In any sport or organisation, there comes a time when the older and more experienced must move aside and make way for the younger generation to take the reins. US women’s road cycling at the moment is undergoing its own changes, with several of its top stars on their way out.
Kristin Armstrong, Mara Abbott and Evelyn Stevens have all hung up their racing wheels, while the future of Shelley Olds remains uncertain. Carmen Small will still be racing in 2017, but it won’t be full-time as she begins her transition into a director sportif role. Amber Neben is also due to take a bit of a step back from racing, targeting fewer road races in 2017 as she focuses on other challenges.
Between them, Stevens, Abbott, Small and Neben contributed 1,714.5 UCI points to the US total of 2,900.5, which saw them take second in the rankings for the first time. A strong Giro Rosa and team time trial success with Boels Dolmans at the World Championships boosted Stevens into the top 15, while Small was just a few places behind, despite missing selection for the Olympic Games.
While she didn’t contribute to the team’s final total [as only the top five riders can] in 2016, Armstrong also enjoyed a strong season that included second overall at the Tour of California and culminated in her third consecutive Olympic time trial gold. She hasn’t officially used the retirement word but said ahead of the Olympics that she planned to focus on her job as Director of Community Health for Saint Luke's Hospital in Boise, Idaho next season.
All of them have during their careers helped push the country up the UCI’s nation standings. The departure of so much knowledge in one-fell-swoop is bound to leave a bit of a hole, so who does USA Cycling have to look to on the road in 2017 and beyond?
All the experience isn’t totally disappearing, with 31-year-old WorldTour winner Megan Guarnier continuing to lead the way for the North American nation. Guarnier dominated the 2016 season from almost start to finish with overall victories at the Tour of California and the Giro Rosa, and one-day wins at the US national championships, the Trofeo Alfredo Binda and the Philadelphia Cycling Classic.
Rising up the ranks quickly behind Guarnier is the 24-year-old Coryn Rivera, who enjoyed her best season to date in 2016. Rivera has been a professional with UnitedHealthcare since 2014 but this year brought more victories than the previous two combined, five, and a top 20 placing at the World Championships. Next year brings a move to Team Sunweb, which has some serious pedigree when it comes to developing sprinters.
Chloe Dygert’s new contract with Twenty16-Ridebiker is another promising sign. Dygert announced herself as a serious future prospect at the World Championships in Richmond just over a year ago when she won the junior road race and time trial. She largely stepped back from the road as she focussed on being a part of the US team pursuit squad for the Rio Olympics – which went on to win silver. She still enjoyed a solid Tour of California and came away with the young rider’s classification.
Next year will be an opportunity to put her efforts into developing her promise on the road. Only time will tell what she can do but the world will be her oyster in 2017, and she will have some strong backing in compatriot and former teammate Armstrong, whom Dygert has said will be her coach.
In Dygert’s absence, the USA had another strong showing in the junior category at this year’s World Championships. Skylar Schneider took fourth in the time trial before being edged out by Elisa Balsamo in the road race. The eloquent 18-year-old, who rode for the IS Corp team this year, also finished third in USA Cycling's Pro Road Tour series. She hasn’t announced her team yet, but she will be riding with her elder sister, Samantha, who has dominated criterium racing in the US this year.
The 22-year-old Alexis Ryan is another rising star on the US scene. Ryan signed up with Canyon-SRAM for this season after two years with UnitedHealthcare. Compared to the others, her season’s results don’t jump out and hit you in quite the same way, but it was a solid season nevertheless, and she had an opportunity to race the World Championships for the first time. Next season will be an opportunity to build on what she has learned this year.
For women's cycling in the US, it seems that as one generation of riders say their goodbyes, another talented group is waiting in the wings.