Is the number of professional riders who have come through this program a good measurement of success?
Noel: Yes. It is not easy though as the progression to the ProTour is very competitive. The difference between American and European racing, with the kids going to school in the U.S., is still sizeable and it is often very hard for American kids to catch up with the European riders. Many riders are certainly capable of it. They may just need a couple years of experience and before they can make that step around the ages of 25 or 26.
I couldn't agree more with that statement. Still the biggest difference by far between racers in Europe and the USA is the level of dedication the Europeans put towards the sport starting at 18 years old. There is, quite literally, no other good alternative for a European espior to turn to if he/she is not able to get a college education. Bike racing is their way out.
In the USA, among the talented riders on the National Team, the ones who tend to make it to the big leagues are not in school. I'm not advocating skipping school--instead, I'm suggesting that USA riders don't fully develop until after they reach 22 years old and finish school.
With the USA National U23 Team obviously catering to under 23 year old riders, where do these 23-25 year old talents who go to school turn to? Racing domestically in the USA is the likely answer, if they decide to race full time at all. At home, the vast majority of our teams are Division III Continental teams, which have an under 28-year-old average age requirement. Therefore, a DIII USA team is less likely to hire a 26 year old vs. a 21 year old, even if the 26 year old fits the team better.
What can we do at home to combat this issue? Cater to U25 riders instead of U23 is one of the solutions. This encourages talented juniors to go to college versus risk everything on bike racing. It also allows the racer who did not compete as a junior (ahem...most collegiate racers) to finish school and develop their potential with the support of USA Cycling.
Do I think this change will happen? No. There will always be talents out there who are plenty good enough at bike racing to warrant skipping college at 19 years old. The younger the rider, the more potential time USA Cycling has to develop that talent.
Also, it seems to be easier to give money to "kids" than it does to "adults." That doesn't imply, however, that any bike racer should be considered an adult. Just look at me.
Oh yeah, I'm tired as hell after 100 hours of riding the last 4 weeks. Time for some rest and school work.