ASPEN, Colorado (VN) — Imagine coming in to take over an organization as vast, and troubled, as USA Cycling.
The scope of the national cycling federation ranges from Tour de France stars to passionate volunteers, from aspiring Olympians to veteran age-groupers, from corporate sponsors to intrepid race officials. If it involves competitive cycling in the United States, it concerns USA Cycling, whether or not the federation is directly involved.
Though he wasn’t quite an outsider when he was appointed CEO and president by USA Cycling’s board of directors in late April — he is a former national criterium champion and member of the 2000 Olympic track squad — Derek Bouchard-Hall is now running the federation without having served a day in any other role at the organization.
And while Bouchard-Hall, 44, has a substantial racing pedigree, USA Cycling chairman Bob Stapleton stressed that it was his impressive management and business experience that saw the federation select him from a pool of 47 qualified candidates put forth by executive recruitment firm Korn Ferry.
Bouchard-Hall holds degrees from Stanford, Princeton, and Harvard, and served as an executive with Wiggle, one of the world’s largest online retailers of cycling equipment, from October 2011 until May of this year.
And that’s a good thing, as Bouchard-Hall has his work cut out for him. He has taken over leadership of a federation that has struggled for years to connect with many of its members. More gravely, it is also still reeling from accusations that outgoing CEO Steve Johnson knew of doping practices at the U.S. Postal Service team as far back as 2006.
Some are looking to him, and USAC, to take on a more firm position when it comes to fighting doping in cycling. Bouchard-Hall called the doping issue “a real black eye,” saying he intends to see USA Cycling “firmly establish itself as vehemently anti-doping,” and the “voice of moral authority.”
Asked if his hiring was part of a regime change, Bouchard-Hall answered, “I think there is a change. It’s a natural evolution of the organization, to go through changes in direction and leadership.”
“USA Cycling is a very interesting organization,” he said. “I was part of it as athlete. I knew what the organization had evolved and matured a lot, that there were a lot of strengths to organization, and that is great to see. We are in a strong financial position. We have a good staff here, it works well together. There is a lot to build off of, but it is still a small, mature organization.
“The board is very interested in building on where it is now, going forward,” he continued. “It’s not lost on me that there are many people who feel let down by USA Cycling in some disciplines. There are areas where people would like to see us do more. I’ve gained a sense of the areas we want focus on. I don’t want to dwell on the errors of the past. I’d rather focus on the opportunities that we have in front of us.”
More than anything, since his hiring, Bouchard-Hall — who is attending the USA Pro Challenge in Breckenridge, Colorado, on Thursday and Friday — said he’s been on a “significant listening campaign,” listening to feedback from various groups and individuals.
Anti-doping aside, other issues included working to ensure athlete safety at events; focusing more on core members, rather than just elite athletes; listening to cycling organizations and communities that don’t work directly with USA Cycling, such as the Oregon Bicycle Racing Association (OBRA); investing in the grassroots side of the sport; and increasing a focus on women’s racing.
On women’s cycling, he said that increasing investment and attention is not only “the right thing to do,” but that the U.S. has the advantage of already having “some of the finest women’s athletes in the world.”
Asked what has been the biggest surprise with the new position, Bouchard-Hall said he’d been shocked by USA Cycling’s complexity.
“We are network of volunteers that put on races, local associations, race promoters, officials, and I’ve just been surprised by how complex the ecosystem really is,” he said. “There are so many different groups, different parties, different entities, all involved in the execution of our sport. Ours is not a cohesive sport that is centrally run, there are a lot of different groups. It’s been surprising to me how many individuals and parties are involved. It’s a complex challenge.
“I think part of that surprise is the pure number of people who are passionate about bike racing, and who are volunteering to make events happen. I don’t think I appreciated how many people are involved in running a race, from officiating, to results, to promoting. … It’s just incredible how many people are involved in our sport.”