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- The womenandrsquo;s development road program clipped in for the final competition of its 2014 USA Cycling National Development Program (NDP) campaign, racing the roads of Belgium one last time at the Lotto Belisol Belgium Tour, Sept. 10-15.
- In case anyone has not heard about what looks to be one sweet looking festival happening down at Two Rivers Bike Park and sponsored by Red Bull, Fri Oct 3 - Sun Oct 5, 2014. Enduro race Saturday for fastest downhill and climb. 30 second penelty for blood. XC race on Sunday and all kinds of other events all weekend including a trail run, dirt crit, slopestyle contest, live music, food, beer, camping, etc. More info on the bike reg link posted below and Trail Spring's Facebook page.
Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the July 2014 issue of Velo magazine.
Kathryn Donovan holds her arm up, gashed and sprouting stitches. Her teammate, Lauren Komanski, dives in with a pair of scissors.
It’s time for the threads to come out, and Komanski, who’s just graduated from veterinary school, is happy to oblige.
The two take a picture of the moment in the makeshift clinic in an old restaurant, located in a Cold War-era dormitory on the outskirts of Sittard, the Netherlands. The moment distills the rough-and-tumble racing scene here, and the bonds formed in the forge of racing abroad. There are crashes aplenty, but there’s someone here to help, too.
Neilson Powless stares at the boring white bowl on the generic tablecloth in an unremarkable dining room hall.
“How is it? Is it warm?” he asks a teammate, full of longing. Powless is, and has been, pondering a piece of apple pie. Now the skinniest kid at the table is asking questions about it. “Just go have one,” Jonathan Brown, a bigger, more gregarious teammate, tells him. “You’ve been talking about it for 30 minutes.”
Powless, the final holdout, finds the gumption to get up and eat a piece of pie. The 17- and 18-year- olds talk all the while … about girls back home going to prom with other guys.
USA Cycling’s development house is equal parts racing headquarters and dormitory for wayfaring American racers. The program and house consist mostly of young men, though some older professional women trickle in and out of the facility’s doors.
The most current iteration is located in Sittard, a much-contested city that dates back to 850 A.D. The development housing is a Spartan outpost that, while comfortable enough for bike racers, is a stark reminder that kids come here to race their bikes and to think about racing their bikes. A new, state-of-the-art facility is in the works, and there’s a gleaming new service course, but for now the low-slung brick buildings serve as the lodging.
Signs proclaim “NO ALCOHOL,” and dry erase boards provide crusty reminders to clean up after one’s self, be on time, be accountable. At the upper reaches, the under-23 racing level, it’s all business. But with the 17- and 18-year-olds, there’s a fair amount of oversight and
tough love from coaches, and the cultural disconnect here can fluster teenagers easily.
This is growing up, but it’s doing so in the hearth of European bike racing, far from home, and far from the normal social thoroughfares wide enough for teenagers to get comfortably lost.
“They get very frustrated about the lack of language. And because they’re an insecure 17-year-old, which we all were, they think that they’re always being talked about,” said Billy Innes, the junior program director. “And so I tell them that you’ll be yelled at, you’ll be shoved, you’re going to be called a dumb ‘Americaner,’ but you have to race your bike. That’s the hardest thing.”
This facility exists because Europe is the nerve center of bike racing at professional and developmental levels; in order to learn how to race as an elite, American kids need to be here, guttered, in the rain. They need to figure out how to eat, shop, and exist off their bikes, too. If they pay attention, they may be one of the 20-plus riders that go from here — the laps at a no-name kermesse in the rain — to the WorldTour. USA Cycling started its National Development Program in 1999, and some 3,000 athletes have passed through it.
“In the late ’90s, [2000s], you had four or five or six riders. It was very elite … it wasn’t clear on how you raced in Europe. You seemed to know somebody when you got there, and you had a chance to prove yourself, and you did or you didn’t,” said USA Cycling’s vice president
of athletics, Jim Miller. “We learned a long time ago that it really comes down to consistently being exposed to the stimuli of European racing. It’s just not the skill set. It’s just not the moving in the peloton. It’s not just reading tactics. It’s not just the movement of the road. It’s all of it. It’s living off the bike. How do you make a network here, where you feel comfortable?”
The numbers game
The path here isn’t easy, as spots in the country’s premier youth racing program are hard to come by. The parents of a talented 15-year-old kid can’t outright buy his or her way here. And if that sounds harsh, it’s because it is: this is about performance and, even at a young age, it’s easy to see if a rider’s got it or not.
“They fight for it, for sure,” Miller said, one grey morning in Sittard — one of many, as there are lots of grey mornings in northern Europe.
USAC rounds up regional coaches in the U.S. and puts on talent identification camps, intended to sort the physiological cream from the crop. Coaches determine on-the-road power based on field tests of five and 20 minutes. USAC then files the information away in a database, where all the numbers from the past tests in the last eight years are stored. At any time, USAC officials can tap into that river of numbers and go fishing for America’s next contender 10 years out. “We’ll see who this kid is, if he does a result, ‘Who’s that kid? What’s his name?’” Miller said.
In the Netherlands, they have many names. Names you don’t know yet, but names you might, if things go to plan.
Race programs start with the 15-16 age group, which is, as Miller notes, “much more lovey-feely, get your feet wet in Europe, have a good time, learn how to find food … and have a good time racing the bike.” All told, about 30 riders come over for trips throughout the season.
The next level up, 17-18, is much more competitive, and of those initial 30, 18 make it back for another round. This spring, in just one race, nearly every American was dropped from the front group, one ended up in a ditch, and others were so shelled they fell asleep in a team van five minutes after easing in. Just making it to the USAC house is the easy part; succeeding is something different altogether.
From that pool of 18, only about 10 will make the big jump, to the U23 teams. Maybe two will sign European pro contracts after that. USAC will make exceptions for talented individuals who have a bad showing or come from off the radar, but it’s very much a program that seeks to turn saplings into sequoias. For every Tejay van Garderen or Taylor Phinney that the program helps move along, there are a hundred names that no one hears again. That’s just the way it is.
Dollars and cents
Growing talent from the ground up comes at a price. The meals, the cars, the bikes, the massage — it all costs money. USA Cycling spends $1 million a year on its development program, which also includes some of the races that American pro women compete in. In sum, all of the moving parts add up to 450 race days across a smattering of age brackets and two genders, and about 4,000 total days under the wing of the program. USA Cycling’s Development Foundation, the governing body’s main fundraising arm, provides much of the cash, but Miller said the United States Olympic Committee has become a “better and better” partner over the years.
Sometimes athletes or their families incur some cost to ensure the proper buy-in. For a 15- to 16-year-old rider’s first trip, USA Cycling charges a fee of around $1,650, which includes airfare and a portion of lodging. Seventeen to 18-year-old riders pay airfare on a first trip; if invited back, riders don’t pay anything. In the event a family can’t afford the steep entry fee to European racing, there are grants and financial assistance available. It’s a necessary fee, Miller said.
“You get kids who would be like, ‘Wow, I got invited to the national team. I’m going to Europe. I’m going to race bikes. They get the romantic idea — Europe, riding on cobblestones, sitting in coffee shops. It’s a great time. They forget they’re here to race bikes, that they had to train to get here,” he said. “So when they have to pay $1,200 bucks out of their own pockets, their parents are paying attention to it. If you’re a U23 kid and you’re in college and you don’t have $1,200 bucks, you’re not wasting money. You’re going to get everything out of it.”
Billy Innes is driving and talking fast and watching his speed carefully, lest he offend one of the myriad speed cameras positioned on the etch-a-sketch roads connecting the little towns of Belgium and The Netherlands.
He speaks in the thoughtful, stop-start cadence of a sport director; the moments of clarity and expression are few and far between, with bottle passes, random questions from kids, and driving at high rates of speed in a bike race mixed together. It always feels exponentially more dangerous to ride in a car in the bike race than to be anywhere else in a bike race.
Innes, a fine artist by trade, is as cerebral as a director of adolescents can be, with any practicality. He’s a measured coach, mentor, and disciplinarian. One of his riders makes a joke about his longish hair at dinner, which he hears two tables over. Innes hears everything.
“I see everything,” he said, aloud, then scolds some of the younger riders for riding to the town square on cruisers without helmets.
“My dad was a teacher for 30 years, so I reference him quite a bit,” Innes said. “But to teach a kid how to say please and thank you? I’m amazed that I have to do that. But that’s fine. It doesn’t irk me. It’s an easy thing, and I tell the kids that. ‘Please’ and ‘thank you’ and a smile will get you so far in life. … I think sometimes they do [listen]. Most of the time they do.”
Today, they’re listening. And watching. The juniors sit in folding chairs in a dirt parking lot on a hot day and marvel at their Belgian counterparts, fully kitted in legwarmers and jackets. It’s hotter, much hotter, this spring than the last in Belgium. One of the boys quantifies this, saying, “It was so cold last year I put embro on my chamois.” He seems serious.
The staging area at Ster van Zuid Limburg, a three-day race, is a run-down soccer facility. Race officials have slighted the Americans — what Innes and his Belgian mechanic Peter say is a regular occurrence — by giving them a car number too far back in the convoy, so Innes works to clear that up before a quick meeting with the team. Officials admit to making a mistake.
“Yeah, but they always make a mistake,” Peter said. “And I know them and they know me.” There isn’t an outright disdain for these Yankee interlopers, but there is always something, a bumped shoulder, an incorrect caravan number.
“There’s some guys who are really cool with us. But I think a majority of guys in the peloton, they don’t really like us too much. So they try to do whatever they can to make it a little harder on us. But that’s just kind of what you’re going to get. It makes us stronger,” said Powless, a junior mountain biker now taking his road licks. “The pace of the race is the biggest difference — really, really explosive. They brake really hard going into turns and just explode out of the turns as hard as they can. It definitely does a number on you.”
On this day, “it” does a number on nearly everyone, Powless included. With about an hour left to race, Florida’s Jake Silverberg finds himself careening into a ditch after assorted team cars slow down rapidly. The rider next to him goes through the rear window of a team car. Silverberg frantically remounts his bike and tries to chase back; remember, these kids are riding smaller, junior gearing, but he isn’t able to factor into the sharp end of the race. Apparently, bike racers aren’t born knowing just how sticky a bottle, or three, can be.
The rain rolls in and buckets down on the elastic, youthful peloton in spurts. Half of the group is intact, split by the steep climbs and crashes. Puberty comes at different times, and there are some men among boys, but that’s never really an indicator of what will pan out later. Gavin Hoover finishes as the highest-placed American overall, in 17th.
Success every day here isn’t, and can’t be, the endgame. Both Miller and Innes address the contrast between winning now, and winning later, differently, but ultimately hope for the same thing: longevity and maturation.
“We have a saying within our coaching staff. Just focus on the process and the results take care of themselves,” Miller said. “It’s really simple. Everybody’s like ‘Uh huh, Uh huh.’ But it holds a lot of water. When you do everything right and you teach a kid how to race a bike, and you teach him all the little intricacies, and you teach him how to train, and you teach him how to eat, and you teach him how to take care of his body — if he has the talent, he’s eventually going to win. It’s just how it is.”
Innes, more of the boots-on-the ground type, hopes his racers win, obviously, but will call coaches in the U.S. at lower-level teams to explain why a rider didn’t get a top result if, say, they punctured or spent a day pulling in the wind. He wants his guys to have places to race when they head home.
“I have to straddle the results line and the development line. But that being said, more often than not, the cream rises to the top. If we win all the races this year, great. That makes me look really good, but my first question is, ‘What did you learn? What did you learn as you won?’ If you have a kid that just rides away from every single race, he’s learning how to time trial,” Innes said. “He’s not learning how to ride on a two-meter wide road with cobblestones on it.”
When the race is over, the boys wipe the mud from their faces and climb into the van. One does homework. The rest banter, and nap.
“We get accused, I think, of burning kids out. I think that people don’t realize that not everybody makes it to the major leagues. You have 30,000 kids playing little league everyday, and no one talks about burnout there,” Crane said. “But for some reason, cycling is this target for people telling us we’re burning out our athletes. Listen, some kids make it, some kids don’t. That’s life. And I tell the kids that. Listen, not everybody gets a medal. That’s just the way it is.”
Under the roof in Sittard there are all kinds of kids, women, racers. There is no one method to contextualize them. There are hungry 17-year- olds, and 22-year-olds reaching for the professional peloton. There are 20 Jake Silverbergs, who want to race here as much as possible and never look back, the kind who don’t think they’re missing anything by being here, drinking coffee in the square, skipping class.
“It’s an opportunity. It’s freaking awesome. It’s fun,” Silverberg said. “I’d rather be racing here than going to school and waiting to race. This place is the best place to become adjusted. It doesn’t get any better than this. It could be a little bit of pressure. But there’s a lot more … no one else can get these opportunities. I’m not feeling the pressure, just feeling motivation to do something with these opportunities.”
This narrative is common, more so than that of professional Lauren Komanski, 29, who was staying in Sittard and racing some of the larger women’s races for the first time, like La Flèche Wallonne Femmes. Her story is equally important. The 29-year-old is also a newly minted veterinarian who just recently started bike racing. She’s married, and already has an entire life outside the sport. She also has an engine, honed from her four years of running at Columbia University. She won the first bike race she entered, in 2012.
“So I got bit by the bug, big-time,” Komanski (Twenty16) said. “Loved every second of it, and sort of had that moment, kind of, ‘Oh, this is what’s been missing.’ I’ve been an athlete my whole life … it’s definitely part of who I am,” she said.
In order to make time amid her 16-hour shifts, Komanski did all her workouts at 4 a.m. on a trainer. A talent identification camp told her she was, in fact, talented. Komanski said she’d either take a pro contract or hang her bike up. Her immediate future as a vet was too valuable to compromise otherwise.
“I guess I have a good poker face,” she said. “I got my first contract with NOW [Novartis for MS] after a couple months of racing a bike.”
And now, she’s here, the next box she wanted to check. “I feel the best, or the hardest, racing is in Europe. If you want to find out the best racer you can be, you need to come over here,” she said. “That’s my personal decision at least. The peloton is closer together, it’s faster. The conditions are going to be harder. It’s going to push you to see where your limit is. For me, that’s the style of racing I want. I want to see the best racer I can become. I wasn’t real interested in just staying around home and winning local things.”
Like the boys, she dreams big, though her fallback plan as a vet is more formidable than most. She hopes to race the UCI world road championships this fall, in Spain.
“That would be a bit ambitious. But it’s worth going for,” she said.
“That’s the nice thing about all this. If something happens, plan B is really a plan A. I have two plan As. They’re both my dreams. It’s just that I have the rest of my life to practice veterinary medicine. This is not quite as long term. The opportunity is here right now, and it’s not going to be there forever.”
Opportunity is the common thread stitching the development house together. It’s in the piles of dirty bottles in the sink, and can be heard in the click-clack chorus of a team headed out for a ride. Sometimes it sounds like bikes hitting the deck, and other times a room full of applause for a racer who’s just come into the dining room.
But as both 17- and 29-year-olds know, that opportunity won’t wait around forever.
The post Launch Pad: USA Cycling’s Development House offers coaching, mentoring, and tough love appeared first on VeloNews.com.
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MADRID (AFP) — Spanish cyclist Alejandro Valverde has celebrated his third place finish in the Vuelta a España by signing a new three-year deal with Movistar on Tuesday.
“I am very happy. It is what both parties wanted,” he said in a statement released by the team.
There had been some doubt over Valverde’s future at Movistar as his position as the team’s lead rider has been rivaled by Colombian Giro d’Italia winner Nairo Quintana.
Indeed, prior to Quintana’s retirement from the Vuelta due to two heavy crashes, team officials had refused to confirm who has their main man.
However, Valverde insisted he had no thoughts of breaking his nine-year association with Movistar team manager Eusebio Unzue
“In the end this is my family and we understand each other. I feel better than when I was 25. The seasons seem shorter every year and I handle things better,” said Valverde.
“Maturity brings calm and allows you to see everything differently.”
And Unzue is confident Valverde still has plenty to offer at the age of 34.
“He is an irreplaceable cyclist,” the Movistar manager said. “There is no one capable of maintaining the concentration and willingness to win during the whole year [like Valverde].
“Although he has spent many years in the elite, the reality is he looks like he is in his 20s. He is a super rider.”
Former Tour de France winners Alberto Contador and Chris Froome proved too strong for Valverde, winner of the Vuelta in 2009, this year.
However, in the absence of Contador, Valverde will lead Spain’s quest for victory on home soil at the world championships in Ponferrada later this month.
America’s longest-running road race has recently been put in jeopardy after its title sponsor, Bend Memorial Clinic (BMC), publicly dropped its funding Thursday.
For nine years now, BMC provided financial support to the multi-day Oregon stage race, which takes place in mid-July. The 2014 event was held June 14-20, and was won by Serghei Tvetcov (Jelly Belly), and Kristin McGrath (Exergy)
Race organizers have until October 15 to find a title sponsor in order to bring the race back next year.
“We are working with a couple companies who have interest, so I’m hopeful that we’ll find somebody in the next 30 days.” said Molly Kogswell-Kelly, the financial director of Mt. Bachelor Sports Education Foundation, the race’s organizers.
The race features NRC categories for men and women as well as a variety of USA Cycling fields. Past winners of the Cascade Cycling Classic include Francisco Mancebo, Rory Sutherland, Oscar Sevilla, Mike Creed, Lance Armstrong, Alexi Grewal, and Dale Stetina.