The Columbia-Highroad and Garmin-Slipstream teams, the only American-based UCI ProTour squads, have partnered with USA Cycling to back the governing body's ongoing efforts to develop and support young racers. The newly-created partnership represents a substantial financial investment by the Amercian professional cycling industry to ensure that the US will produce future generations of international cycling stars.
Created in 1999, the USA Cycling National Development Team is celebrating its tenth year, and it has played a crucial role in the successful development of junior and Under 23 riders. During this time, the program has provided the support, experience and instruction necessary to make the transition to a professional career for a number of American riders.
"We won't have a fixed national team," said USA Cycling spokesperson Andrea Smith to Cyclingnews. "We'll support 40 or 50 total racers during the season. They will take turns racing for the development team. Taylor Phinney is a good example. He's part of his trade team, but he'll race eight weeks with the US National Development team this year."
Smith said the program will involve Under 23, junior 17-18 and junior 15-16 men and senior women.
While competing as part of the National Development Team, racers will wear USAC National Team jerseys, in a traditional stars and stripes design, with Slipstream and Highroad logos on them.
Based at its headquarters in Izegem, Belgium and managed by former Belgian pro Noel Dejonckheere, the program gives young cyclists the opportunity to race in the world's most competitive cycling environment where the fields are larger and more aggressive, the speed is faster and the courses are technically more demanding than in America.
"During the past decade, our men's and women's development programs have been a key component in the tremendous influx of American cyclists into the professional ranks," said USA Cycling chief executive officer Steve Johnson. "These programs are paying tremendous dividends, having produced numerous Olympians, Olympic and world championship medalists, Tour de France stage winners and many of the sports' future stars. Our European-based development efforts are some of the most successful programs in the history of USA Cycling, and the support of Highroad and Slipstream will allow us to continue that trend and build on our current momentum."
The program has provided opportunities for dozens of developmental riders to live and compete in Europe for extended periods. The program has facilitated the pro careers of many, including 16 current or former UCI ProTour team athletes and countless Professional Continental and Continental team riders. As part of this expanded program, USA Cycling will work closely with various domestic-based junior and Under 23 programs to provide international racing experience for athletes who primarily race domestically with their trade teams.
"Slipstream Sports was founded to foster the next generation of American cycling champions, so we are incredibly proud to support USA Cycling's development program in partnership with Highroad," said Jonathan Vaughters, CEO of Slipstream Sports. "Several of our athletes, including Christian Vande Velde, David Zabriskie, Danny Pate, Will Frischkorn, Timmy Duggan, Steven Cozza and Tyler Farrar have had the benefit of working with USA Cycling as young Americans, and that is a tradition we will continue through this new relationship."
"High Road Sports is focused on developing young athletes into the future leaders of the sport, and we are excited to support the future of American cycling through this powerful partnership," said Bob Stapleton, owner of Highroad Sports. "More than half of the athletes on Team Columbia-Highroad are under 26 years of age and are enjoying personal growth and success. The majority of victories so far this year have come from our youngest athletes including Edvald Boasson Hagen, Frantisek Rabon and of course Mark Cavendish. We look forward to working with USA Cycling in their mission to guide young American athletes to grow from aspiring amateurs to top-level professionals."
The Under 23 Tour of Flanders in Belgium this Saturday marks the first major international race for the National Development Team since the added support of Slipstream and Highroad. The roster includes Chris Barton (BMC Racing), Austin Carroll (BMC Racing), Kirk Carlsen (Holowesko Partners-Felt), Cole House (BMC Racing), Taylor Phinney (Trek-Livestrong) and Bjorn Selander (Trek-Livestrong).
Additionally, a group of 17- and 18-year-olds will open the junior calendar with the four-day Ster Zuid van Limberg stage race in the Netherlands, April 10-13. Alex Battles-Wood (Power Train), Nathan Brown (Hot Tubes), Lawson Craddock (Hot Tubes), Adam Leibovitz (Nuvo Cultural Trail), Connor O'Leary (FFKR Architects-SportsBaseOnline) and Jacob Rathe (CMG Racing) will attend the event.