Ryan Aitcheson was one of Astellas Pro Cycling’s dominant sprinters on the US domestic criterium circuit finishing third overall in USA Cycling’s National Criterium Calendar (NCC) by season’s end. Back with Astellas in 2016, the Canadian will be looking to improve on his finishes against top domestic sprinters and hopes to one day have the opportunity to carry his speed into some of the biggest stage races in North America.
“With Astellas the one-day events proved better for rider development as each rider had their day rather then selling out for a GC contender,” said Aitcheson, who joined Astallas squad in 2013 as a development rider. “Crits are like that, meaning you can recoup and tweak strategies every weekend. I like that aspect and will for sure focus on the national calendar crits, and plan to be at most, if not all.”
Although he lacked a victory on the NCC, Aitcheson’s season highlights included second-place finishes at Chris Thater Memorial and the Air Force Association Cycling Classic, and third places at the Gateway Cup, Dana Point Grand Prix, Novant Health Invitational Criterium and Rochester Twilight Criterium. His biggest competition this year were UnitedHealthcare riders Hilton Clarke and Carlos Alzate, who placed first and second in the individual rankings for the NCC, and Daniel Holloway who was fourth in the standings.
Next year, the playing field could change as USA Cycling recently announced a merger between the NCC and the National Racing Calendar (NRC), for a combined 17 criteriums, five stage races and two road races. The sport's governing body has not announced a ranking system for the new national series, however, Aitcheson hopes that the large number of criteriums on the calendar will favour riders like him.
“The ranking system will be a big factor,” Aitcheson told Cyclingnews. “There are more crits so it could go into my favour, and it would be fantastic to chase the overall. But it depends on how many points are up for grabs in the stage races. The team overall [standings], will be a focus for Astellas since they strive to race all the events.”
Astellas Pro Cycling will be entering their third season as a UCI Continental team next year. They haven’t officially announced their roster but Aitcheson was pleased to say that he will be returning to the team for a fourth season.
Astellas will again try and be present at most of the events; criteriums and stage races on the national calendar, and the team’s manager Andrew Frey told Cyclingnews that he hopes the team will secure an invitation to one of the bigger stage races like the Tour of California, Tour of Utah or USA Pro Challenge.
“I’m kind of excited that the NRC and NCC are combined, we do most of the events, but maybe more teams will do the criteriums, too, next year,” Frey said. “We would like to do a bigger stage race and we are comfortable now to apply to do those races. If we are accepted into one we have the team to do it, the equipment to do it and we have the staff to do it. But if we did get into one of those, we wouldn’t take away from our criterium team.”
Although Aitcheson will put is focus largely on the criteriums in the US next year, he does hope to have the opportunity to transfer some of that speed into the finishes at some of the bigger stage races.
“I learned so much last year and it showed in my results,” Aitcheson said. “I'd like to thank the team because it takes a full set of riders to pull off one result, and also Adam Myerson for the wisdom and leadership he brought to the program. If I can stretch my crit results into 150km plus events -- then look out.”