Late last summer, Herriott Sports Performance (HSP) announced that it had secured the management role for the Hagens Berman U-23 Cycling Program. With Hagens-Berman as the title sponsor for 2014, they will be overseeing the development of a group of eleven riders ranging in age from 16 to 21, which includes riders designated as Juniors (under 18) and Under 23s (aka U23). In early January the new team met for the first time and I got the opportunity to find out more.
When I thought about it, I realized I didn’t understand the significance of this kind of development program. Most of us are clueless about how young cycling talent is identified, cultivated and progresses through the development pipeline. Unlike mainstream sports, young cycling athletes toil away in relative anonymity. As North Bend native Conor Klupar noted in a September 2012 interview “Being a high school athlete is tough if your sport doesn’t involve a ball.”
The Junior and U23 Talent Pipeline
Junior riders with Olympic or professional potential are identified and recruited through a combination of USA Cycling sanctioned races, talent ID camps, and a screening process that includes talking with parents and coaches, as well interviews with the riders themselves. Key teams such as Hagens-Berman, California Giant, Bissell, and BMC play an important role in identifying talent as well.
Team member Zeke Mostov talks through his 3rd place finish at the 2013 Junior World Time Trial Championships in Florence, Italy:
This year, HSP evaluated the resumes of about 100 riders. Some of the riders under consideration had multiple options open to them for the 2014 season. As Todd Herriott told me, “We were lucky to get some of these guys. Many of the riders are currently a part of the USA Cycling national team pool and already have European racing experience.”
During my visit I had the chance to chat with USA Cycling’s Mike Sayers. Mike is the Men’s Road Team Director, and his duties include overseeing the men’s Olympic team and the U23 squad. Mike’s primary mission is to ensure that the US’ top junior talent gets experience racing in Europe. The young racers I’ve talked with about their European experience all say the same thing—the Europeans are constantly on the attack and racing there is a major reality check. Without European racing experience it’s impossible to compete at the international level.
At the talent ID camps (managed by Junior Team Director Billy Innes), the USA Cycling staff evaluates each racer’s performance in race conditions, as well as conduct heart rate and power (wattage) tests. In addition to these established metrics, Mike is working to bring the selection process into the modern age by leading the development of a performance analytics database. Along with the physical metrics, Mike’s idea is to incorporate each rider’s soft skills into the decision matrix. Interpersonal skills, self-reliance while traveling in Europe, and the rider’s ability to manage his personal life while away from family and home are all key elements of a rider’s success in the pros and Mike says it’s at least as important as raw athletic talent.
Riders who demonstrate the most natural talent at the ID camps are then offered several opportunities to race in Europe depending on their school schedules. The best of these (ages 19-22) are funneled into the U23 program.
Mike emphasized: “It’s really important for the general public to realize that we have been building the European program for 20 years. We have an established infrastructure to support the riders including a service course (a facility where bicycles and equipment are maintained between races) in Holland.” He added: “I hear complaints from people who misunderstand what is really happening with the program. The program is not about training. It’s about racing. We are well-organized and focused on giving our most talented youth the opportunity to race with the best in the world.”
Mike says the U23 successes speak for themselves: 25-30% of riders that graduate from the program go on to paying pro contracts. During the last decade this has translated to 5-8 riders per year upgrading to the big time. Mike cited Lawson Craddick (Giant-Shimano, formerly Argos-Shimano) as an exemplar. Lawson entered the development program as a 15-year old and spent 8 years being groomed for international competition. 2014 will be his first year as a pro.
The Hagens Berman U-23 Cycling Program
The program managers include:
David Richter is Sports Director and a team principal. Along with Todd, David will be selecting which races the team will participate in, and selecting the staff and riders for each event. David will be driving the team car during the races and making the tactical decisions as each race progresses.
Todd Herriot is Team Manager and the other team principal. Todd and David will be collaborating to determine the schedules for staff and riders and will be in charge of sponsor and vendor relationships. Todd and David will both have a key role in training and testing riders.
Joe Holmes is Assistant Sports Director and Logistics Manager. Joe handles travel logistics (flights, hotels, etc.), and fills in the role of Sports Director when David can’t participate or the squad is split over multiple events. Joe has the distinction of having coached Logan Owen for 6 years. Logan just won his ninth consecutive national cyclocross championship and has his sights set on even bigger international goals.
Joe elaborated about how he might be able to impart some wisdom: “I am very fortunate to have been able to turn my passions for cycling and climbing into something that can benefit young athletes. I’ve been racing bikes for over 3 decades, instructing and coaching for close to 2 decades, and have been a team director at both the professional and amateur level for over a decade. It’s cliche’ but true, if I had only known at their age what I know now…”
There are only 3 or 4 development teams in the US similar to the HSP-Hagens Berman program. Several factors came into play to make the HSP-HB partnership come together. HSP has had a long-standing relationship with both Steve Berman and Mike Sayers, and HSP’s reputation for coaching excellence was a given. HSP’s retail relationships and meant they could also incorporate other cycling industry sponsors, and their service and repair team meant they could include a service course. The whole package was appealing to Hagens-Berman and USA Cycling, and USA Cycling asked HSP to help mentor kids and be the go-to team for international competition.
According to David Richter, “Our vision is to have a lot of influence over the riders, kind of like how Sky does most of the coaching for their riders.” The emphasis of the January 10-12 camp was team-building, and for the riders to have the opportunity to learn about the staff, the program, and to meet the sponsors. To this end the weekend’s activities included bowling, indoor climbing as a team-building experience, and everyone got the opportunity to lip sync their personal fight songs karaoke-style.
During the January camp the young riders also got a taste of some off-the-bike fitness exercises with medicine ball and Redcord workouts. In addition to giving the boys some new fitness tools, Todd and David wanted see how they would react to new and unfamiliar stresses. As Todd put it, “We want to beat them up a bit and see how they react.”
Looking ahead to the 2014 season, important goals include developing the team so it functions as a cohesive unit, and developing each rider so that they are individually proficient and experience what it means to “sell out to one another for the best of the team.” Successful riders will develop a strong sense of sportsmanship and an appreciation for the sponsors. Todd told me that they don’t want their riders to have an “entitlement mentality.”
According to David Richter, the 2014 HB U23 Development squad is “a good cast of characters”:
1. Adrien Costa (USA)
2. Colby Wait-Molyneux (USA)
3. Daniel Gay (USA)
4. Eamon Lucas (Franck) (USA)
5. Jeff Perrin (USA)
6. Jordan Cullen (USA)
7. Michael Dessau (USA)
8. Owen Gillott (AUS)
9. Sebastian Trillini (ARG)
10. Stephen Bassett (USA)
11. Zeke Mostov (USA)
The team formally assembles again at a riding camp March 25-April 1 in Oxnard, CA. At the Oxnard camp the managers will decide who is on form–both on the road and via some baseline lactate and breathing tests–and ready for the Redlands Classic, April 3-6. Sponsor relationships are an important part of the program and March 29th is scheduled as a VIP day during which sponsors will have the opportunity to ride with team members.
Longer term, the vision is to grow the development team and to make a long-term commitment to U23. The HSP managers and Hagens Berman aim to become the best U23 team in North America if not the world.