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USA Cycling revamps coaching structure with Olympic ambitions

USA Cycling's elite track program dives into World Cup season after some personnel reshuffling behind the scenes.

USA Cycling’s elite track program headed into this weekend’s track World Cup in Milton, Ontario after weathering several months of organizational shakeup. This most recent round of restructuring comes one year after USA Cycling overhauled its high-performance program to pursue Olympic success at the 2020 games in Tokyo.

“It’s always difficult when you have that amount of change because it just puts more questions into riders’ minds, ‘What’s the big plan? I thought the plan was for “X” to happen,” said Daniel Holloway, who races the Madison and omnium, among other events. “And then these other things out of our control start happening.”

In 2018 the national governing body saw the departure of Jim Miller, vice president of high performance, as well as performance director Greg Henderson. Miller departed in January to oversee business development for TrainingPeaks after 16 years with USA Cycling. Henderson left abruptly in February, just five months after joining the organization.

Henderson told VeloNews he left the organization for personal reasons; he and his family recently moved back to New Zealand.

Three-time Olympic champion Kristin Armstrong also transitioned from her full-time role as an endurance performance director into a part-time contractor job with the organization. Armstrong recently broke ground on a fitness center in her hometown of Boise, Idaho.

Last August, Scott Schnitzspahn came on board as vice president of elite athletics, with Jim Miller moving from that position into the role of vice president of high performance. New hires Henderson, Armstrong, and women’s coach Gary Sutton were all touted as key components of USA Cycling’s high-performance plan, aimed at winning seven medals at the Tokyo games. The plan restructured the governing body’s athletics program and assigned smaller pools of athletes to specific coaches. In the past, USA Cycling’s coaches often worked with entire national teams.

The plan is funded by an annual cash infusion of roughly $1 million from the U.S. Olympic Committee.

A few key hires were made this summer to restock in the performance department after the departures of Miller and Henderson. USA Cycling named Jeff Pierce to the role of Director of Elite Athletics, Road and Track, and brought Clay Worthington on as men’s endurance track coach. On the women’s side, Sutton is still in place as coach, while Armstrong continues to work with select athletes.

“For a little while there we had some gaps with Greg Henderson and Jim out. That’s been the main change over the last six months as we fill those gaps,” Schnitzpahn said.

Schnitzpahn said USA Cycling still plans to hire a men’s performance director as well.

Holloway, 31, said national team riders were “united” and kept in touch during the springtime to make sure riders continued to work toward their goals. The communication prevented any disruption in performance in the months that the group went without concrete coaching structure.

“It was up to us to maintain the momentum we spent 12 months building on as a unit,” Holloway said.

Holloway said the team has worked well under Worthington, who took over the men’s program over the summer.

“When Clay came in, as every coach does, they have their methodology, they have their culture, and he’s been integrating that into our program,” Holloway said. “It’s been a learning curve on both sides, how we take feedback and how we give feedback, and it’s worked out really successfully.”

The reshuffling did not slow USA Cycling’s track ambitions in the summer. Americans scored nine victories at the Pan-American track championships in Aguascalientes, Mexico. Ashton Lambie set a world record in the individual pursuit, the American men won the team pursuit, and Jennifer Valente took three titles, among other American victories.

Schnitzpahn pointed to USA Cycling’s success in Mexico as evidence that the track program was overcoming whatever organizational hiccups stemmed from the coaching changes.

“They seem to be firing on all cylinders, which I guess we’ll know a little bit more about at the World Cup,” Schnitzpahn said.

This weekend’s Milton World Cup is an important step in the journey toward Tokyo. Points earned at these races help qualify riders for the Olympics; every victory helps an American rider secure his or her spot on the team for Tokyo.

Shane Kline was the lone American representative at last weekend’s World Cup opener in France. Most American riders began their respective campaigns this week in Canada.

Holloway said the American team is prepared for the World Cup season.

“It’s very important to be at your best at every World Cup because they are qualifying points. So you can’t really say, ‘I’m going to race into the season,’ like you would in cyclocross or on the road,” Holloway said. “The team going into Milton is pretty fired up. We’re all riding pretty well based on what we saw at the camp.”