Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Small country

We just got back from Junior National Championships in Bend, Oregon. It is events like these that make you realize that when it comes to cycling, the US is a very small country. I believe a grand total of some 750 riders showed up for the event. That covers all age groups 10-23 yrs of age, both genders, and quite possibly a number of Cat 1's as well since the Elite Criterium championships were held concurrently. To say nothing of the Paralympic Championships.

In essence, the event is like a provincial championship in Belgium. For those of you unfamiliar with Belgium, it is a small country in Northern Europe, about the size of the State of Maryland, with about 10.5 million inhabitants. It has 9 provinces. Which means there are nine provincial championships each year.

Nationals, as it is called, is the most competition one can get in the US. As National Team Coach Ben Sharp pointed out in his presentation about European Cycling, one can often find more junior men (17-18s) racing within 50 miles of another on any one given day in Belgium.

That does not mean Americans don't have talent. Although we have a small sample, it is clearly an enriched sample. It is also remarkable how many have parents who are first generation citizens, dual citizens, or with otherwise very strong ties to Europe or Latin America.

There is good talent but there are also serious holes in the competition. When someone wins consistently and with a large gap, like Craddock did in the junior men category, you can be sure it is a sign of strength. However, the same cannot be said about many other medalists and runner-ups. Did they end up first, second or third because they are first, second or third, or are they there because the real first, second or third is not?

Clearly a lot of potentially promising American juniors do not ride bikes. They are running track, cross country skiing, or maybe even playing baseball. While we have an impressive line-up of pro riders (yes there are good American riders besides Lance), a country this size should completely dominate the sport of cycling. With 300 million inhabitants, America has a larger pool to choose from than Europe does (not all European countries are fond of cycling).

Yes we have come a long way, but there is still a long way to go.

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