After 11 seasons of running EuroCrossCamp, Geoff Proctor's long-term goal of working directly with USA Cycling on a national cyclo-cross development program came to fruition when the sport governing body offered him a position as head coach of the junior and under-23 cyclo-cross team this year. The members of the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross Development Program are part way through their third block of racing overseas and so far it has been a big success.
"Inevitably, the transition included the absorbing of EuroCrossCamp by the new program, USAC Cx Devo," Proctor told Cyclingnews. "To me, this was a natural evolution and achieves the aims of both programs."
The USA Cycling Cyclo-cross Development Program was designed specifically for the development of the next generation of American cyclo-cross talent in the categories of under-26 women, under-23 men and junior men. Its primary focus is on international competition including World Cups and the World Championships.
"Now that a culture of US competitiveness in international cyclo-cross has been established, the emphasis turns to cultivating a culture of excellence," Proctor said. "Such a focus on excellence drives effort, pride and top-level performance."
The program supports three blocks of racing overseas for the development riders. Following a fourth consecutive summer camp in Proctor's hometown of Helena, Montana in July, the riders participated in the first two 10-day blocks of training and racing at USA Cycling's headquarters in Sittard, Netherlands.
The third block is based in Vorselaar, Belgium and started on December 20 at the Bpost Bank Trofee series event in Essa and the World Cup held in Namur on December 21, where Gage Hecht finished fifth. It also includes the upcoming World Cup in Zolder on December 26, Superprestige Diegem on December 28, Bpost Bank Trofee events in Loenhout on December 30 and Baal on January 1.
"A primary tenet of the program is the belief that the best pathway for international cyclo-cross success comes through strategic blocks of European cyclo-cross racing, due to the level of competition, challenge of courses and exposure to European race conditions," Proctor said.
The program has cultivated a number of successful performances this year including Hecht, who won the junior race held in conjunction with the World Cup in Koksijde. Gavin Haley also won the junior race held on the same day as the World Cup in Milton Keynes.
"Gage's win in Koksijde and Gavin's victory in Milton Keynes were outstanding efforts and big results for the program," Proctor said. "But they were not official World Cups for juniors, meaning these two races did not have the full, deep fields that we saw, and will see, at the official World Cups in Namur, Zolder and Hoogerheide.
"Regardless, our riders are on a really good level right now. They have a lot of self-belief. They're on the brink. It's hard for me to convey the progress our young riders are making. Our juniors are going up against Belgian and Dutch kids who are all on feeder teams for their pro teams. For our riders to be in this mix, in the finale of these races, that’s progress. Anytime you can be with the leaders on the last lap of a cyclo-cross race, with a shot to win, that's special."
The success of the USA Cycling Cyclo-cross Development Program this year has given Proctor the confidence that his team of young American riders will produce strong results at the World Championships held in Tabor, Czech Republic from January 31 to February 1.
"I have never felt this confident about our potential World Championships team in all categories," Proctor said. "Each year, we get a little better, a little stronger and a little smarter. Cyclo-cross is so unpredictable. Anything can happen. That's what makes it so riveting. But the strongest rider wins, and we've got some very strong riders."
USAC Cx Development Team roster (Block 3)
Erica Zaveta (Amy D Racing)
Elizabeth White (University of Vermont Cycling Team)
Ksenia Lepikhins (SDG-Bellwether p/b Krema Peanut Butter)
Curtis White (Cannondale p/b cyclocrossworld.com)
Andrew Dillman (Cyclocross Network Racing)
Tobin Ortenblad (California Giant/Specialized)
Sam O’Keefe (C3-Twenty20 Cycling Co.)
Liam Earl (Team Corridori/Corridori Cycle Sport)
Logan Owen (California Giant/Specialized)