Thursday, September 11, 2014

Why USA riders need to go to Europe for Development

There was an article posted on Bicycling Magazine's website today by Frankie Andreu talking about development riders on the UCI circuit. The point of the article that Andreu was trying to get across was that because of the high level races on the USA circuit now, riders can ride a USA-centric schedule and make it up to the World Tour level. One of the money quotes is "The road to the World Tour doesn't have to go through Europe." I mean, technically he is right because guys like Chad Haga and Matt Busche made it to the World Tour without riding (much) in Europe but for the vast majority of riders, riding a USA-centric calendar would not propel them to the World Tour.

If riders have ambitions for the World Tour, it is still important that they go over to Europe for racing time. It isn't just for the racing time either. If you are an American, living in Europe is a much different experience. Think of the stress moving to a new double that by moving to a new continent, perhaps not knowing the language and having to get your water and heat turned out, get groceries, etc. and still being expected to train 25 hours a week and be on top form. It is hard work. Just look at Tejay van Garderen's experience when he moved to Italy with HTC-Columbia, as an example. Moving in winter, he had to take cold showers after training rides and live without heat until some teammates were able to help him get it turned on. While that is extreme, going over to Europe at a young age gets you used to the routine and being able to see if you can handle living in a foreign place.

Mike Sayers, the USA U23 National DS, says it all in just a few tweets.

In terms of the racing, unless we are racing on roads that would be in the Tour of Backwoods West Virginia, racing on big open highways doesn't prepare guys for the narrow roads of Europe that will spit out of without remorse. When Europeans come over to race in America, it is like a vacation for them because of how large our roads are. The climbs in the USA, that are used in a lot of the major races, have highway grades that don't allow them to have big changes in pitch which can be more commonly seen in Europe. The Tour de Georgia had some nice climbs that mimicked this but sadly, that race is no more.

Riders can race well in America. They can get some very good results against strong riders but once they hit the European peloton full-time, it can be a very different story. Example here is Evan Huffman. He rode for Cal Giant and won the TT at the Tour of the Gila in 2012 ahead of Rory Sutherland, Joe Dombrowski, Lawson Craddock and others. He has been with Astana for the past two years and doing some yeoman's work, just scrapping by.

The vast majority of American riders getting results in Europe have come from the development program that took them over there as juniors and u23s. Nearly every rider in Andreu's piece was racing in Europe before their "big American results". Lawson Craddock was racing in Europe since he was about 16 and got immense development there before. Dombrowski? He proved himself as a future GT racer by his GiroBio win

The article continues to list riders like Will Routley and Jure Kocjan, both of whom race domestically but have been on World Tour and Pro Conti teams in Europe. Also including Freddy Rodriguez as an example of a continental rider breaking the stranglehold of the World Tour riders at Nationals.

My whole point being is that American races alone will not a great racer make. You might be good, even great, on big wide open highways but once the racing gets tighter and the packs get a little meaner, will you be able to handle the heat? How many American races will prepare you for World Tour races going down single lane mountains roads at 80 kph?

This is more of a ramble than anything but Andreu over-simplifies everything by sticking to the American-centric line that Bicycling pushes. Yeah Phil Gaimon got onto Garmin by pushing his way through the continental ranks but now? He barely races in Europe. And when he has? Mash your pedals as hard as you can and hold fucking on. You don't have to go through Europe to be a strong professional rider but if you dream of going World Tour, it is highly suggested because at least right now, sticking to an American diet of racing won't get you all the way there.

1 comment:

  1. Interesting stuff as always. Just been reading as well that Merckx is saying "there could be more focus on European racing next season" for Bissell.