USA Cycling’s million-dollar National Team program: What it is, what it isn’t

by Neal Rogers


Whatever meaning the term “US National Team” may have taken on in the past, it now has a new and official definition.

On Thursday, the national federation unveiled the 2018 USA Cycling National Team — a group of 51 athletes across road, mountain, track, cyclocross, and BMX, who will receive varying degrees of year-round support, based on their level of accomplishment, with a focus on winning Olympic and world championship medals.

Status as a member of the USA Cycling National Team does not guarantee selection into Olympic or world championship teams; rather, it’s access to a set of resources that will enable athletes to qualify for Olympic or world championship teams.

Those resources include direct funding and health insurance, access to US Olympic Training Centers, access to sport performance services such as physiology, nutrition, sport psychology, strength and conditioning, and sports medicine; access to the US Olympic Committee national medical network; support from a USA Cycling Performance Director in partnership with the athlete’s personal coach, professional team, and extended support network; travel support to attend National Team projects, qualifying events, and camps; and performance clothing and equipment provided by USA Cycling partners.

Many of these resources will be available remotely; a trip to Colorado Springs, Lake Placid, New York, or Chula Vista, California, is not required.

Access to these resources will be available to elites and U23 riders — not juniors — and are determined by three different tiers, labeled gold, silver, and bronze, based on defined, performance-based criteria. Performance standards are consistent across disciplines, however criteria varies.

Athletes listen to a USOC chef discuss dietary services offered to National Team members.

Gold tier riders are eligible to receive $25,000 annually in direct financial support, silver-tier riders receive $12,500 in financial support. Bronze-tier riders receive no direct financial support but do receive other benefits. Status will be assessed quarterly, but membership on the National Team is slated for 12 months.

Cash incentives and US Olympic Committee resources will not be offered for non-Olympic disciplines such as cyclocross and downhill mountain-bike racing; riders from those disciplines will be bronze-tier athletes.

The funding for the program — US$1M per year — comes in equal parts from the USA Cycling Foundation, headed by Thom Wiesel, and the US. Olympic Committee, with Alan Ashley, USOC Chief of Sport, green lighting it before the USOC board approved it. The effort to raise the funding was led by Jim Miller, Vice President of High Performance for USA Cycling. The financial commitment is through the 2020 season.

Among USA Cycling’s goals for the 2020 Olympics are seven medals — the federation earned five in Rio de Janeiro — and at least one medal in each Olympic discipline (road, time trial, cross-country, BMX Freestyle and BMX Supercross).

“This is a truly stellar group of athletes that have earned this honor,” Miller said. “We designed the National Team program to have a very high bar — all these athletes have achieved remarkable international success. I look forward to more athletes meeting those standards, and we have structured the program so that as new athletes meet the criteria, they too can join the National Team. Conversely, those athletes named today will have to keep earning the privilege to remain a member of this elite team.”

Kristin Armstrong, US National Team endurance performance director.

Performance directors for the National Team include three-time Olympic gold medalist Kristin Armstrong (Endurance), Marc Gullickson (Mountain Bike), Greg Henderson (Endurance), and Jamie Staff (BMX and Track Sprint). Jack Seehafer will serve as Women’s Endurance Program Manager, while Gary Sutton will serve in a limited role as Head Endurance Track Coach.

 Asked about how this relationship with the federation might overlap, or interfere, with an athlete’s trade team obligations, USA Cycling CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall said the program is intended to be “one-sided” in favor of the athletes. Obligations on the athletes are few, and include requests around media rights, regular communication with performance directors, and wearing official team clothing when attending National Team camps.

“There are layers of positive benefits for the athletes,” he said. “This will only help generate more resources for them We tried to make this one-sided, ‘why would you not want to do this?’”

And because terminology matters, moving forward, the group of riders ultimately selected to a world championship or Olympic squad will be referred to as the “worlds team” or “Olympic team.” The term “US National Team” will now be reserved for those riders selected to be part of this year-round, USOC-affiliated program.

Demonstrating its focus on BMX and women’s racing as most likely to bring in medals, 14 of the 51 athletes are from BMX, and 27 of the 51 are women. BMX riders include world champions Hannah Roberts (Freestyle) and Corben Sharrah (Supercross) as well as 2016 Olympic gold medalist Connor Fields. The full BMX team is listed here.

Three quarters of the athletes in the gold tier are women, including the four riders from the world champion team pursuit squad — Kelly Catlin, Chloe Dygert-Owen, Kim Geist, and Jennifer Valente.

During the National Team gathering at the US Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, the world champion pursuit squad convened for their first session together since the world championships in April, joined by Allie Dragoo, who joins Sho-Air Twenty 20 in 2018. Dragoo is not currently a member of the US National Team program, but is vying for a spot on the pursuit squad.

A men’s team pursuit squad is also being assembled — something the US has lacked for many years. Following a third-place finish in the team pursuit at the Santiago World Cup, Adrian Hegyvary, Daniel Holloway, Gavin Hoover, Ashton Lambie, Colby Lange, and Eric Young are all silver-tier members, while Daniel Summerhill is at the bronze level for being part of the team’s fourth-place finish at the Milton World Cup. The full track team is listed here.

No road cyclists qualified for the gold tier, however two women, Amber Neben (Team Virtu) and Coryn Rivera (Sunweb), qualified for the silver tier.

Asked how she would manage communication, obligations, and expectations between her trade team — her employer — and the national team, Rivera said she didn’t expect it to be an issue.

“I think it goes pretty hand in hand, this is to support the athlete,” Rivera said. “Yes, all year we ride for our trade teams, but big important races like worlds and the Olympics are for our nation. There needs to be a way that we can all work together and help the athlete achieve their goals. This a step in that direction. I’ll be using this [USOC Training Center] facility, if I ever want to do altitude camps, or if I ever get injured, if I need help, it’s here for me.”

Two athletes qualified in more than one discipline — Dygert-Owen (Sho-Air Twenty 20), on the track and road, via her fourth-place at the world time trial championship, and Emma White (Rally Cycling), the U23 national road champion who also won the U23 Pan American Cyclocross Championship.

Cyclocross athletes include White, Katie Compton (KFC Racing-Trek), Gage Hecht (Alpha Bicycle-Vista Subaru), and Stephen Hyde (Cannondale-Cyclocrossworld.com). The full cyclocross team is presented here.

Men’s WorldTour riders in the program include Neilson Powless, who joins LottoNL-Jumbo next year, as well as Joey Rosskopf and Tejay van Garderen (BMC Racing) and Larry Warbasse (Aqua Blue Sport).

“One thing I can say about having this facility here, is that the majority of road riders are on trade teams, and they have plenty of resources in Europe to help you if you are injured, or if you need support on nutrition or something like that, but when you are in America, it’s much less so,” Powless said. “Having this resource here gives us anything that we need, whether we’re in Europe or America, which is basically through the whole winter, the USOC and USA Cycling will be a huge resource. If you have medical needs that need to be taken care of quickly, it can happen.

“Doing an altitude camp here will be vastly different from doing an altitude camp on my own somewhere,” Powless continued. “I’ve done an altitude camp on my own where I do a ride, come back, do some stretching, make some food, and go to sleep. Here you have additional resources, anything from talking to a nutritionist, if you feel like you’re missing something, to having your sleep analyzed, to make sure you’re having you’re sleeping properly and getting the best recovery, to having a recovery center for you, available from when you wake up to when you go to sleep. If you want to get a massage, that’s available. I think it’s going to take training camps to another level.”

Women’s WorldTour riders in the program include Rivera as well as Megan Guarnier (Boels-Domans), Lauren Stephens (with Cylance Pro Cycling in 2018), and Skyler Schneider, who joins Boels-Dolmans next year. Neben, White, Dygert-Owen, and Tayler Wiles (Drops-Trek) are on the National Team but do not race for Women’s WorldTour teams.

The full road team is presented here.

On the mountain-bike side, national cross-country champion Kate Courtney (Specialized) qualified for the gold tier, based on her national title and second-place finish at the U23 world championship. Haley Batten (Clif Bar) qualified for the silver tier, with Christopher Blevins and Howard Grotts (Specialized), Lea Davison (Clif Bar), Erin Huck (Cannondale-3Rox), and Chloe Woodruff (Stan’s-Pivot) all in the bronze tier. The full mountain-bike team is listed here.

Grotts said he’d already utilized the benefits that come with National Team membership by getting an MRI on a shoulder injury that had been plaguing him. Huck said she would be utilizing support from the federation for trips to European World Cups, which her Cannondale-3Rox team does not finance. Moving forward, the federation will help her with lodging, transportation, mechanic, and soigneur cat events where they are supporting the U23 development team; in return, she’ll be racing in a US National Team kit.

“For me, this means a couple of things,” Courtney said. “First, just in providing resources , this USA Cycling National Team will allow us to access so many of the resources that we probably didn’t even know we needed, and most importantly to do that in an integrated system. I find that data, and feedback, and programs are all most effective when everyone is on board and communicating. In my personal experiences, having a nutritionist communicating with my coach, communicating with my sport psychologist, and all to be able to be on the same page and chase those gains across the board so that everyone’s working in the same direction, that can make a really big difference in performance at the top level.

“And then from more of an aspirational perspective, I think that solidifying that there is a USA Cycling National team really sets a gold standard. It is going to push us to recognize what an honor and privilege it is to wear flag and to be part of this group and to work together as a team to chase some of those bigger goals. I think that at this point I’m really incredibly excited to be a part of that program, but for the development aspect of it as well, when I was a junior if I had been able to look up to gold-level National Team members and see this is the level they are at, this is what that means, and where they’re going with that, I think that can contribute a lot to growing the sport and keeping people reaching for those bigger goals.”

USA Cycling’s national team members and staff pose for a group photo.

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