VeloNews spoke with several American pro riders and team managers to gather perspective from the top end of the sport. Responses were varied, but there were a few shared sentiments. Our sources want USA Cycling to expand participation at cycling’s grassroots levels, bring non-traditional events under the governing body’s umbrella, and maintain stability and consistency within its own ranks.
EF Education First team CEO Jonathan Vaughters believes that USA Cycling can learn from other endurance sports to boost sagging participation numbers in traditional sanctioned events. That means better outreach and education, and lower barriers to entry for those who are new to the sport.
“When you show up to your first race, if you can figure out how to sign up for one, if you can find your first race, you make it through the first few laps but then on lap six there’s an official shouting at you to pull you out of the race,” Vaughters said.
“Sports like cycling are moving away from elitism if you look at triathlon or even something like a Tough Mudder. USA Cycling needs to get away from elitism.”
Vaughters and other sources pointed to the growth of gravel events as an opportunity for growth.
“Everyone is doing these independent races and they’re blowing up. They’re huge,” Travis McCabe said. “Why isn’t USA Cycling trying to collaborate with these events and these organizers and get those members to come on board and do those races as well?”
Developing young riders
Every pro rider VeloNews spoke with praised USA Cycling’s work in developing young talent. Brent Bookwalter suggested that collegiate racing should be more integrated with the development path for young American riders. Bookwalter raced with Lees-McRae college prior to joining the professional ranks.
“It seems like the collegiate scene is very alive and healthy but it’s still sort of a self-standing thing. It’s still not really utilized or recognized or respected as a development path. I think there’s potential,” he said.
“You could just start with USA Cycling developing a little more formalized talent IDs and feeder opportunities from collegiate cycling. Or even trying to put together composite squads at some American races.”
Once riders reach the elite ranks, their interactions with USA Cycling become less frequent as trade teams and the UCI become more relevant in their day-to-day lives. For many pros, direct communication with USA Cycling is often limited to national championship events and national team selection for world championships and the Olympics.
Some riders wondered if USA Cycling could provide more opportunities for pro riders once they entered the elite ranks. Joey Rosskopf pointed to European governing bodies as examples.
“Italy and Belgium, Switzerland sometimes, they do races with the national team, the elite guys,” Rosskopf said. “If your trade team isn’t showing up to a race and you have a little break in your schedule, you can go race with the national team at some UCI races and I’ve always thought that was super cool.”
The Amgen Tour of California presents an opportunity for this model. Now a UCI WorldTour race, the Tour of California no longer allows UCI Continental riders to participate in the event. Could USA Cycling field a U.S. national team for the race?
“Why not create a national team for the Tour of California like what Australia does for Tour Down Under?” McCabe said.
Finally, riders hope that DeMartini, USA Cycling’s incoming CEO, dedicates himself to staying in the position for the long term. Outgoing CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall was able to enact multiple changes during his tenure — he launched a massive IT project to improve race registration and helped USA Cycling move past its association with the doping sins of cycling’s past. Yet Bouchard-Hall only stayed in the position for four years. His predecessor, Steve Johnson, held the position for nine years.
Turnover within USA Cycling’s second- and third-tier leadership ranks has also been high in recent years. National team coaches have also come and gone with increasing frequency.
Riders hope that USA Cycling’s new chief DeMartini can create additional stability in these positions. The hope is that stability will enable the governing body to move forward with the various challenges it faces in 2019 and abroad.
“Derek did a great job of bringing in not just cycling people, but people who knew how to run teams and organizations and the business side of it,” Bookwalter said.
“I don’t know where all those projects stood when he left but it doesn’t feel from an athlete’s perspective that they were complete. Yet another time of limbo and flux after we’d been pushed down what seemed like a good and interesting path. Hopefully, someone can pick up the reins and keep it going.”