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Collegiate All Star Samantha Runnels, riding for...

USA Cycling will continue national team program at domestic races

USA Cycling plans to field national teams at the Tour of California and Colorado Classic for the foreseeable future.

DENVER, Colorado (VN) – Earlier this season Katie Hall made her debut in the UCI women’s WorldTour, and spent much of the season learning the nuances of European races with her new Boels-Dolmans team.

During last week’s Colorado Classic, Hall, 32, shifted from student to professor. Hall raced with a U.S. national team that was composed of young up-and-coming riders from the collegiate ranks. Hall, herself a former collegiate rider—she raced for U.C. Berkeley—passed on her knowledge to her teammates.

“Everyone’s like ‘oh you guys have survived,’ but they’ve done so much more than survived,” Hall told VeloNews. “They’ve really been effective teammates in this race and that’s huge for them in a race [scenario] … It’s just a little bit of race tactics, how we’re responding to various situations out on the road, and how to kind of make the plans on the fly.”

Joining Hall in Colorado were Anna Christian (19), Madeline Bemis (21), Emma Edwards (29), Cara O’Neill (22), and Samantha Runnels (28).

At the conclusion of the four-day race, the team had endured its high and low points. Hall finished eight place overall, and four of the six riders completed all four stages of the race. More importantly than finishing times was that the riders took in valuable lessons about pro road racing.

Bemis, a junior a Milligan College in Corona, California, said some of the riders came into the team with only basic knowledge of the pro side of road racing.

“We didn’t even know what a [soigneur] was coming into the weekend and we kind of had to ask questions about what a swanny even does, so that kind of gives you a perspective of where we’re coming from on the collegiate season,” Bemis said. “We’re really self-sufficient [in collegiate]. We have coaches to support us, but a lot of this stuff we have to do on our own.”

Throughout 2019 the U.S. national team model has become an important training tool for USA Cycling. For years, the national federation has sent its talented riders to race overseas with one of its various national teams for juniors, U-23 riders, and even elites.

However, USA Cycling officials said this model sometimes places riders into extremely challenging racing situations before they are ready. Officials said the national team model for domestic races was born from this philosophy: expose young riders to pro racing in the United States before they go to Europe.

In 2017 and 2018, the national federation sent a U.S. national team squad to the women’s edition of the Amgen Tour of California. This year, the federation supported a team for elite men in California as well. USA Cycling did not field a U-23 national team in Europe this year, due to shifting resources. Instead, select Under-23 riders made it onto the California team, where they raced alongside veteran Travis McCabe.

This model is not new. USA Cycling fielded a national squad at the Amgen Tour of California in 2007, which was comprised of Brent Bookwalter, then 22, and Tejay van Garderen, who was just 18 years old at the time.

Jeff Pierce, director of elite athletics at USA Cycling in charge of the track and road programs, says the model fills out the federation’s development pipeline.

“I think the pipeline needs to be continuous, right, and so from when you ID riders at an early age through to when they make it onto a WorldTour team,” Pierce said.

“Yeah, there probably are some gaps in that and we need to work with the entire ecosystem. That’s working with the teams, working with the races, working with our operations in Europe too, to kind of create a much smoother flow throughout the process. I think adding to what we do in the U.S. is a big step in that direction to creating a more robust pipeline and platform for these athletes to move through on up into whatever the highest level it is.”

USA Cycling officials told VeloNews that the federation plans to continue its national team model for 2019, and will again field USA Cycling teams at the Amgen Tour of California. Whether or not the federation sends elite racers back to Europe is yet to be determined. Budget and the 2020 Olympics will likely determine the federation’s plans.

“We’re definitely going to stay with California. I think Europe’s to be determined,” said Scott Schnitzspahn, vice president of elite athletics at USA Cycling. “Every year we look at our budgets and we’re going into an Olympic year, so we’ll see. But we’re always looking for other donors, sponsors to step up and help us do what we try to do.”

Thus, it’s a safe bet that veteran riders like Katie Hall will continue to play an important role in teaching the American stars of tomorrow.