USA Cycling has been making the most of the top US races on the UCI calendar, fielding a national team for the WorldTour Amgen Tour of California in May and assembling a team of collegiate all-stars for the Colorado Classic, the UCI 2.1 women's race that started Thursday with stage 1 in Steamboat Springs.
"We're trying to build this program and keep all the components of our pipeline thriving and healthy and give them some great chances to basically showcase what they can do," said Jeff Pearce, USA Cycling's head of performance who is acting as director at the Colorado Race.
The USA Cycling team in Colorado features Katie Hall, the Boels Dolmans rider who is an alumnus of collegiate racing. Hall will be the road captain for the younger riders on the team, which also includes Madeline Bemis, Anna Christian, Emme Edwards, Cara O'neill and Samantha Runnels.
"Katie is definitely acting as the mentor for this group, and they're definitely having a fantastic time with it," Pearce said. "We had a training camp in Boulder for a week, and so they got to spend some time together. We came up here yesterday, and we're going to see what they can do.
"I think we've got some amazing examples of collegiate riders who have made it big time," Pearce said. "Coryn Rivera (Team Sunweb) is probably at the top of the list. Christina Birch [USA Cycling team pursuit rider] right now came out of MIT, and we have an MIT woman on this team here. She was telling me that Christina is a big inspiration to her as well."
The collegiate program is an important recruiting and scouting tool for USA Cycling, and it's especially important in women's racing, where athletes often come to the sport later than many men.
"I think we have to take advantage of every opportunity we have where we've got enthusiastic athletes that want to find out what they can do in cycling," Pearce said. "I think the collegiate program is one of those that we keep an eye on and hopefully find some gems that come out of that program as well."
The USA Cycling team that competed in the Tour of California was in the race to hunt stage wins, infiltrate breakaways and animate the race while flying the US colours, the collegiate all-star team in Colorado has a rider in Hall who can win the overall. In fact, Hall is one of the top favourites, if not the top favourite, to win the whole race.
"Ultimately, we're here to try and win the race as well, so there's a lot of pressure on this sort of very young team that's going to be learning a lot as we go over these next four days," Pearce said.
Part of that learning has already taken place, as the team went out earlier this week to pre-ride the climb in Friday's stage that could very well determine the overall winner.
Stage 2 starts in Avon and takes riders over seven laps of a short circuit in town before riders take on the 7km climb through Beavercreek and up Bachelor's Gulch. A fast descent follows before riders make their way back into Avon and the finish.
"We went on and reconned that course on Monday," he said. "We had the whole team up there. They rode it a number of times and descended it a number of times. That's a for-real climb, so it will be interesting to see how that pans out. It will definitely be a day for the climbers in the end."
Hall is expected to excel on the climb, but Pearce warned that it may not be as decisive as some are predicting.
"I don't think the gaps will be as big as people are imagining because it's just one climb up and then a big descent and half of the circuit," he said. "It's going to favour not just the pure climber, but someone who can climb and also descend and has some power on the flat. So it's gonna favour a more well-rounded rider who is obviously an exceptional climber."
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Growing up in Missoula, Montana, Pat competed in his first bike race in 1985 at Flathead Lake. He studied English and journalism at the University of Oregon and has covered North American cycling extensively since 2009, as well as racing and teams in Europe and South America. Pat currently lives in the US outside of Portland, Oregon, with his imaginary dog Rusty.