USA Cycling takes mountain bike development to the next level

By Jackson Weber

In an effort to keep improving the level of competitive mountain bike racing in America, USA Cycling has recently begun changes to its U23 and Junior mountain bike development programs. As Marc Gullickson, USA Cycling’s new mountain bike program director explains: “We will essentially be moving away from running a full-time National Team that commits all of our resources to just three or four riders in order to cast a wider net. What we want to do is give more riders a shot at gaining international racing experience.”
The new program will begin this April in a slightly smaller form due to the focus on the upcoming Olympic Games. Then, American U23 riders Sam Jurekovic (Colorado Springs, Colo.), Colin Cares (Boulder, Colo.) and Ethan Gilmour (Athens Ga.) will be sent to the World Cycling Center in Aigle, Switzerland where they will take part in a two-month long training camp.  There they will have a chance to regularly compete against Europe's best, including racing both the Houffalize and Offenburg World Cup races, as well as several other UCI mountain and road bike races.  

All of this will be done with the hopes of acclimatizing America's up and coming riders to the various rigors of the European racing scene. Jurekovic, the reigning U23 cross country national champion explained, “The racing in Europe is a lot different than here in the States. The races are a lot more intense and bring a different set of challenges.”

Gullickson was also careful to note that this new program is not meant to affront the North American racing scene but to complement it. “Our Mountain Bike National Calendar is essential for our young riders’ development and for bringing U.S. Mountain Bike riders to that next level,” said Gullickson. “What we are striving for is a system where our young riders have a support structure here in North America that allows them to get to the larger National Calendar events and where USA Cycling then comes into play in providing a support system for these riders when they are ready to get their feet wet on the international race scene.  At this time the biggest and best racing outside North America is in Western Europe, so this is where we will focus our attention.”

Jurekovic, Cares and Gilmour represent some of the best young riders that America has to offer, and all of them are quite excited to be given the opportunity to race in Europe. “I'm pretty stoked,” said Jurekovic. “I love the racing in Europe and I think I thrive in that kind of scene.”  And he should, given how Jurekovic has dominated the North American U23 racing calendar, winning last year's U23 cross country national championships at Mount Snow, Vermont, as well as possessing the distinction of being the most consistent U23 mountain bike rider in the U.S., ending the 2007 season as the top-ranked U23 rider in the Mountain Bike National Calendar.  Additionally, the Wyoming native also holds the U23 national four-kilometer pursuit title on the track.

Cares and Gilmour may lack the same results as Jurekovic, but, if so, only barely. Cares, a Colorado College student, is the current Division II collegiate mountain bike national champion who has managed to place third to older riders (including Jurekovic) twice in the U23 national championships.
Gilmour won the Junior 17-18 national championships in 2007 and contributed to the bronze-medal winning efforts of the team relay squad at the 2007 UCI Mountain Bike World Championships, which was a first for the U.S. 
For 2008, Gilmour will be racing in the U23 class for the first time so Europe will present an extra challenge for an 18-year-old who is well aware of, and excited for, the challenges he is soon to face. “I think people make a big deal about how hard racing in Europe is,” said the enthusiastic Gilmour, “but it’s where all the fast guys come from now, and I'm really excited to get over there and cut my teeth.”

Thanks to USA Cycling, from April until the Mountain Bike World Championships in June, Jurekovic, Cares and Gilmour will be given the chance to race at the highest level the sport has to offer. 
“It'll be a great learning experience and super valuable,” exclaimed Jurekovic.  “The Europeans are the fastest people in the world right now.” 
Hopefully, thanks to programs like this one, soon international athletes will be able to say the same about the American racing scene.

This Article Published March 18, 2008 For more information contact: