By Chris Carmichael
Founder & Head Coach of CTS
Cycling’s Road World Championships have always held a special significance for me, perhaps because racing the Junior World Championships in 1978 was a big moment in my development as a young rider. This week, Road Worlds have created some great storylines, and perhaps even bigger stories await from today’s Women’s Road Race today and the Men’s Road Race tomorrow.
The Young Americans
Coming off a dominating performance at the Colorado Classic, where she won all 4 stages and the overall, there was a lot of anticipation to see how Chloe Dygert Owen would perform at World Championships. And man, did she deliver! She won the women’s time trial by 1:33 over Olympic Road Race Champion Anna van der Breggen and 1:52 over the defending Time Trial World Champion, Annemiek van Vleuten. Her margin of victory was immense, as is her talent and dedication to working hard.
In the Junior Men’s Road Race, Team USA rode as a cohesive team, with an established plan, and the result was a World Championship for Quinn Simmons and a bronze medal for Magnus Sheffield. USA Cycling’s Junior Men’s Program Manager, Billy Innes, said it best: “When five ride as one, it’s an amazing feeling. To get one medal at a World Championship is remarkable, to get two at a World Championship and a rainbow jersey is incredible.” I was coaching at USA Cycling when Jeff Evanshine won the last Junior Men’s Road Race title, and 1991 was a long time ago.
The result is obviously impressive, but the teamwork displayed by the US junior team was even more striking and encouraging. Sometimes at World Championships, teams come together at the last minute, have competing ambitions, and struggle to ride cohesively. It’s a testament to the work USA Cycling has been devoting to the National Team Program that riders Michael Garrison, Matthew Riccitello, and Gianni Lamperti clearly put the team first and worked incredibly hard to put their teammates in position to win.
USA Cycling deserves a lot of credit for revitalizing the National Team program and bringing in great talent, both in management and on the bike. Jeff Pierce, Director of Elite Athletics at USA Cycling, was a teammate of mine on the National Team and on 7-Eleven (Jeff won the final stage of the Tour de France on the Champs Elysees in 1987). He and his team have done a great job in recent years, as evidenced by World Championships won across multiple disciplines – road, track, and mountain bike. To me that shows it’s not just having one or two super-talented riders; the system Jeff and his team have implemented has created a high-performance environment where many riders can reach their full potential.
Going into the Women’s Road Race on Saturday, there’s a good chance Team USA could add to the jersey and/or medal count. In Sunday’s Men’s Road Race, I think a medal or rainbow jersey for a US rider is less likely, but World Championships are a one-day race and anything can happen.
When I was leading the US Team going to World Championships, here’s some of the advice I gave the riders. Much of it applies to any rider headed toward a goal event.
Always go to race
Even for young racers who were getting their first experience racing World Championships, I told them to go prepared to race for the win. You can’t treat your first Worlds like a dry run or a rehearsal for the future Worlds you’re going to race to win. First of all, you might not get another chance, no matter how bright your future looks right now. Second, when riders go into a race with an “I’m here to gain experience” mindset, they don’t gain the true experience they’re after because the level of engagement and focus is not the same. Go and race hard, and gain a more authentic experience you can build on, if you get a chance. This goes for riders entering competitions like Ironman triathlons, epic gravel races like SBT GRVL, or the Leadville 100.
It comes down to the last three laps
The Elite Men’s Road Race is typically a dozen or more laps on a big circuit with one big climb. The first time up the climb, it doesn’t seem hard. The fifth or eighth time up it’s noticeably harder and the differences between good, better, and best riders start to emerge. By the final three laps, the pace just ratchets up and up, and these final laps are often the fastest of the entire race. The other races are not as long, but often develop in a similar fashion.
The point for riders is that you have to go in with a plan and, more importantly, with the patience to execute it. This is one of the crucial lessons we teach riders preparing for long endurance events or even shorter, higher intensity events. You have a finite amount of energy and a limited number of high-quality efforts in you for any event. Save your big efforts for the times and places where they will count the most. And don’t get suckered into expending all your energy by playing into some other team’s strategy.
This is your team
After spending most of the year racing against each other, World Championships brings riders together under one flag to race for their country. Not all teams come together nicely. One famous example of this was the 1982 World Championships in Goodwood, Great Britain. I was there riding as an amateur for Team USA (US Cycling Federation, at the time), and there was a squad of pros racing as Team USA under USPRO. The pro team consisted of John Eustice, George Mount, Greg LeMond, and Jonathan “Jock” Boyer. The race and the controversy that followed have been thoroughly reviewed many times, but suffice to say, LeMond and Boyer didn’t see eye to eye and went into the race with an “every man for himself” mindset.
In the end, both Jock and Greg were at the front with only a few kilometers to go. Whether either rider could have beaten the blazing final kick of Italian Guiseppe Saronni is debatable, but riding independently it appeared Greg chased down Jock in the final kilometer, before Saronni swept past both of them. I’m not stepping into the discussion of who should have done what; but contrast that with the teamwork displayed by the Team USA junior men this week, and you can see the positive results of USA Cycling’s recent reinvestment in the National Team Program.
The point for amateurs and masters is that when you decide to be part of a team, be part of the team. If you don’t want to abide by the responsibilities of being a teammate, that’s fine. Just don’t join a team because you’re not ready to be a team player.
I hope you get a chance to watch some of the racing at World Championships this weekend, or go and watch the replays of races from earlier in the week. The racing has been exciting and fun to watch.