being discussed for potential implementation. The CEO is listening, taking notes and asking questions from a variety of people on the direction USAC should go and the tactics to get there.
Increased communication and transparency are already apparent, as is Bouchard-Hall’s genuine interest in working together -- not just with USAC’s supporters but also with its outliers. Just as importantly, he's tasking the sport committees (one of the organisation’s direct links to members) to ask ourselves what our roles should be, how we judge the priorities outlined by him so far, and what we suggest he do to achieve them. He took time from his evening schedule to have dinner with the women of the various committees and listen to our ideas and concerns.
As a member of the road committee, I'm saddened that my 8+ years as an athlete representative will be coming to an end next June. Just when our committees are feeling like our plans and suggestions are being heard and the staff will not only be enabled but have the bandwidth to implement them, I'll soon be taking a step back.
For me it's a full circle. Suffering on an early morning hike up the Incline Trail above Old Town Manitou, Colorado before our final committee meeting Tuesday morning brought to mind those first rides at the Olympic Training Center as a development rider when the world of possibilities in my career was wide open and the path of hard work to potential success was becoming clear. Though my current term serving USAC will soon end, a new path is being laid for the organisation. I believe Bouchard-Hall is choosing a good line through the turns. It will take some patience as the organisation sheds weight to climb the hills ahead, but it has a good coach in place, and with discipline and support, huge improvements could be in store.
Kendra Wenzel is a former professional racer and is a partner and Head Coach with Wenzel Coaching. She is the Female Athlete Representative on the USA Cycling Road Sport Committee. Wenzel originally posted another version of this essay on Facebook.