Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Why you must race in Belgium if you are serious

In earlier posts I have discussed why Americans are often reluctant to go race in Belgium or let their children race in Belgium. I have attempted to show that most perceived obstacles (expenses, long travel, safety, language, etc.) are not serious impediments and that cycling in Belgium is really a bargain compared to anywhere else in the world. I have laid out the many advantages of racing in Belgium (competition, critical mass, etc.) versus other places.

But there is one key reason why juniors must to go Belgium if they are serious about cycling. Anyone with Olympic aspirations or anyone considering a career in cycling needs to go to Belgium as soon as possible. The reason is very simple: cycling is a European sport and it will be that way for the foreseeable future. Much like aspiring baseball players flock to the US, aspiring cyclists flock to Belgium.

While American cycling has made great strides and continues to do so, it is clear that for anyone who is old enough to involved in it now the future lies in Europe. Perhaps the only exception to this is for women's cycling. Although women's cycling has gained in Europe it is nowhere near as popular as men's cycling and this is the one area where the US is highly competitive.

For all others, junior racing in America can serve only one purpose apart from entertainment: to convince USA Cycling coaches and-or local sponsors that one is good enough to go to Europe. To repeat that bluntly: the only reason why juniors compete in big events in the US is so that they can impress the national coaches and be taken to Europe -i.e. Belgium.

However, if one aspires to be on the National Team selection to go to Restricted Events, one should race in Europe as much as possible. USA Cycling's guidelines for selecting members of the National Team makes it clear that placing in a European event is preferred over a similar or better result in a US race. So why follow a circuitous path of traveling all over the country -which is quite expensive by the way- so as to impress people so they take you to Europe, if you can just go to Europe on your own for a whole lot less money. Why not cut to the chase?

Rest assured that whatever you accomplish in Belgium will be visible, whereas your wonderful performances in the US may easily go unnoticed. You may think that going to Europe and disappearing from the radar screen in the US will be bad for your career, but you could not be more mistaken. When you are in Europe you are on everyone's radar. When you are here on the other hand, you are practically invisible, and certainly invisible to most people who matter in terms of cycling careers. Because all those people are in Europe. And they or their talent scouts are attending junior races (and even nieuwelingen races) over there.

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