USAC appointed representatives to a cycling esport selection committee tasked with creating discipline-specific criteria with eyes on a National Team in 2024.
On May 14, 2023, USA Cycling released the list of America’s top athletes across Road, Mountain Bike, Track, Cyclocross, BMX racing, and BMX Freestyle named to the 2023 National Team. USA Cycling (USAC) is the national governing body for racing in the United States. The USAC National Team exists to recognize and support athletes representing the US at the sport’s highest level.
In early February 2023, USAC crowned 23 National Cycling Esports Champions. Elite racers from North America contested the second annual Esports National Championship on the Wahoo-RGT virtual platform in conjunction with Cycling Canada. The discipline’s top racers have qualified and represented the US in the UCI Cycling Esports World Championship since its inception in 2020.
However, USA Cycling didn’t acknowledge the cycling esports discipline or its athletes in its 2023 National Team announcement. Athletes that sacrificed physically, emotionally, and financially while competing in the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships wearing the “Stars and Stripes” felt slighted by the omission. Entities with a vested interest in promoting the fledgling cycling discipline were left wondering if USAC would ever catch up.
“We’ve had a lot of discussion about creating a National Esports Team,” revealed Jim Miller, Chief of Sports Performance for USAC. “We’re confident esports is going to stick around for a while. We realize it isn’t going away. It is a national sport, and it exists. We want to be on the forefront, the front foot, and make it bigger and better than it is now.”
Cycling esports enthusiasts and competitors have called for this long-awaited revelation and pointed to the precedent set by other nations.
Like USACs National Championship counterparts from up North, Josh Peacock, Cycling Canada Director of Marketing and Events, confirms, “We strongly believe that esports is a sub-discipline of cycling that is here to stay. Since 2020, Cycling Canada has consistently hosted programming on multiple virtual cycling platforms, available to Canadians of all cycling backgrounds. We remain committed to fielding a strong National Team at the World Championships. We are confident Canada will continue to be a leading nation as the sport grows and develops.”
Cycling Canada receives a quota of women and men selected to represent Canada in the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships, and those athletes are designated Canadian National Cycling Team members.
A country steeped in cycling tradition like Belgium sees the potential, shares Technical Director Frederick Broche. When asked if Cycling Belgium acknowledges cycling esports, he said, “Definitely! 100 percent! We are open to giving cycling esports a chance.”
An AusCycling spokesperson states, “We’re excited about the future of cycling esports. It’s a growth area for cycling in Australia, and AusCycling as the national organization for all forms of cycling and riding.
We’ve leaned into cycling esports to strengthen our communities, identify talent, and encourage more Australians to ride a bike. We’re eager to see it continue to grow.”
Australian racers competing in the UCI Cycling Esports National Championship have been a part of the National Team since the inaugural edition in 2020. It’s no coincidence that the 2022 men’s winner was Australian Jay Vine.
Nor that the female winner of the first event was South African National Champion Ashleigh Moolman-Pasio.
Cycling South Africa spokesperson Charles Kros said, “We have supported every event since and are committed to future events. The South African cycling community has a significant presence on the various online platforms and has seen great success recently.”
South African athletes are designated according to an official selection policy and earn national colors for competing in the UCI Cycling Esports World Championship. USA Cycling does not have cycling esports discipline-specific criteria, a pre-requisite to national team designation.
USACs Miller says, “We are considering putting together criteria to name athletes to a national team in the esports discipline. We are also looking at creating selection events for Continental Championships, World Championships, and National Championships.”
USA Cycling recently created a Cycling Esports Selection Committee and appointed Jenn Real and Holden Comeau to sit beside an interim esports discipline director.
Jenn Real is an elite esports athlete and the DS for the women’s World Championship squad, and she says, “I am honored to serve on the cycling esports selection committee. The committee is another step forward in cycling esports’ ongoing growth and development. I’m delighted that USAC is becoming a leader in esports development. There’s an incredible depth of talent in the United States, and I look forward to helping USAC put forth an even stronger team next year for UCI esports worlds. I want the US to bring home the gold next year!”
Holden Comeau was the 2019 US Zwift National Champion and an early adopter of cycling esports. His background in data analytics and virtual cycling performance verification experience will be an asset to the committee.
Comeau says: “USA Cycling has continually proven itself as a global leader in supporting cycling esports and our athletes. By recognizing indoor alongside its other cycling national team programs, USAC has taken an important step to advance our sport beyond the honorific appointments we’ve celebrated in the past. American cycling esports athletes will now receive the same institutional oversight as our country’s most celebrated cyclists. Not only will this pave the way for exceptionally talented individuals to succeed at the highest level of the sport globally, but it will also have broad, positive implications for the economy of our sport by helping to entrench the type of programmatic governance that can align growth.”
Miller tapped the two highly qualified individuals on the recommendation of elite esports racer and World Championship team DS Matt Gardiner.
“Matt has been my go-to source of esports education,” shares Miller. “We’ve asked him to manage the World Championship team for the last two years. We will need an Esports Discipline Director to sit on the Esports Selection Committee, and Matt would be a natural choice. It would have to be someone who knows the sport very well, and he is a visionary.”
Miller is quick to point out that he and other members of USAC aren’t esports experts but didn’t go as far as to say that the lack of knowledge contributes to the delayed adoption.
“I would cherish the opportunity to make the US National Esports program as prominent as road, track, or mountain biking,” says Gardiner. “I envision a National Program where athletes regularly compete as a team, develop riders, build cohesion ahead of international events, and show that the US plans to be at the forefront of this burgeoning sport.”
USA Cycling posted its discipline-specific national team selection criteria for 2024 in January 2023, which didn’t include esports, but Miller doesn’t feel it will eliminate cycling esports next year.
“We didn’t post the criteria with the other disciplines,” Miller admits, “but we can post it retroactively and announce that the team was designated off criteria created by the Esports Selection Committee.”
Miller also admits there is one thing that would significantly speed up that timeline.
“If esports becomes an Olympic sport, it significantly increases its status in the eyes of the USAC. It will increase our efforts and be very helpful to the sport. It’s an absolute game-changer!” says Miller.
You only need to follow the money to find the reason. The majority of USACs funding comes from the USOPC. The United States Olympic & Paralympic Committee is responsible for fielding U.S. teams for the Olympic, Paralympic, Youth Olympic, and Pan American games and serves as the steward of the Olympic and Paralympic movements in the U.S.
“They are obviously interested in Olympic medals,” notes Miller. “If the sport is an Olympic discipline, we put more emphasis and fund it at a higher level.”
Miller isn’t interested in substantiating that USA Cycling is loyal to any virtual cycling platform. When asked if the organization’s relationship with Wahoo-RGT influences its decisions regarding the UCI Cycling Esports World Championships on Zwift, he emphatically replied, “Nope, none, zero!”
USA Cycling met with Zwift on May 19, 2023, to discuss a National Championship, selection events for the Continentals and World Championships, and having a bigger and better presence on the esports platform.
Nor did Miller affirm that the issue of performance verification, equipment standardization, and cheating stands in the way.
“It doesn’t prohibit us, but it is an interesting challenge,” Miller explains.
“It is difficult for the federation to monitor a National Championship even remotely close to the level of the World Championships, and that is the level of protection we need to have that level of credibility. I wouldn’t see us doing it. We would lean on a third party.”
With all that said, USACs Miller is still not ready to commit to a timeline for implementation.
“Kinda committed to esports is actually the right thing to say. We’ve discussed it and think it’s a good idea, but we have yet to say, “Okay, we’re going to do this right now and go for it.” Do I think we are going to do it? Yeah, I’m confident that we will put it together. Now we realize that it is something we are going to do.”
Somewhat committed and closer than ever before, but USA Cycling has a lot more work to bridge the gap to the level of legitimacy and support shown by competing countries.
Semi-retired as owner and director of his private Orthopedic Physical Therapy practice after over 20 years, Chris is blessed with the freedom to pursue his passion for virtual cycling and writing. On a continual quest to give back to his bike for all the rewarding experiences and relationships it has provided him, he created a non-profit. Chris is committed to helping others with his bike through its work and the pages of his site.
In the summer of 2022, he rode 3,900 miles from San Francisco to New York to support the charity he founded, TheDIRTDadFund. His “Gain Cave” resides on the North Fork of Long Island, where he lives with his beautiful wife and is proud of his two independent children.
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