USA Cycling today unveiled a new national team program, announcing 51 riders who made the selection, plus specific criteria for making the three-tiered program going forward.
While the US national organisation has supported riders for years, there hasn't been an official protocol for exactly how an aspiring rider could get involved, or what specifically a rider could expect. Now USA Cycling has detailed exactly that.
USA Cycling president and CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall said the new national program will benefit cycling fans, in addition to helping current and aspiring elite athletes.
"Who are America's best athletes? We are defining it," Bouchard-Hall said. "A lot of our members have no idea who Hannah Roberts is." [Roberts is BMX freestyle world champion, Ed.]
Goal: 7 Olympic medals in Tokyo
The US came away from the last Olympic Games in Rio with five Olympic medals and a couple of narrow podium misses. The goal for the next Olympics in Tokyo is seven medals, said Jim Miller, USA Cycling's vice president of high performance.
"Our vision is to be the best in the world — in the field of play, but also in developing athletes through coaching and mentoring and resources," Miller said.
The country's best opportunities for Olympic medals are with the women's track and road squads — the American women are the reigning team pursuit world champions — and with men's and women's BMX programs, said Bouchard-Hall, who allowed that the US men's program isn't a favorite for the Olympics.
"We want to be the best overall team. We were the first country since BMX was added to win a medal in every discipline," he said. "We also want to be the best women's cycling nation by medal count."
Membership does not guarantee Worlds and Olympic selection
Membership on the national team does not guarantee a chance to represent the US at the various world championships or the Olympics. Similarly, a rider from outside the national team can be selected by USA Cycling to race at Worlds or the Olympics.
Still, the primary thrust of the national team is to identify the country's best talent in the hopes of nurturing them with resources to fully capitalize on their potential.
Many of the riders have trade team contracts, such as Neilson Powless (LottoNL-Jumbo), Tejay van Garderen (BMC), Megan Guarnier (Boels Dolmans) or Coryn Rivera (Sunweb). These riders already have a strong support structure of coaches and financial resources, but USA Cycling can fill in gaps as needed, Miller said.
Two-time TT world champion and current US national team member Amber Neben said USA Cycling "wants to come alongside" the training and support of trade teams. "If you have a team that is working well, the last thing they want to do is disrupt that."
Former pro and current USAC endurance performance director Greg Henderson echoed Neben's thoughts.
"We are not here to take over. We are an addition," he said. "A rider's coach can approach us, for help with a bike setup or wind tunnel testing. It's not a 'yes, you must do this; no, you can't do that' situation. That's not how you build a relationship. It's open discussion. At the end of the day, their coaches know their riders better than the performance directors do."
How to make the team
USA Cycling has gold, silver and bronze levels of national team membership, each of which are defined by results in the past year. While a podium at Worlds earns gold in any event, the rest of the criteria varies by discipline. For instance, a podium top five at track Worlds or a top three at a track World Cup is a silver. For road it is more complicated: For men, silver status is achieved by one of the following: a top 10 at Worlds, a top 10 in the UCI WT ranking, a top 5 on a grand tour stage, a top 5 in a one-day WorldTour road race or a winner of a WorldTour stage race.
All the qualifying details are listed on the USA Cycling website.
"There is no subjectivity here at all," said Scott Schnitzpahn, vice president of elite athletics. "You either make it or you don't. It is based on performance in the most recent season. There is no honor roll for past performances, even at the Olympics."
USA Cycling has a long grid of benefits by category. Gold team members get $25,000; silver riders $12,000. All riders get access to coaching, travel to team events and the various resources available at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
In addition to access to performance directors, phsyiologists, nutritionists and the like, riders can also use the High Altitude Training Chamber. Colorado Springs sits at 6,035ft / 1,840m, so riders staying at the OTC for training camps get the blood-boosting benefit of sleeping high, and then the HATC can be adjusted to sea level so riders can train on Wattbikes in an oxygen-rich environment.
Powless said he didn't know what his schedule was going to be like with LottoNL-Jumbo, but that he was going to come to the OTC "as often as I can. I will do two altitude camps at least for this coming season."
Another thing riders get with the new national team program? Clarity.
"The neatest thing about seeing this program is knowing what it takes to get to the next level, and knowing what all our resources are," said Lauren Stephens. "I was part of national team projects a couple of times, and I have raced on the track with the national team a couple times. I knew I was a part of the program, but I didn't understand how others got to that spot."
Former road pro and current track national team member Danny Summerhill had a similar perspective.
"Sometimes it felt like it was 'who you know, how you did in front of them', whereas others might not have had that access," Summerhill said. "Now it is clear what boxes you need to check. Viewing it from 'cross and road, thinking about how I got to different world champs, I think some of that was who you knew. Now it's not."
USA Cycling national team roster
There are 51 athletes who qualified for the national team. Team membership runs for a year, and will be reassessed quarterly. Emma White and Chloé Dygert-Owen qualified for two disciplines.
Road: Chloé Dygert-Owen, Ian Garrison, Megan Guarnier, Brandon McNulty, Amber Neben, Neilson Powless, Coryn Rivera, Joey Rosskopf, Skyler Schneider, Lauren Stephens, Tejay van Garderen, Larry Warbasse, Emma White and Tayler Wiles.
Track: Kelly Catlin, Chloé Dygert-Owen, Kim Geist, Adrian Hegyvary, Daniel Holloway, Gavin Hoover, Ashton Lambie, Colby Lange, Daniel Summerhill, Jennifer Valente, Eric Young, Kim Zubris, Maddie Godby and Mandy Marquardt.
Mountain Bike (XC): Haley Batten, Christopher Blevins, Kate Courtney, Lea Davison, Howard Grotts, Erin Huck and Chloe Woodruff.
Cyclocross: Katie Compton, Gage Hecht, Stephen Hyde and Emma White.
BMX: Nick Bruce, Pat Casey, Cory Coffey, Justin Dowell, Angie Marion, Hannah Roberts, Daniel Sandoval, Colton Walker, Connor Fields, Sean Gaian, Danielle George, Alise Post, Corben Sharrah and Mika Shaw.