In the wake of Lance Armstrong's retirement, American cycling has begun looking to the future of the sport to see if there's another champion of his calibre waiting in the wings. And while the seven-time Tour de France winner may be a once-in-a-lifetime phenomenon, USA Cycling is doing its best through its junior development programs to increase the nation's stocks in the European pro peloton. Cyclingnews' Les Clarke finds out what it takes to look after the young ones.
USA Cycling's Under 23 program, in one guise or another, has helped produce champion riders such as Armstrong, Hincapie, Julich and Zabriskie through a closely-watched program conducted in the heartland of European cycling, Belgium. With the current crop of American riders mostly aged over 30, the sport's administration in the US is looking ahead to ensure the next generation of American professionals can make the smoothest possible transition to the professional ranks.
The current U23 program has been in place since 1999, and has been the primary source of development for young American riders looking to get their foot in the door in Europe. Several years of sponsorship and some good results has solidified its place at the head of USA Cycling's development push, and the alumni of the program speaks for itself.
"The U23 program began in 1999, and the current CEO of USA Cycling, Steve Johnson, started that program with the help of Noel and Els Dejonckheere in Izegem, Belgium. Dave Zabriskie was in that first crop of riders that came here and raced in that team," says Steve McCauley, director of USA Cycling's junior athlete program.
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