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Cycling Center: The selection process
 
By Celine Tytgadt
Date: 1/14/2003
Cycling Center: The selection process
 
January is the month when I finally realise that the new season is knocking at our front door and it

January is the month when I finally realise that the new season is knocking at our front door and itís time to get things moving.  Itís time to start looking forward to the good races, the up- and downfall of riders and so on.  But for many people this started a long time ago.  For example Bernard Moerman, director sportif and manager of the Cycling Center/ABC-Aitos team this started when the 2002 season was still full on.  Thatís the time of the first person to apply for being part of the Cycling Center in 2003.  We managed to talk to Bernard now that he finally managed to make his final decision on whoís in and whoís not.

Bernard, could you tell us a bit how the selection went for 2003?

It was the hardest selection since we started the Cycling Center. We had applications already since may 2002 and there are still applications coming in. Until now more then 140 applications came in. That made the selection process very difficult. As always we want to select as fair and honest possible, so we had to go over the applications and additional questions and resumes and recommendations over and over again. I tried to tell all the riders being selected or not selected is not a matter of being good or not, itís a result of many criteria.

Can anyone apply or are there any requirements like being a cat 1 or minimum and maximum age?

Letís say you need to be between 20 and 25-26 to come here the first time. We donít look to much at categories because over the years we learned this is not waterproof. The list of cat 3 riders who ended up doing very well is big, but the list with cat 1 riders who hardly finished a big race is also big. The problem with lots of cat 1ís is that they think they will come over and kick ass right away.  Those guys get a mental chock when they hit reality. Lots of those cat 2 and 3ís are mentally prepared much better to suffer like a beaten dog.

Tell us a bit more about those criteria and the selection mode

We start from the vision that everybody who is applying should see the CC as a steppingstone in his career. That means he wants to improve and develop.  For a lot of riders itís their first time in Europe and their first time they race full-time so the mental part is as much key as the physical abilities or results in the past.  We look at points like age towards how many years you do road racing.  For example: a cat 2 of 24 years old racing only 2 years and done about 30 races might have more chance to be selected then a 23 year-old cat 1 who is racing already 7 years with no major results.

We also check the racing and other-sports background: meaning what was the sport before cycling: mountain bike, cyclo-cross, track, running, skiing, swimming,Ö..   What is the support form the home-front, does he live in a very supportive family area where they do whatever it takes to help him, or does he have to scrape every penny together himself since he lives on his own already for years.  Did he ever live with other people for a bit of time or will that be his first time.  What is the trainings load he does normally, is he coached, is he following the advice of his coachÖÖ

The answers on those type of questions result in some sort of pre-selection. In the meantime I try to check the guys out by asking our network in the US about them.  This results in a pre-selection list and then we start asking additional questions  and start selecting.

So who is selected for 2003.

As you know we have several riders coming back: Pete Barlin, Ben Duke, Austin King, Jed Schneider, Matt Sadauckas, Gregg Germer and Corey Steinbrecher. Together with Eric Keim, they will form the Ďback-boneí and race here the full-season.

For the Classics-program we have: Matt Hawkins, Andrew Manart, Dan Bowman, Jared Bunde, Nat Campbell, Earendel Fingerson, Marc Lanoue and Trevor Irons.

For the Collegiate-program we have: Jeff Via, Sean Young, Travis Wilky, Dylan Lewis, Bryan Smidt, Justin Hale, Justin Green, Dave Sandifer and Aaron Menenberg.

How come you have three types of programs?  Wouldn't it be better to let them stay the whole year?

No, and there are two reasons for this:

1. Our own experience learned us that coming over for the first time for a full season needs a lot of courage and mental strength. You need to know that a new rider in his first time here needs on average about 4 to 6 weeks before he is at his full strength  (Jet-lag, sickness, race-speed etc etc).

2. Since we work more and more with the USCF U23-team Iím asked to have more riders of about 20 and 21 years old. So that Noel can test them here and see what they have in this international circuit.  

Austin, Gregg and Jed getting ready for a hard race with the National team (www.cyclingcenter.com)

To explain why this is better, I first need to explain what the general approach looks like.  We want our set-up to grow to a situation like this: we have about 18  places to stay. 6 to 8 places for guys for the full season, 6 places for guys for the first half of the season and 6 places for rider who will be here the second half of the season and 6 places for guys who'll come for about 8 to 10 weeks. Youíll understand that only guys who were in Europe before can be selected for the full-season. This way young riders can really learn what it is all about over here at their own pace. When at the time they are  here they develop well, Noel can select them to race for the National Team.

In this set-up riders can grow to the maximum of their potential in a few years and if good enough they are seen by the good pro-teams in Europe and the US.

You have told us a lot about the U23 team already but what is the difference for young riders racing with the U23 team or racing with ABC-AITOS?

Basically you can put it that way: the U23 set-up selects on results and the Cycling Center selects on potential growth and development. So for riders from who it is obvious they are talented, the National U23 Team is a logic step to see how far they can get on the International level. For all the others plus those who are a little older (Collegiate riders , etc) the Cycling Center can be a perfect platform.

Since both Noel and our goal is the same: bringing young riders to their limits we try to co-ordinate as much as possible our international race-schedule. That way we can test the riders and the riders can expose themselves to the international pro-racing level. Donít forget that we both do lots of 1.5, 2.5 , 1.6, 2.6, 1.12, 2.12 UCI-races all over Europe.

What is the added value for riders coming back for a second season.

Well the biggest added value is that then they really know what to expect. Like I said before, pretty much every time the riders are not prepared for the racing here. They are not ready to race all the time at least for 3 hours per race.  So after the first stay here they understand the importance of a good and adequate season-preparation. Then they are guided by our Team-doctor Dr. Dag Van Elslande to have a good winter-program to be ready for the bigger distances. Another advantage is that the returning riders know the races and some of the opponents. So the racing gets familiar for them.

Is this the reason why you call them Ďthe Backboneí?

Yes, they are my experienced riders who know how to fight the wars. And in the peloton they can guide the new CC-members, so then it becomes a little more easy for those youngsters. They are also the living proof for the youngsters that our program works. Because in the beginning we do not let the young riders race to often. We first let them train hard so that we are sure they can finish the races. For us it is not important how many races you started it is important how races you finished and then later what place you finished. Those backbone riders also are experienced in how life is in Europe, they have travelled and raced already in several countries.

Does that mean that the ĎBackboneí-riders do all the nice big races?

No, nobody is automatically selected for any kind of race. The selection for every race is made by the staff considering the type of race, the actual fitness for the riders and those type of things. I think lots of people in the US do not understand that in our program we do about 15 races of the level of Housatonic and about 35 of the level of Univest. So the guys need to be prepare and ready to go otherwise they die in those races.

Speaking of Univest, how come if your riders do about 35 races like Univest that they didnít finish at the top-places in 2002?

You mean the result of our riders wasnít good.  I understand that point of view when you look in the results of the race. The way I see it is this: at that time I only had 3 backbone riders there, because two got sick and one had travel-problems . So the 3 backbone riders did in the 20 days prior to Univest between 4 and 8 UCI 1.5 races in France, Belgium and Germany that means almost every other day a race of level Housatonic and travelling lots of miles and flying back to the US and travel again to Univest. At that time the riders were pretty tired, but the team-doctor, the team-caoch and I knew that so that was no problem. But what was very good for us is that 3 weeks later when those guys were medically tested again they all showed to be very good recuperated already.

So we never look at one result at its own, I always look for the overall picture. And  allow me to say, far to much young American riders only look for the one result.  Far to much times I hear or read from rider applying for a place at the CC, in race so and so I beat Danny Pate or I finished in the pack next to Chris Baldwin or in the TT of stage race so and so I was 10th where Mike Creed was 13th. As long as I donít know what you did the days and weeks before and after that specific results and I donít know what those named riders did, that place or result doesnít mean much to me. For the same reason, the general picture.

Another example, Tom Boonen, everybody knows him now because of his 3th place in Paris-Roubaix. Does this mean that he is seen as a top-rider, no. He now is considered as a prospect to become one. Why is this, well we need more time to have a good general picture.  I have a saying for this situation:

You need luck to get to a certain level,
but you need to be good and work hard to stay at that level.
And you cannot build a career on luck.

 

You always talk about development, improvement and general picture, does that mean that results are not important?

Not at all, but you need to see everything in the right perspective. There are several levels:

First, you need to be able to finish a Kermis of 3 hours, then you need to be able to finish a UCI race of about 150-160 km (4 hours), then you need to race a Kermis and finish top-20, then finish a UCI-race of about 200 km (5 hours) and then race the UCI Ėraces and so on.  So after a while results become important but always related to the general picture. Thatís also the way the pro-scouts scan all the riders. They relate the results of the riders.

To give you an example, last season Pete Barlin finished in France twice top 5 in two UCI pro-am races where he was the only amateur in that top-5. That is seen for sure, if he can improve these results this year, well that is stuff for his resume that will be seen by the real scouts. Donít forget that lots of those proís have done races like the Giro or the Dauphinť or even the Tour de Lance the years before. So we are racing between the big dogs.

Aren't you afraid that those Ďbackboneí-riders only ride for themselves and just think about their results?

No, since the level is so high they know they can use any help from the team-mates.  They know what I mean when I say Ďcycling is a team-sport till 50 meters from the finishí.  Look at Lance, by far one the best riders in the world. But it would be way harder to win the tour if he didnít have such a top-level team.

Looking at your selection, there are a lot of unknown riders.  Donít they need to have a certain level before they come over, even for the first time?

We do not necessarily end up with the Ďbestí guys result-wise, or the most known-guys  Not at all. I donít want a rider who thinks he knows it all because he won some races in the US. We want to work hard with guys who are ready to find out if they can still improve and develop. So for us it is way more important to find the guys that still can and want to grow instead of finding guys who may have already some successes but who are about 5 to 10% from their max. abilities.

Could that be the reason why some riders donít come over, being afraid to find out that they are close to their limits?

Might be, or maybe they just think short-term. Some of those young guys make some money and are pleased with that situation. So maybe they donít want to take the risk to get beaten over here.  And itís not because you are a good rider that you are ready to live a certain time far away from your familiar environment.  I can think that this is a waste of talent, but after all itís the rider who needs to know what he wants to achieve short-term and long-term, not me.

Another reason is that some riders want to come but are not allowed from their US-team. I cannot say anything about that, a contract is a contract. When you sign that contract that means you agree with all the proís and conís. Again it all comes down to what the rider wants to achieve in cycling. We say you cannot eat out of two spoons.


The Daily Peloton will be following the Cycling Center closeby as already mentioned before and so every month you will find a special feature besides the normal diaries.  A little peek on what's to come in a few weeks: winter preperations!


And here are the links to the previous features on the Cycling Center:

How it all began - 22nd May 2002
A day at the races: Antwerpen-Tielen - 25th August 2002
Interview with Bernard Moerman - 6th September 2002 (FAQ's from the chat session)

also the first Cycling Center diary of the year: Pete Barlin - 5th January 2003

 
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