PCS to take a team of Australian U/23 MTB’ers to USA and Canada
Words by Donna Dall
During the recent World Cup in Cairns, I was lucky enough to stay with U/23 athletes Luke Brame, Callum Carson and their families to coach and support them at the race. During some downtime between practice sessions, Luke and I decided to do some long term planning, looking at what the next 3-5 years might look like for his mountain bike racing career.
Pre-empting the attendance of European World Cups next year in 2017 in order to qualify for the 2017 Cairns World Championships, Luke and I decided to look at the UCI calendar and in particular USA and Canada. We found 4 races in 4 weeks which logistically speaking, lined up perfectly! While it was a tonne of fun doing the research and thinking all “pie in the sky” stuff together, being only 18 years of age, it was hard for Luke to see a way forward to bring the trip to fruition.
Moving from the U/19 category and stepping up into the U/23 category is an extremely difficult transition. Apart from the actual competition, it is a period in the athletes’ lives when they finish school, turn of age, learn to drive and typically commence university studies or start a job (sometimes both). Australia's best U/19 athletes are selected to represent Australia at World Championships and are supported by MTBA with a coach and a mechanic at camps in Australia and in Europe for the World Championships. Whereas once these U/19 athletes become U/23’s they are on their own save for their hard working domestic teams. In my opinion the U/23’s need just as much support as any U/19 athlete. For example, when travelling overseas they are still not eligible to hire cars, rent accommodation and are still developing life skills and learning about racing and training overseas.
Reflecting on all the things that I could do to help to make that transition from U/19 to U/23 easier for my athletes and their families, I decided to prepare a proposal where I would lead a team of U/23 athletes on a tour of the USA and Canada with the 4 races in 4 weeks. I am pleased to announce that 3 very dedicated and talented athletes will be joining me from the 24th July to the 22nd August 2016; Luke Brame (Blue Mountains, NSW) Callum Carson (Wollongong, NSW) and Felix Smalley (Melbourne, VIC).
The 2017 World Championships are being held in Cairns, Australia. This gives Australian athletes the unique opportunity to represent Australia on home soil in front of a home crowd. Given that there are limited spaces, selection for the 2017 World Championships will be tough. As the host nation, a total number of 7 x U/23 athletes can be selected (if MTBA chooses to fill all 7 spots). Upon reflection of previous selection criteria published by MTBA, I am pre-empting the U/23 cohort will be required to travel to Europe in 2017 and post results at European World Cups in order to qualify for the 2017 Cairns World Championships.
Additional to meeting selection criteria to gain qualification, I see the need for U/23 athletes to continue on a development path that will see them improve and gain valuable experience rather than falling behind if no other international competitions were to be attended in 2016. Success on the world stage has a long term development path and you only have to look at the likes of Australians Cam Ivory, Scott Bowden and Reece Tucknott to see that by consistently racing at international competitions every year, have seen them on an upward trajectory and development pathway.
So where to from here?
The tour to the USA and Canada consists of 4 races in 4 weeks and includes the Mont Saint-Anne World Cup in Canada. Three races are on the East Coast, all within driving distance and the 4th is at Whistler, Canada on the West Coast and is part of the very popular Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival, on the way back home to Australia. All 4 races have solid UCI points up for grabs.
While the focus remains heavily on developing skills such as living away from home, preparing for large competitions (such as World Cups and UCI HC category events) there will still be a focus on obtaining results. UCI points gained in USA and Canada will help with their starting position for the European World Cup season in 2017.
The 4 races
1. US Cup; The Boston Rebellion Pro XCT, USA. Saturday 30th July XCO Elite Men + Sunday 31st July STXC (Short Track) http://www.bostonrebellion.com/ProXCT/ProXCT.html
2. World Cup Mont Saint Anne, CANADA. Sunday 7th August with U/23 men at 9am http://www.velirium.com/fr
3. Windham Pro XCT, USA. Saturday 13th August with separate U/23 mens category http://www.windhammountain.com/events-activities/events-calendar/event/windhamprogrt/2016-08-13/
4. Canadian Open XCO Canada Cup, CANADA. Friday 19th August, XCO Elite Men. This event is part of the Whistler Crankworx Mountain Bike Festival. http://www.crankworx.com/event/canada-cup-x-country-finals/
Why USA/Canada and not Europe? Well there are a few reasons.
- The world cup season is not very well aligned to racing at more than 1 of them as they are spread apart by large 4 week gaps.
- 4 races in 4 weeks gives you more bang for your buck.
- The level of competition in USA and Canada is higher than Australia but is not as high as Europe
- USA/Canada is English speaking (although the World Cup in Mont Saint Anne will be in French and English)
For Luke Brame, Callum Carson and Felix Smalley, the trip will be an excellent opportunity for these U/23 athletes to build on their existing experience. All three of the U/23 athletes competed at the recent World Cup in Cairns and have also represented Australia as U/19 athletes at the 2014 and/or 2015 World Championships.
What Luke has to say: “It will be awesome racing on some of the best tracks America and Canada has to offer with no doubt against some talented riders as well. To be competing at Crankworx in Whistler on world renowned trails will be unreal. It’s also great to step outside of the comfort zone, gain more experience on the different trails and terrain. I am going to set some solid goals and push myself that bit further but still have fun!”
What Callum has to say: “'I'm really excited about this opportunity to go to the U.S and Canada to gain some more experience racing overseas. Luke, Felix and I are great mates so it'll be an awesome time and I think we will all benefit from having Donna as our coach whilst away.”
What Felix has to say: "I’m getting really pumped for the trip! It will provide a great setting to gain some quality racing experience, motivation, and UCI points ahead of the forthcoming season in some locations that I’ve wanted to ride/race at since the beginning (looking at you Whistler). I’m excited to be able to travel with mates like Callum, Luke and Donna where we’ll be able to live and race as a small team. Bring it on!"
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