Andrew Talansky (Cannondale) has called for USA Cycling to work with the UCI to revoke the rule that prevents top riders from racing lower ranked races. Current regulations mean that riders from the WorldTour and Pro Continental circuits are barred from competing in national events unless they are part of a national team.
Talansky believes that it is the single biggest factor in the current difficulties that US racing is suffering at a grassroots level, and the removal of it would help the sport grow in the US.
“Whatever the UCI rule that exists that prohibits WorldTour riders from doing local US races is killing cycling in the US,” Talansky told Cyclingnews. “For me, that needs to be changed, and USA Cycling has done absolutely nothing to get that done. They’re letting grassroots cycling die in the US by preventing us from doing this.
“I think that they’re alienating a lot of fans. The Tour of California is now the only race where they can come and see you in person, and if you can’t do that then maybe they won’t see you in person unless they can afford to come to Europe, and that’s bad for cycling.”
Speaking to Cyclingnews at a Cannondale altitude training camp in Tenerife, Talansky becomes impassioned when asked about the state of US cycling. Talansky, like most US pros, rose through the ranks of the domestic racing scene.
Talansky says that the rules were brought in to prevent big name riders taking away prize money from domestic riders, but he believes that wouldn’t be an issue.
“I would happily donate my prize money or give it to the second placed rider,” said Talansky. “I’m a big fan of grassroots US cycling because that is what I grew up doing.
“The reason I want to race local races is because of what it brings to the race. It brings in sponsors, money and it sells out fields and helps those local races that help someone like me get to where I am now. When you take away our ability to do that, then it kills cycling at the core… We want to help US cycling come back to where it was. Nevada City used to draw every big name and now I'm not even allowed to do it."
Big names draw big crowds
Talansky recalls being able to ride with the big names while he was just beginning his career and the emotion he felt. He believes that by allowing a select few WorldTour riders into the race, this would entice more people to sign up to race. It would also give the American public a chance to see some of the nation’s top riders, something that is rare at the moment.
“I did Nevada City when Lance [Armstrong], Levi [Leipheimer] and maybe [Chris] Horner did that race, and it was like what it used to be in the days when it was huge. There were tens of thousands of people watching; there were some people on roofs. It felt like it was the whole city had come out to watch the race and I could race for them. It was exciting, and I was nobody,” explained Talansky. “The promoter can sell 150 spots on that race, people can go and see it, and it is accessible. At the heart of it, that is what cycling has going for it. We are so much more accessible than any other sport.
“What keeps races alive is that you want to see the big names, they want to see someone like Chris Froome. Bradley Wiggins going to the Tour of California is a big thing. Obviously, he isn’t trying to win it this year, but the star power he brings is huge. It’s the same in any sport, you want to see the best players play, and I think that’s the way that it needs to go.”
Talansky is one of those riders that will be heading to the Tour of California next month, after making changes to his calendar following a crash at Paris-Nice. While the country’s other big race the USA Pro Challenge has been forced to shelve its self for a season after failing to find a sponsor, the Tour of California is going from strength to strength.
“It is drawing the best field it’s ever had,” Talansky said. “You’re going to have the sprinting who’s who, Sagan, Cavendish, and Kristoff. I think it is the most WorldTour teams that the race has ever had. I know that there are WorldTour teams that wanted to go but didn’t get n invite for whatever reason. That speaks about that race’s place on the calendar. People really want to race the Tour of California. I think it’s been kind of a staple of US cycling.”
In contrast to the domestic scene, American cycling at a top level is the best that it has ever been with three WorldTour registered teams and a string of top level pros, including Talansky, Tejay van Garderen, Taylor Phinney and Peter Stetina to name but a few. But that can only continue for so long if the domestic side of things continues to struggle. Talansky believes that making a simple rule change can help the sport grow again.
“I think if that one rule could change you would see, bit by bit over the next five or 10 years, a rebuilding of those local races and that would, in turn, help fuel races like Tour of California and Colorado, and you would see races like Nevada City become a big race again,” he said. “I think that the US is obviously deserving of a WorldTour race where you would draw big riders. Australia has one, and I think that the US is a logical place for a one-week WorldTour race. Hopefully, it can move in that direction.”