05 December 2014

The structure of cycling in America

The levels of bike racing in the United States

Recently I attended an annual awards party for local road bike racing in Colorado; dinner was served before presentations and honors were awarded. Across the table from me sat four young, very talented, bike racers who had raced in the Juniors 17-18 year-old category for the past year. For them it was far more than a year, it had been years of racing and friendships formed by being on the same bike team. Even at their young age, I could tell their identity as bike racers had been forged. "What is next for you?" I asked with true interest. "Not sure, we will try to stay involved."

Theirs seems a fragile age of talent on the brink of waste. If they want more, these young men must be both judged and proven good enough to follow a selective path to national and international development. In addition they must completely devote themselves - and thereby their families - to the job of becoming a pro rider. A job which entails mandatory team contracts year after year, sacrifice, discipline and focus.

Their other possibility is heading to university, where few (but some) schools offer collegiate cycling teams. Only twenty-one colleges sustain official cycling teams across our nation. The remaining young riders have the option to compete in local bike races against grown men who have two or three $10,000 bikes each with excess money for gadgets and personal coaches. Their youthful identity and potential shelved through college, career building and a growing family, they wait to pounce on their big identity comeback as a local amateur hero, consuming their family weekends and holidays to attend bike races.

For some, this is enough, but for others, life begins or is altered at age 17.

How many of us want to be judged at age seventeen? How many of us were that solid at such a young age that talent, awareness, determination, tough mind, tougher body, money, support, means, guidance, opportunity and a good coach all aligned to make dreams happen? That is why continuing support of age 17 to 23 (U23, under age 23) programs are critical in the formation of a good racer.

I have a dear friend who - although he came from impeccable cycling genes - did not begin bike racing until age 24. Within a few stellar years he earned his place on an American Continental team. Although his ability is impressively strong, the sacrifices he has made for his love of bike racing are both scary and admirable.

Not every young bike racer is so lucky or so daring.  The organizational structure of cycling in America is critical in building a strong foundation for the sport for all ages, but for the rider age 17 to 23 - sponsorship, anti-doping, good equipment, proper physical training, respectful coaching, team unity and recognition of hard work is vital.

So much must fall in place for the potential of an athlete to be realized.

I think running might be a much easier sport to pursue. Cycling is not easy: it is not consistently available throughout our nation and it receives little overall attention, with less money. Yet I couldn't help but watch the 2014 Tour de France in admiration and wonder "Who is in charge of junior/U-23 development in France (and Belgium), because they appear to be doing a lot of things right?" No matter the nationality - young fresh talent might just save this sport in crisis.

How bike racing works in America (facts)
  • 2,700+ bike clubs and teams, high school teams, adjunct junior teams (find a club)
  • 57 Junior only bike clubs and teams 
  • 11 honored centers of excellence Junior and Under-23 development teams
  • 21 Collegiate Varsity (and emerging varsity) teams
  • 34 local bike racing associations (state or regional) 
  • 7 USA sport committees (BMX, Collegiate, Cyclo, Mountain Bike, Pro, Road, and Track)
  • 1 American governing body - USA Cycling
  • 1 International governing body - Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI)
This is a long list of organizations, we can be quick tp realize this much bureaucracy teeters on really good people doing a really good job, or bad people doing a lousy job and messing it all up. Sadly, sport can shred the potential in good individuals through poor administration.

In 2013, leadership at the top level of UCI changed hands to British citizen Brian Cookson (Cookson presents re-worked cycling reforms to race organisers By CyclingNews). Improvements to the organization have been quick, slow, controversial and ongoing; so much more needs to be done. Major personnel changes also took place at USA Cycling in 2014, even more changes can be expected there through 2015. Changes are needed all around to manage growth in the lower ranks and recession in the upper ranks, plus dismal reputation of the sport.

Update 12/09/14: Steve Johnson to step down as CEO of USA Cycling, by Cycling News
Update 12/16/14: The highly respected voice of America sport - Juliet Macur - has written an honest article about Steve Johnson finally departing USA Cycling. Executive’s Ride Into Sunset Signals Brighter Day for U.S.A. Cycling, By Juliet Macur for The New York Times.

History of USA Cycling's name

1921 - The Amateur Bicycle League of America
1975 - United States Cycling Federation (USCF)
1995 - USA Cycling (USAC)
Programs and events nationwide to create better bike racers or more cyclists
  • Cycling Advocacy Organizations
  • USA Cycling certified coaching program
  • Bike club clinics and training rides
  • Local bike racing associations' development camps & seminars
  • Local amateur, collegiate, regional, and national racing calendar and events
  • Over 3,000 USA Cycling sanctioned events a year
  • National Collegiate events and Regional Collegiate Conferences
  • National Championships (annual)
  • World Championships (annual)
  • Olympics
Tremendous growth in bike racing was realized over the past five years in both the upper age-ranges (35+ to 55+) and the junior programs. Youthful discovery in sport often takes a planned course through junior development to pro level racing, but there is no one way to achieve success in cycling. Much of it has to do with getting that lucky break or getting along with people. And spending a lot of time racing in the saddle.

Opportunities for select individuals only and Teams
  • USA Cycling National Development Program
  • USA Cycling Regional and National Talent ID Camps
  • USA Cycling Juniors international racing camps and trips
  • USA Cycling European resident programs for Americans (men and women)
  • USA Cycling U23 Mens Team and Womens Team (roster)
  • National Teams
  • 3 UCI America based Women's Teams- Road
  • 9 UCI America based Continental Teams - Road (mens)
  • 3 UCI America based Professional Continental Teams - Road (mens)
  • 3 UCI America based WorldTour Pro Teams - Road (mens)
By the time a Junior/U23 makes it through selection and development, there are not too many team options available to him (and less to her). It is also known that with the restructuring of the UCI into 2016, there will be even fewer WorldTour Pro Teams. Below is a list of Pro Teams, some are in the process of reorganization, signing riders, and applying for licensing (exact team structure and sponsorship for 2015 is not fully known at this time).

American UCI Road Teams

UCI Mens WorldTour Pro Teams: (3 of 18 total teams worldwide)
BMC Racing Team
Team Cannondale-Garmin
Trek Factory Racing

UCI Mens Professional Continental Teams: (3 of 19 total teams worldwide)
Colombia (South America)
Team Novo Nordisk

UCI Mens Road Continental Teams: (23 of 141 total teams worldwide)

United States:
Astellas Cycling Team
Axeon Cycling Team
Champion System-Stan's NoTubes
Hincapie Sportswear Development Team
IRT Racing
Jamis-Hagens Berman
Jelly Belly p/b Maxxis
Lupus Racing Team
Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies
Team SmartStop

Domincan Republic:
Inteja-MMR Dominican Cycling Team (DOM)

South America:
Buenos Aires Privincia
Incycle Cannondale
Funvic Sao Jose Dos Campos
Orgullo Antioquendo
San Luis Somos Todos
Sendicato de Empleados Publicos de San Juan
Start - Massi Cycling Team
Team Ecuador

Garneau Quebecor
H&R Block Pro Cycling (U23 Development)
Silber Pro Cycling

UCI Womens Teams: (7 of 37 total teams worldwide)
Itau Shimano Ladies Power Team (South America)
Optum p/b Kelly Benefit Strategies (USA)
Pepper Palace Pro Cycling p/b/ The Happy Tooth (USA)
Team Tibco - SVB (USA)
Twenty 16 p/b/ Sho-Air (USA)
United Healthcare Professional Cycling Team (USA)
Xirayas de San Luis (South America)

View all teams listed at: Pro Cycling Stats Teams
View 2015 team rider transfer list at Cycling Fever or Pro Cycling Stats Transfers

UCI Mens Domestic Elite Teams - American (24 teams) (2014, 2015 teams in approval process)

Athlete Octane Cycling
Breakawaybikes.com-Vie13 p/b Felt Bicycles
California Giant/Specialized
Canyon Bicycles - Shimano
CRCA/Blue Ribbon - Pennell Venture Partners
CRCA/Lupus Racing Team
Credité Velo - Trek
Ego p/b Sammy's Bikes
Elbowz Racing
Gateway Harley-Davidson/Trek
GIANT Regional ON-ROAD Team
Hagens Berman U-23 Cycling
Horizon Organic / Einstein Bros. Cycling
KHS-Maxxis p/b JAKROO
Kelly Benefit Strategies Elite
Live Well p/b Bountiful Bicycle
Pioneer Mortgage Funding p/b Yourkey.com
Revolution Cycle/Twin 6
SeaSucker/Guttenplan Coaching
Stan's NoTubes p/b Proferrin Elite Cycling
Team Metra / Cycles 54
Team Rio Grande 
Van Dessel Factory Team

UCI Womens Domestic Elite Teams - American (17 teams) (2014, 2015 teams in approval process)

Cloud Racing p/b Ride 2 Recovery
Colavita-Fine Cooking
CRCA/CityMD Racing
CRCA/Stan's NoTubes p/b enduranceWERX
DNA Cycling p/b K4
FCS|Zngine p/b Mr. Restore
Fearless Femme
Garneau Factory Team
Guru Cycles p/b Haute Wheels Racing
PainPathways Women's Cycling
Pepper Palace Pro Cycling
Pinnacle-Reactor p/b JL Velo
Pioneer Mortgage Funding p/b YourKey.com
Team Belladium
Tennessee Women's Cycling Project
TWENTY16 Pro Cycling

NRC (National Racing Calendar) -
NCC (National Criterium Calendar) -
Pedal Dancer 2015 Colorado Bike Race Calendar

Did you know?
  • Every state in the United States but Oregon, South Dakota, North Dakota, Hawaii, and Alaska (and Wyoming I was just informed) have state cycling associations associated with USA Cycling? Oregon operates its own independent Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA).
  • Over 76,000 citizens hold USA Cycling racing licenses.
  • Tejay van Garderen, Timmy Duggan, Danny Summerhill, Ted King, Michael Creed, Danny Pate, Nate Brown, Kiel Reijnen, Chris Butler, Ryan Eastman, Taylor Phinney and many more top level pro cyclists started in junior clubs or through USA Cycling U-23 programs.
If your child is interested in getting into the sport of cycling - USA Cycling offers this Athlete Development Pathway guide. If your child is a girl - start lobbying now for equal pay in cycling. If your child is interested in running - buy him or her a good pair of running shoes, open the front door, and go for a run together.

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Here is a photo I took in 2011 of local Colorado junior wonder Gage Hecht. Two weeks ago Gage won the Mens Juniors 2014-2015 UCI Cyclo-cross World Cup in Koksijde, Belgium. Watching his growth through the junior programs has been amazing.

USA Cycling race report... "American Gage Hecht (Parker, Colo./Alpha Bicycle Company/Visit Subaru). The 16-year-old Hecht beat out three Belgian favorites for the win, crossing the line seven seconds ahead of second-place finisher."

A young 13-year old Gage Hecht in 2011 spending his weekends doing what he loves (with his parents always nearby). Photo by Karen Rakestraw of Pedal Dancer®