2017 USA CYCLING AMATEUR ROAD NATIONALS
FROM A COACH’S PERSPECTIVE
CYCLING PERFORMANCE LAB LLC
What does it take to get a Stars & Stripes Jersey or stand on the podium at Nationals? This is the ultimate goal for amateur cyclists, next to getting a professional contract. Starting a new junior race team, Breakaway Cycling Club – NWA, the coaching staff decided to take our top talent and test the national level. The following article summarizes hard lessons learned and proposes needed changes in our area to become competitive at a national level.
In addition to our junior racers, a very good selection of Arkansas racers decided to test themselves this year in Louisville, from June 29th to July 2nd. Arguably, three of the best Cat 1 and 2, the top UofA collegiate and the top three high school racers from Arkansas attended the races. Three race disciplines are available: time trial, road race and criterium. USA Cycling separates the Master’s Nationals (age 35+) from the Amateur Nationals (under age 35). At Amateur, three major divisions are available and categorized by age: Juniors (under 18), Under 23 (U23) and Amateur (24-34). The Junior division is further divided into age categories: 11/12, 13/14, 15/16 and 17/18.
- Really, really nice bikes and wheels
- Excellent bike positions
- Very, very low body fat prevailed…yea, lots of very thin racers
- Major clubs and teams supported with coaches, travel vans, mechanic crews and team bikes
All three courses were very challenging:
- No flat time trial. Instead, a 4 minute 6% climb in the first mile, followed by rolling hills and finishing on a big downhill. The wind was very tough which made the speeds even more impressive.
- The road race course was a 5 mile circuit in a park. Basically, it was the most challenging road race course I’ve ever seen with constant sharp, high speed turns, climbs & descents. In my opinion, it was a tougher course than the Joe Martin crit… not even close… then add over 100 racers on narrow roads.
- The crit course had 10, 90 degree turns within a one mile loop…nothing really special except over 100 racers on the course through those turns…think Tulsa Tough on Friday night when everyone is amped…crashfest.
Except one Cat 1 from Little Rock, the Arkansas contingent got punched in the face in all three races. Time trial placings in the bottom half of the fields. Pulled by midway in the road races… yea, they pulled in the road race due to the 5 mile circuit. Pulled early in the crit. The two exceptions were in the Amateur Division where Tanner Ward placed 20th in the TT and 9th in the road race. The other solid result was Johnny Purvis, also in the Amateur division, who missed the winning move in the road race but finished in the chasing group.
Hopefully, you read the article from our two junior representatives to get their perspective on racing at the national level. I won’t repeat.
Cycling is no different than any endeavor – both in and out of sports – where one wants to compete and excel. To keep improving, one must continually challenge oneself by pushing the boundaries. “Status Quo” is just that, a plateau. That’s fine depending on your goal(s). Riding local races/rides in the Midwest will prepare you to be a quality local racer/rider who is competitive in the Midwest cycling community. What I learned in Louisville is that the Midwest cycling community is far behind the national elite cycling level. Our top racers are not competitive. The questions bugging me during the 9 hour drive home: why and what needs to change?
The Why? Why are we so far behind? I believe that there are only two possible answers to that question: lack of talent and/or lack of proper training. I believe that lack of talent is NOT the problem. At Louisville, we passed the “getting off the bus” test. We looked just like the other racers, physically. I believe we are behind due to training, and training includes racing. We can log the hours and train just as much, but racing is different than training. Inadequate training can be fixed. One must race to become a good racer. One must race high level competition to compete at that level.
Adequate racing is the big problem we must solve for the future – both attending races and raising the level of competition. Our racing community is not showing up at races!! In 2017, look at the poor attendance of local racers even at our local races: Joe Martin, Spring Classic, Natural State Crits and these are in our backyard. Racing locally will raise our local level of competition but one must also travel to improve. How many of us go even short drives to Tulsa, Kansas City, St. Louis, or Dallas for races? Honestly, those cities will not provide the competition needed to race at the national level. Racing at a national level is what it will take to compete. As we learned in Louisville, most likely we will get punched in the face the first couple races. Didn’t most of us get punched the first time we showed at Tuesday Worlds? You learn from those experiences and figure out what it takes to improve.
Tanner and Johnny were racing against professionals such as Rally Cycling. Our Juniors were racing against elite teams which travel to all the major national race venues including Europe. For those teams, Junior Nationals was just another major event. For our Juniors, it was the Super Bowl. They were unprepared mentally for that level of racing.
- Support local races by showing up. Bigger fields equals faster races. I hear complaints about poor payouts… really… are we racing to make money?? I hear concerns about big fields causing crashes… true… that’s racing… anybody watching the Tour?
- How long do we think race directors will continue putting on events for us if we don’t show?
travel to higher level race venues. Challenge yourself and race people faster than you. The result is you will get faster and bring that home to the next local race.
- Support Juniors trying to get into the sport. Encourage and mentor them. Yes, they will make mistakes but rarely does it cause anyone to crash or get dropped. How many of us could compete well against high school athletes in other sports such as track, basketball, etc? We should expect the junior racers to get faster than us without envy or frustration. The result could be local racers competing well at the national level, and it will take our cycling community to make that happen.
The solution is not a switch that just needs to be flipped. This will take time and commitment. Let’s start now.