16 December 2015

The impact of the upcoming varsity/club reorganization on national championship results

USA Cycling has published a little data on the impact of the club/varsity changes coming for the 2016-17 school year. Primarily they have focused on how field sizes will be impacted. While this is an important consideration, another important thing to examine is the change to the results. Below you will find how the Top 20 results in each event would have been impacted in 2015.

My conclusion is that the proposed organization will split the quality of the collegiate field, and in the case of road,  dramatically so. At first glance, this split looks even worse than what occurs under the current "modified small/big school division structure". In my opinion, at least in the short term, this is a bad thing for collegiate cycling.

Cyclocross Nationals 2015 - "Club" Team Riders in Top 20
  • Men:  5
  • Women: 7

Road Nationals 2015 - "Club" Team Riders in Top 20
  • Individual Time Trial: 
    • Men: 15
    • Women: 17
  • Criterium:
    • Men:  12
    • Women: 13
  • Road Race:
    • Men:  11
    • Women: 13

MTB Nationals 2015 - "Club" Team Riders in Top 20

  • Cross Country:
    • Men:  5
    • Women: 3
  • Dual Slalom:
    • Men:  4
    • Women: 3
  • Short Track Cross Country:
    • Men:  9
    • Women: 5
  • Downhill:
    • Men:  8
    • Women: 5

I'll play devil's advocate and counter that over time the best riders will migrate to varsity programs because of the financial benefits of doing so. This is a valid argument and I agree that as the number of varsity programs and opportunities increase, more top riders will attend those schools. This argument is somewhat undercut, however, by the nature of universities and colleges with varsity cycling programs. The current reality is that primarily small schools with relatively small NCAA Athletics programs have been successful creating a well-supported cycling program (I previously researched this and, if memory serves, the majority of these schools have less than 5,000 students). Until varsity cycling programs are implemented across a broader variety of institution sizes and types offering the full-range of educational opportunities, many of the strongest competitors will be "lost" to club programs or simply choose not to compete in collegiate racing.

09 December 2015

v.2 of the Collegiate Category "A" Map

I reworked the visualization adding greater detail. It doesn't quite fit embedded into Blogger, so you'll have to click over to my website to view the interactive version.

The demographic insights remain the same, number one being that collegiate cycling is concentrated in very few states.  Almost 50% of all racers are attending school in 1 of 4 states.

  • Colorado has almost 20% of all Category A racers
  • California: almost 12%
  • North Carolina: about 10%
  • Indiana: 6.5%

One interesting project that could flow out of this would be finding the geographical location for Nationals competitions that results in the fewest miles travelled.

Version 2 of the Map


Also mapped all licensed collegiate racers here.

25 November 2015

Visualizing the distribution of Category A competitors in 2015

By the Numbers: The universe of category A collegiate racers

Category A is the highest level for collegiate racing. Racers achieve this category through results and experience, showing success and rising up through the lower categories (B, C, D). Competitors in Category A represent the pinnacle of competitive cycling at the collegiate level.

Similarly, National Championship events should be contested by the "best of the best," specifically the best of the Category A racers nationwide. I believe most people would agree that the competitors selected to compete in a National Championships should represent a subset of the overall competitor ranks, and the "best" subset. How big this subset should be is a factor of: the overall size of the eligible pool of competitors, the practical limitations of the National Championship events, and perhaps an arbitrary numerical subset representing a "quality factor", i.e. the best 10%, or best 20%.

For example, we might say that the Road National Championships for Men should be contested by roughly the best 10% of all Men Category A racers in the country.

Here are the numbers of Category A riders nationwide from which we would make these types of calculations.

Grand Total:  1464 (M: 1096, F: 367)
  Road:        870 (M:  632, F: 238)
  XC:          588 (M:  430, F: 158)
  CX:          473 (M:  342, F: 131)
  DH:          335 (M:  246, F:  88)
  Track:       231 (M:  159, F:  72)

As mentioned in another post, field limits at Nationals should be something like the following:

Road:  125-150 (road race can handle the higher number, but I think it would be viable to just pick one number for both events, I'd favor 125)

XC:  75 (I think putting any more on the course is unfair--they are almost out of contention from the start and many get pulled early) 

CX: 75 (for the reasons mentioned above, I'd go even lower, like 50, but that is probably not viable from a financial perspective)

DH/DS: 75 (somewhat arbitrary because each rider does course alone)

Track:  doesn't really apply with so many events, and is probably not a problem (or could be solved with heats, etc.)

Using these as starting points, we come up with the following if there were only 1 national championship event (and 2x for two event/divisions):

  Men = approx. top 20% (of Cat As nationwide)
  Women = approx. top 50%

  Men = approx. top 18%
  Women = approx. top 50%

  Men = approx. top 22%
  Women = approx. top 57%

  Men = approx. top 30%
  Women = approx. top 85%

Obviously, the fact that collegiate racers are on teams complicates the issue for some disciplines. The existence of events like the Team Time Trial (and similar events) encourage a system where teams qualify rather than just individuals. Of course, this only the case because of the qualification system in place. At least one alternative would be that the Team Time Trial is a stand alone event, and every school is eligible to compete in the national championship event (assuming they can field 3 eligible riders). This would be like the USA at the World Championships in Richmond. Every US Pro Team was eligible to race the event.

Overall school standings would probably get more complicated under such a system, but probably nothing that couldn't be resolved.

16 November 2015

Varsity Programs and a varsity division

As discussed in an earlier post, the rise of varsity cycling programs continues to gather momentum and in recent years has become the real divide between programs that are successful on the national level, and those that aren't.

According to a recent USA Cycling post, there are currently 20 approved Varsity Programs and 8 Emerging Varsity Programs. Notably, some of the announced varsity programs don't have an active program yet, but plan to be fielding teams in the near future.

In addition to these 28 teams, there are 245 collegiate cycling club sport teams.

About 82% of all collegiate racers are on club teams. About 13% of collegiate racers are on varsity teams. For varsity teams, the mean roster size is 33, and median is 25. For club teams, the mean is 15 and the median is 11.

(These numbers are for racers in all racing categories and disciplines. I currently can't get at USAC numbers for Cat A racers only.)

I think the collegiate racing structure will change soon. The current divisions based primarily on institution enrollment numbers will be scrapped and replaced with a Varsity Division and a Club Division. This is probably a good development. The number one complaint I've heard over the past few years is that club teams cannot realistically compete against the well-funded varsity teams like Marian, Fort Lewis, Brevard, etc. The recent nationals attendance numbers and results certainly support this argument.

In no particular order, here are some of my thoughts about how this should work:

1.  varsity programs should have a minimum roster size

This ensures that varsity programs are teams and not simply well-supported individual riders. The roster minimums should be for nationals-eligible riders and be discipline-specific, e.g., road = 5 Cat A men and 5 Cat A women. This raises the bar for achieving varsity status and also controls and directs the growth of the varsity division. This should allow for easy management of the size of the field at various nationals events. It may also mean, for the foreseeable future, that every varsity program will be automatically qualified for Nationals.

2.  varsity programs should have a maximum roster size

This would function similar to the minimums (nationals-eligible and discipline-specific). This would serve to distribute the talent among the various varsity schools and enhance competition at conference and national level events.

3.  varsity programs must be varsity for all disciplines

This simply avoids issues like a program focusing on ROAD and competing at the varsity level, but then sending the same road riders to club MTB national championships. I don't think varsity programs should be required to compete in multiple disciplines, but if they do, varsity in all.

4.  varsity programs NOT be required to attend multiple national championships

I think a school should be permitted to focus on a single discipline. I think it would serve the sport better to allow a school to allocate all of its resources to supporting a MTB program, rather than have to dilute it by being forced to take on the expense of a second discipline (attendance at nationals, coaching resources, competition expenses, etc.) Additionally, geography tends to influence what a school can realistically focus on or excel at.

5.  varsity nationals events should "count" more riders for team omnium

Currently, only the top 3 riders score per event. This number should be increased in line with the allowable number of riders per event, i.e., if you can start 5, at least 4 should count. One certainly could count ALL riders, but it might be good to have a throwaway so teams aren't penalized for mishaps. The argument that not all teams can field enough riders goes away when talking about varsity programs. Unlike club teams, there is no valid argument for not being able to field the minimum number of riders.

6.  consider increasing the number of riders per event, especially for road

This would emphasize the team aspect even more, and encourage teams to compete against each other as teams. Overall field size will probably still be a limiter on how big this number could go, but with 20-25 teams it seems that 6-7 would be feasible.

Racing with more riders per team will force more sophisticated team tactics, making the team aspect more important and the racing more interesting. This will also make the racing tactics more like professional-style racing, which will help the riders become more attractive recruiting prospects for professional teams.

7.  make the ITT (Road) count towards the team omnium

Have the riders who don't do the TTT do the ITT and count the points. This makes sure everyone rides on Sunday and "counts". It also requires teams to think tactically about their mix of riders in these 2 events.

Some questions to consider for a Varsity Division in collegiate cycling.

1.  Does it matter how many varsity teams there are nationally? Or asked another way, should this number be limited?

2.  Should the Divisions be named "varsity" and "club"? Or does this undermine the legitimacy of either one or both? Could they just remain Division 1 and Division 2, to remain consistent with NCAA parlance, and just adjust the memberships?

3.  What about Emerging Varsity programs? Do they remain in Club/Div 2 until they meet the requirements, or do they race with Varsity/Div 1 while attempting to make the transition?

4.  Do we even need to create the requirement for "top division" teams to be varsity? Should it just be the Top 20-25 teams nationally, regardless of whether cycling is sponsored by the University? Would quality simply rise to the top, which will be mostly varsity programs anyway (but allowing for the exceptional club team to add quality to the top division?).

Comments welcome...

11 November 2015

U23s and Collegiate Racing

A VeloNews article was recently published describing the dismal state of the domestic amateur racing scene in the USA. It highlights the various difficulties encountered by amateur teams and individual racers trying to make the jump to the professional ranks. I won't repeat the points made there, but simply encourage you to go read it now.

This article (and some of the followup commentary) connects nicely with my focus on the collegiate racing scene and its potential role as a development path. It certainly warrants a deeper look to see if we can provide the critical U23 racing period through the vehicle of collegiate racing.

Here's some interesting numbers:

MTB Cross Country (Cat Pro & 1):
182:  male USAC licensees with racing age 19-22:
70%:  currently a member of a collegiate racing team (for women it is 85%)

Road (Cat 1 & 2 Road Race):
321:  male USAC licensees with racing age 19-22:
55%:  currently a member of a collegiate racing team (for women it is 88%)

Cyclocross (Cat 1 & 2):
75:  male USAC licensees with racing age 19-22:
57%:  currently a member of a collegiate racing team (for women it is 77%)

So, with the majority of the experienced U23 riders racing for collegiate teams, shouldn't we be directing national development resources to ensure the collegiate racing system helps these riders continue to progress while in school?

And where are these riders attending?

For Men's Road, 50% of all Cat 1 & 2 riders are at these 15 schools (with count):

Marian University:  11
Fort Lewis College:  10
Milligan College:  8
University of Colorado Boulder:  7
Lindenwood University:  7
Colorado State University:  7
University of Wisconsin-Madison:  6
Lees-McRae College:  6
Mars Hill University:  5
Colorado Mesa University:  4
University of California-Davis:  4
California Polytechnic-San Luis Obispo:  4
Furman University:  4
University of California-Berkeley:  4
Lindsey Wilson College:  4

For women,

Marian University:  5
Lees-McRae College:  3
Lindenwood University:  2
University of Arizona:  2
Milligan College:  2
Whitman College:  1
University of California-Los Angeles:  1

For Men's XC, 50% of all Pro & Cat 1 riders are at these 10 schools (with count):

Fort Lewis College:  14
University of Colorado Boulder:  8
Brevard College:  7
Marian University:  7
Lees-McRae College:  5
Colorado Mesa University:  5
Appalachian State University:  5
Lindenwood University:  5
Colorado State University:  4
Michigan Technological University:  4

For Women's XC, the following are the only schools with more than one Pro/Cat1 rider attending:

Ripon College:  2
Lees-McRae College:  2
Fort Lewis College:  2
University of Colorado Boulder:  2
Stanford University:  2

09 November 2015

2015 MTB Nationals - by the numbers

Here's some more numbers!

I feel that prior to any discussion of changes to division structure or rules, we need to understand what is going on at the national events (Road numbers coming later in the week).

Below is a breakdown of the attendance at the MTB Nationals in Snowshoe, WV in October. Attendance is controlled by USAC's qualification rules which provide for top teams and individuals to qualify out of their conference (conference placing affects size of roster at nationals events).

The current rules allow for teams to bring up to 10 men and 10 women (up from 8 in 2014). At the time, I argued against this increase because I feel it inappropriately favors the well-financed teams. As you can see from the counts below, no teams brought the maximum number of riders and only 13 out of 77 brought more than half that (6+ men or 6+ women or 11+ combined).

Some highlights:

  • Division 1 men's endurance races continue to have the largest fields (arguably too big)
  • Division 2 men's fields are small in all disciplines
  • Women's fields are lower than men's but reasonably sized and fairly balanced across the divisions
  • size of roster drives overall result

======= Team Participation Metrics =======

12 of 41 Division 1 teams fielded a team relay
9 of 36 Division 2 teams fielded a team relay

20 teams fielded at least 1 rider in 4 of the 8 individual events. Only 13 (of 77) teams fielded 1 or more riders in all 8 of the individual events.

Only 5 teams fielded the full contingent of "scoring riders"--3 riders in every individual event. (KING UNIVERSITY (D2), WARREN WILSON COLLEGE (D2), BREVARD COLLEGE (D1), FORT LEWIS COLLEGE (D1), UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT (D1) )

======= Individual Participation by Event =======

Division 2:

Men Dual Slalom:  27
Men Downhill:  33
Men Cross Country:  46
Men Short Track Cross Country:  44

Women Dual Slalom: 19
Women Downhill: 16
Women Cross Country: 25
Women Short Track Cross Country: 25

Division 1:

Men Dual Slalom:  61
Men Downhill:  67
Men Short Track Cross Country:  84
Men Cross Country:  88

Women Dual Slalom: 30
Women Downhill: 24
Women Short Track Cross Country: 39
Women Cross Country: 38

======= "Big" Teams: Men or Women > 5 or Team > 10 =======

MARIAN UNIVERSITY: [Roster = 19] [Division 1] [VARSITY] 
FORT LEWIS COLLEGE: [Roster = 17] [Division 1] [VARSITY] 
LINDSEY WILSON COLLEGE: [Roster = 15] [Division 1] [VARSITY] 
COLORADO MESA UNIVERSITY: [Roster = 14] [Division 1] [VARSITY] 
UNIVERSITY OF VERMONT: [Roster = 14] [Division 1] 
BREVARD COLLEGE: [Roster = 13] [Division 1] [VARSITY] 
LEES-MCRAE COLLEGE: [Roster = 11] [Division 1] [VARSITY] 
UNIVERSITY OF COLORADO BOULDER: [Roster = 10] [Division 1] 
WARREN WILSON COLLEGE: [Roster = 10] [Division 2] [VARSITY] 
LINDENWOOD UNIVERSITY: [Roster = 9] [Division 1] [VARSITY] 
COLORADO STATE UNIVERSITY: [Roster = 9] [Division 1] 
APPALACHIAN STATE UNIVERSITY: [Roster = 7] [Division 1] 

Note:  The biggest teams on this list also dominated the top spots in the omnium results. The top 5 Division 1 teams were:  FLC, Brevard, Marian, Lees-McRae, Lindsey Wilson. (full team rankings here)

======= Varsity Teams =======

Division 1:
MARIAN UNIVERSITY: [Roster = 19] [Division 1] 
FORT LEWIS COLLEGE: [Roster = 17] [Division 1] 
LINDSEY WILSON COLLEGE: [Roster = 15] [Division 1] 
COLORADO MESA UNIVERSITY: [Roster = 14] [Division 1] 
BREVARD COLLEGE: [Roster = 13] [Division 1] 
LEES-MCRAE COLLEGE: [Roster = 11] [Division 1] 
LINDENWOOD UNIVERSITY: [Roster = 9] [Division 1] 
MIDWESTERN STATE UNIVERSITY: [Roster = 3] [Division 1] 

Division 2:
UNION COLLEGE-KY: [Roster = 5] 
RIPON COLLEGE: [Roster = 2] 

02 November 2015

Collegiate Cycling 2015 - by the numbers

Here's some counts from USA Cycling's database of collegiate racers. Note this is all racers, all categories. It also may not accurately reflect who is actually an active student, since the license year doesn't correspond with the academic year. Nonetheless, I suspect it is pretty close to the universe of collegiate racers.

For more info on USAC Collegiate Cycling:  http://www.usacycling.org/Programs/collegiate/

  Total - 275
  Div I - 119 (2994 riders)
  Div II - 156 (1543 riders)


 27 teams -- 381 riders
 Div 1 = 268 riders
Div 2 = 113 riders
 57 teams -- 857 riders
Div 1 = 411 riders
Div 2 = 446 riders
 3 teams -- 18 riders
Div 1 = 18 riders
Div 2 = 0 riders
 45 teams -- 617 riders
Div 1 = 409 riders
Div 2 = 208 riders
North Central:
 14 teams -- 149 riders
Div 1 = 109 riders
Div 2 = 40 riders
 19 teams -- 264 riders
Div 1 = 75 riders
Div 2 = 189 riders
Rocky Mountain:
 17 teams -- 569 riders
Div 1 = 398 riders
Div 2 = 171 riders
South Central:
 25 teams -- 342 riders
Div 1 = 255 riders
Div 2 = 87 riders
 30 teams -- 510 riders
Div 1 = 345 riders
Div 2 = 165 riders
 6 teams -- 157 riders
Div 1 = 142 riders
Div 2 = 15 riders
 31 teams -- 673 riders
Div 1 = 564 riders
Div 2 = 109 riders

06 June 2015

Collegiate Cycling - the prospects for collegiate cycling as a development pathway

To start, I'd like to be clear that I am in favor of collegiate cycling continuing largely as-is at the "club" level. I think this setting provides an approachable competitive environment that will continue to enhance the college experience for those interested in cycling.

I am tackling the issue of whether a more serious aspect of collegiate cycling can coexist and serve a meaningful role in the development of national and world class talent. In this sense, could it realistically be a viable complement to the USA Cycling U23 development pipeline and allow young talent to progress while acquiring an education. Obviously, some athletes will decide to not attend college, and there is no denying that without the "distraction" of studies, athletes will be able to dedicate more time and energy to their cycling development. However, I think it would be a plus for the sport if college was a legitimate, widely-accepted U23 development path.

What would it take?

From my perspective there are 2 problems:

  1. the perception that collegiate cycling is at a lower level than regional or national-level amateur racing
  2. the reality that the individual races, competitive season, and division structure results in a competitive environment that does not adequately challenge or prepare young bike racers with future prospects

To the extent that #2 is true, changes need to be made so that #1 can be overcome.

As a starting point, there is no denying that the level of competition at the national collegiate competitions is high enough to prepare athletes for the next step. Numerous domestic and world tour professionals have come from the collegiate ranks. In 2014, Robin Carpenter placed 9th in the collegiate nationals road race in May and went on to win a stage at the USA Pro Challenge in August. Clearly, there are strong riders in the collegiate peloton.

Let's look at the 3 items (individual races, competitive season, and division structure) in turn:

individual races
I don't have intimate knowledge of the "A" races in every conference, but I can speak to the RMCCC at present and the WCCC from my days in college.

First, I think the presence of a Team Time Trial is an advantage. This event is rarely found on a USAC regional racing calendar. It provides unique experience that has value to future professionals, including teamwork and self-sacrifice. If any changes could be made here, I would suggest longer events and/or more riders per team. Current the teams are 4 men or women. Lifting the number of riders per team will be hard for some schools to manage, however, it would make the event a clearer training ground for progression to professional level team time trial events.

Second, the Criterium events on the calendar are typically 60-70 minutes, which seems adequate when compared to the length of professional criteriums. The racing is usually very aggressive with genuine team-vs-team tactics at play. This last feature is more pronounced than you typically find in local amateur races. Sometimes the courses can be unorthodox, that is, not flat urban-style criteriums. While I am all for race course variety, or the odd "special" event, it might be best to keep the majority of events consistent with NCC-style criterium courses.

Finally, the Road Race events probably could use some tweaking.  I think we should be striving for course that are challenging and encourage aggressive racing. These characteristics will minimize negative-style racing and will allow the best riders natural emerge. Appropriate distances must also be targeted. The calendar typically has 2-3 races of 60+miles. Longer races, 80-120miles, seem to be the standard for top-level amateur and domestic professional racing. I think this is something that could be easily changed that would ensure top collegiate racers are getting adequate race mileage.

Field sizes can also be an issue. If the peloton is too small the racing experience is not comparable to what will be experienced on the national and international level. Obviously, there are only so many collegiate racers who have the experience and results to be eligible to race in the highest collegiate category. That said, I think allowing for some discretionary upgrades would be helpful to move talented athletes into the highest category on a quicker timeline. I fully understand the negatives of moving someone up too fast or before their skills have developed enough to not pose a danger to other riders. This is where discretion comes into play. I think we can all agree there are some riders that should be exempted from racing in the lower categories in order to simply get upgrade points.

competitive season
Obviously, the competitive season must be balanced with the school calendar. These are student-athletes and have obligations to attend class, study, etc. (although college football and basketball definitely challenges the reality of this theoretical limitation). Second, it is also relevant where the collegiate season falls on the calendar relative to the non-collegiate season for that particular discipline. This second issue relates primarily to MTB, which is raced during the Fall semester. This is essentially after the normal season and while there can be conflicts with the UCI World Championships, the primary conflict is with off-season planning.

The college and standard season for the remaining disciplines tend to overlap and can create conflicts between races. It is typical for aspiring road amateurs to want to race the early season NRC and NCC races. This tends to create a scheduling conflict with some conference races and Road Nationals. The Tour of the Gila and Joe Martin Stage Race are often in close proximity to or overlapping with collegiate road nationals. This causes collegiate teams to lose riders who feel their careers are better served by racing a NRC stage race. There is no denying that the level of racing at a Pro/1 NRC stage race is higher than a collegiate race weekend. There must be a way to resolve or at least ameliorate this conflict.

The solution seems to be twofold: 1) do a more thoughtful job of scheduling collegiate road national championships, and 2) change, as necessary, collegiate nationals qualification procedures so as to not discourage riders from attending these races. (In fact, I believe we should go a step further and create "collegiate all-star program" which guarantees select collegiate racers entry in these events. I'll explore this in a later post.)

Another issue arises at Cyclocross Nationals. This is a joint event where the collegiate races are held in conjunction with the U23 and Pro events. Because all these events must be fit into a 4-day window, collegiate athletes may feel the need to choose between the U23 event and collegiate event. There is no denying that same-day or next-day races could have a negative impact on the later race. USA Cycling could make it a priority to space these events to avoid any conflicts. In my opinion, resolving this conflict should have a higher priority than offering non-championship events and/or concerns about the timing of masters events.

division structure
This may ultimately be the biggest hurdle to overcoming any negative perception of collegiate cycling. Or in other words, the easiest way to make concrete progress towards enhancing the competitive level in national competitions.

Membership in a particular division primarily affects national competitions and not conference-level race weekends. (However, the qualification system, which is driven by the division structure, does affect how schools in different divisions compete against each other in conference races) As noted, there are 2 divisions and the schools are divided primarily by school size. Currently, there are varsity programs in both divisions and these teams consistently dominate their respective divisions. At the National Championships this has the effect of splitting the talent, making each race less competitive than it would be if the best riders/teams were all in the same division.

USA Cycling has always been concerned about fairness and continues to try to protect "small" programs from racing against "large" programs. This is laudable, but it is being done in a way that places quality riders/teams in Division II depriving them of the opportunity to race head-to-head against the best riders/teams from Division I and diminishing the overall competitiveness of collegiate cycling. Obviously, this is good for schools in Division II because they can accumulate national titles and enhance their recruiting prospects. However, in my opinion, this does a disservice to the riders at those schools and the sport in general.

I think the argument is to emulate the NCAA Division I, II, III structure where each level has a guiding philosophy regarding the appropriate balance of athletics and academics. This is great, and works for NCAA sports. Cycling is simply not big enough to try to follow this approach. I think we need to establish a functional "top" division before we can start to split the remaining schools into secondary divisions.

This past Road Nationals in 2015 illustrated a great example of how splitting the talent diminished the weight of the outcomes. Brendan Rhim dominated the Division II field winning both events. He is a USA National Team member and should be racing against the best collegiate cycling has to offer.  I can't help but wonder how much better the Division I race would have been with him and the other top Division II riders present. Certainly, he and others would evaluate those wins differently if they were achieved against the entire collegiate peloton. This in no way diminishes Division II performances. I have little doubt the strong Division II riders would do well in Division I, and this is exactly why they should all be racing together!

Although the examples I used above were focused on the men's side, the exact same things are true on the women's side (if not more so). There are very strong women in each division that should be racing against each other.

USA Cycling is not unaware of the impact that varsity programs have had on the national level. However, thus far their proposed changes seem to be motivated more by increasing attendance at Nationals events (not without some justification) and taking some kind of paternalistic role to protect smaller cycling programs from having to line up against the well-funded varsity programs. I can't help but see a parallel to local racing with too many categories.

In my next post I will lay out an idea for restructuring the divisions with the primary goal to make sure that the best athletes line up against each other at the National Championships.

18 May 2015

Collegiate Cycling - varsity programs, the state of the union

State of Union

College cycling programs in the USA are either "sport clubs" or "varsity sports." As of 2015, 17 varsity programs have been approved by USA Cycling. "Approval" means that the programs have met various requirements set out by USA Cycling. These requirements primarily focus on the level of financial support provided to riders who attend the school and ride on the varsity squad. Nearly all varsity programs will pay for the costs to compete (team clothing, entry fees & travel expenses). Many offer at least $10,000 per year in scholarships. The bigger varsity programs also have various infrastructure items like team vans, trailers, on-campus facilities, and paid staff. Effectively, these varsity programs are supported on the level of many UCI Continental Teams.

Sports Clubs, on the other hand, are typically "pay-to-play," with the students picking up the tab for the majority of expenses. There are a few club teams that receive substantial financial support from their university or college, but most receive a small percentage of what is necessary to run a successful program. Club programs are also typically student run. While this is undeniably a great educational experience for the student leadership, it is the exceptional set of student leaders that can compete with paid staff for the long-term development and management of a competitive athletic program.

I have been told that the average varsity program has an operating budget around $150,000 per year. As I understand it, this does not include staff compensation, capital goods, or scholarships. The University of Colorado Boulder, as an example of a "sport club," receives about $5,500 per year from the school as part of the club sports program. Obviously, quite a difference in financial resources.

The emergence of varsity cycling programs could be reaching critical mass. New programs are announced each year and there is rumor of 10 new teams filing applications for 2016. USA Cycling is in the process of revamping the division structure that will eventually separate varsity and club programs. This restructuring is necessary to accommodate the new programs and especially to address the impact of the varsity program on the competitive landscape.

Varsity programs are recruiting and retaining the best high school talent. They are able to financially support larger programs with more riders. The recent national results illustrate the relative competitive advantage:  in the last 5 years no club program has won a national title in any discipline (Track, Road, CX, MTB, BMX) in either division (I and II, both have varsity programs). This is approximately 45 National Championship events! CU was the first to break this stranglehold by winning the 2014 MTB National Championship.

At 2015 Road Nationals, only one Division I varsity program placed outside of the top-10 (Lindsey Wilson College). The remaining five Division I programs placed 1st, 3rd, 5th, 6th and 9th. In Division II, 7 of the top 10 schools were varsity programs. The results clearly establish the relative strength of the varsity programs, but perhaps even more telling is the perception at the events themselves. Conference competitions often see varsity programs stacking the field and smothering the competition. Varsity teams also look the part with team vans, trailers, staff support and various other trappings of a well-financed program. The psychological impact of this reality is significant in its own right.

Additionally, the varsity programs are best situated to field quality teams in all 5 cycling disciplines. They tend to dominate the National Rankings (based on performance in all 5 disciplines) because they have the resources to send teams to 5 National Championship events during the academic year.

But this is a good thing

In the long-term, the growth of the varsity cycling "movement" is a good thing. This will mean more opportunities for promising athletes to continue developing while enhancing their future prospects with an education. With increased support at the collegiate level, the depth of the field will continue to improve and will eventually represent the majority of 19-22 year old talent in the sport. Inevitably, the collegiate ranks will become important in the national development pipeline and professional teams will take collegiate performances more seriously.

Additionally, collegiate cycling will continue to be a welcoming environment to athletes who come to the sport later in life. Collegiate cycling does a good job of bringing new riders into the sport because of the established structure and guiding principle of open participation. A well-developed collegiate cycling environment will identify and direct this new talent much quicker than the USAC open amateur racing circuit.

Up next...can collegiate cycling be relevant in the larger cycling arena?

15 May 2015

Collegiate Cycling - Part 1

Last week I wrapped up a full season as coach of the University of Colorado Boulder Cycling Team. I have coached the team in an expanding capacity over the last 3 years. 2014/15 was the first year that I managed all disciplines (with the exception of BMX) for a complete academic year. As a result I have had contact with the various disciplines, both men and women, and the various categories in which the student-athletes compete.

The University of Colorado Boulder has over 120 student-athletes compete during a typical academic year. Men and women compete in 3 different categories and in 4 disciplines (Track, MTB, CX, and Road) over approximately 20 competition weeks. There is a wide range of experience and fitness with many students trying the sport for the first time. These new cyclists trained, traveled, and competed shoulder-to-shoulder with seasoned competitors who have represented the USA at World Championship events. This is a unique environment in that the full spectrum of competitors rarely interact so closely with each other.

In addition to providing an enriching experience for students, I believe collegiate cycling can be a legitimate development pathway to the national and international professional ranks. We have a number of competitors that have represented in the USA in World Championships in the last 12 months. These athletes have a promising start to a professional career on the bike. Unfortunately, they are often forced to choose between committing to racing the collegiate calendar or the national calendar. Many athletes must even withdraw from school to engage in the level of competition they feel is necessary to advance their careers. This is unfortunate, and I think with some vision, planning, and effort, ultimately unnecessary.

Can collegiate cycling develop in such a way to keep student-athletes in school while still providing top-level competition? This has been achieved for football, basketball, baseball and other varsity sports, why not cycling?

The next several posts will address various aspects of collegiate cycling and hopefully encourage increased attention and support of the program from the various stakeholders.

28 February 2015

Omloop Het Nieuwsblad 2015

It is easy to play armchair quarterback and pick apart what ETIXX - QUICK STEP (EQS) did or didn't do. However, if you are an aspiring racer it is an opportunity to deconstruct the outcome for your own learning.

Obviously, EQS did everything right to set up the outcome in their favor. The selection was made with around 40km to go. After an inopportune puncture for Vanmarke, the front group of four riders was established: three EQS riders (Boonen, Terpstra, Vandenbergh) and Stannard for SKY. By all accounts, the odds were stacked greatly in EQS's favor. This tactical situation was further enhanced by the fact that Stybar was sitting on the only threatening chase group.

Either out of overconfidence or concern about being caught from behind, all 3 EQS riders took over the pacemaking, letting Stannard sit on, until around 8km to go. Finally, at 8km, Boonen stopped pulling and started saving energy for his big attack at 4.5km to go. At no point between the split and 4.5km to go, did EQS attack Stannard.

So what could they have done differently?

Work over Stannard - The obvious first choice would be to attack/counterattack Stannard starting at 20-25km out. Ideally, EQS would have sprung a rider and forced Stannard into a work situation. Putting a rider up the road would have forced Stannard to concede the top step or take the front. Under normal circumstances, such a strategy would have worked. However, sometimes the isolated rider is just that strong. Even if ultimately unsuccessful, it would have taken some punch out of Stannard's legs for the finish.

Also, I don't think I would have been too concerned about a catch by the Van Avermaet, Vanmarke, Stybar group. Stybar would have arrived fresh and ready to go in the end game.

Save Boonen - Another option would have been to leave the work to Terpstra and Vandenbergh and let Boonen do the same amount of work as Stannard -- none. At least then Boonen would have been as good as possible for the end game.

Usually, the best approach is to try everything, or in this case at least try something. If there was a plan, it seemed to rely on Boonen riding away solo in the last few km. Even with this plan, it seems like it would have been better to soften Stannard up with a few preliminary attacks from Terpstra and Vandenbergh. At the very least, a few attacks would have helped to assess how strong Stannard was. By allowing him to sit on, EQS really didn't know what they were dealing with and couldn't tweak their end game for the greatest possible chance of success.

Surely, there are relevant details that we as viewers don't know. It goes without saying that these details would have been factored into the EQS game plan. Whether EQS got it right or wrong isn't really that important, unless you just need to feed your ego. Rather, for the mindful racer, the important thing is doing a critical analysis of the tactical game with the information you have available.