USA Cycling's National Criterium Calendar (NCC) continues to evolve going into its third year on the domestic schedule. USAC trimmed the NCC from 24 events to just 16 next season as part of an effort to ensure the quality of the series and make it easier for teams to manage, according to Micah Rice, USAC vice president of national events.
"I think a lot of the race directors and teams really looked at that huge calendar in 2013 and just said, 'Hey, it's too big. No one can really follow it. No team can really afford to send a team everywhere,'" Rice said. "And so we kind of heard that loud and clear. People were asking for a smaller calendar, and so we definitely raised the bar a little bit."
The series ballooned to 40 racing days in 2013, more than originally intended, Rice said. But a couple of changes for next year – combined with several races that decided not to be included on the calendar – have whittled the series down. Increased calendar fees and raising minimums for prize money caused several races not to re-apply, Rice said, while some applicants did not meet basic requirements for inclusion.
"Some of the teams said there are some loopholes on the omniums and they're not paying out very much," Rice said. "So we kind of closed that loophole, and we also raised the price of the calendar fee a little bit."
Gone from the NCC next season are many of the USA Crits series races, including the "Speed Weeks" in Georgia and South Carolina. The Old Pueblo Grand Prix, the Tour de Grove and the Iron Hill Twilight Criterium will also not be on the NCC line-up next year.
"A number of the USA Crits dropped off the schedule, we definitely saw that," Rice said. "Some of them are still on there, but [USA Crits promoter] Gene Dixon removed a number of his events. That's fine. We think there is plenty of space in the criterium arena to have both the NCC and USA Crits.
"A lot of these events that aren't on the calendar are still great events without the calendar," Rice continued. "We expect a lot of pro teams will attend them. And really, the only pro teams that can't attend those races that dropped off the calendar are UnitedHealthcare and any [WorldTour] or other Pro Continental teams."
UnitedHealthcare dominated the men's USA Crits Series in 2013, winning all but one of the races and putting four riders in the top five of the overall standings. UnitedHealthcare also dominated the NCC races, sweeping the top four overall spots. The team's Hilton Clarke won both criterium series, while Care4Cycling-Solomon's Erica Allar matched his feat in the pair of women's series, winning both the NCC and USA Crits titles.
Although the 2014 USA Crits schedule has not yet been released, the two criterium calendars could still share about a half a dozen races next year.
Not all of the news surrounding the 2014 NCC schedule is about downsizing. Despite losing 11 events and nearly 20 race days from last year's schedule, next season's calendar will see the addition of three first-time NCC events.
The Winston-Salem Classic Criterium will run on April 18, the day after the Winston-Salem Classic Road Race, a UCI-sanctioned one-day race that will also be on National Racing Calendar (NRC) for the first time.
"Winston-Salem ran a pretty good event last year, both a road race and a criterium," Rice said. "And now they've got both of them on the calendars. That's actually a back-to-back Thursday and Friday before Easter weekend with the UCI road race and the NCC criterium. Being on both of those calendars makes a really good double day in the middle of the week for the pro teams."
The five-day Staenberg Group Gateway Cup in St. Louis from August 28 to September 1 will be run by organizers of the former Tour de Grove.
"The Gateway Cup has been a successful race for many years," Rice said. "Mike Weiss has done a really good job with that event, and a lot of people go to that event. When Mike pulled the [Tour de Grove] off the calendar he said he'd love to put Gateway on. That was an easy one. I think all he had to do was raise his prize list a little bit and he fit all the check boxes."
The NCC's Presbyterian Hospital Criterium in Charlotte will combine with an ongoing criterium in nearby Belmont to form the Charlotte-Belmont Omnium on April 12-13.
"Presbyterian Hospital will be on Saturday night, and they're moving the Belmont Criterium to that Sunday after Charlotte," Rice said.
But even with the new additions, the final calendar that was released on Thursday is a little smaller than Rice had anticipated. Rice said he was OK with the final result, but he had ideally envisioned a calendar with about 20 events and more race days.
"We literally cut the number of racing days by close to half," he said. "It's definitely a little more than I thought I would be cutting off the calendar, but I'm fine with where it sits right now. I think it's a really strong group of the best criteriums in the United States."
Coast to coast crit calendar starts in Florida
The NCC will start in Florida on March 22 with the Delray Beach Twilight Festival. From there it heads north to Alabama and the Sunny King Criterium on April 5. The Charlotte-Belmont Omnium follows the next weekend in North Carolina, where the series closes out the month the following Friday at the Winstom-Salem Classic Criterium.
The NCC picks up again on May 4 for the Dana Point Grand Prix in California, followed two weeks later by the Wilmington Grand Prix in Delaware. New Jersey's Middle Earth Tour of Somerville follows nine days later on May 26, with the Glencoe Grand Prix in Illinois closing out the month on the 31st.
The St. Francis Tulsa Tough starts things off the first weekend of June with three days of racing in Oklahoma, while the Air Force Association Cycling Classic visits Arlington, Virginia the same weekend for two days of racing. The month closes with a pair of races at the Tour of America's Dairyland in Wisconsin on June 21-22.
The NCC heads west again for two races in July, the Anderson Banducci Twilight Criterium in Boise, Idaho, and the Chevron Manhattan Beach Grand Prix in California. The series takes a break for nearly a month before starting up again on August 23-24 at the Chris Thater Memorial in New York and the Gateway Cup in St. Louis from August 28 through September 1. As in 2013, the calendar concludes with the TD Mayor's Cup in Boston on September 20.