CEO Rob DeMartini takes USA Cycling in bold, new directions

USA Cycling
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When Rob DeMartini took over at USA Cycling about a year ago, the longtime businessman immediately noticed parallels between the sport’s governing body and New Balance, the footwear and apparel manufacturer he transformed over more than a decade in charge.

New Balance had grown stale. It was the brand your parents wore. It had fallen out of touch with trends in modern footwear, and as a result, it became a second thought not only to serious runners but also to recreational athletes.

“I had a lot of support from the ownership family to make the brand young and great and vibrant as it had been in the past,” DeMartini said, “and it took a number of years. But the parallels are very apparent here at USA Cycling.”

The organization’s membership has held steady or slightly declined for years. Despite the work of his predecessor, Derek Bouchard-Hall, there remained a yawning rift between elite athletes and recreational riders. And perhaps most significantly, casual riders had begun to embrace events – such as the mass-participation gran fondo events, gravel rides and the myriad ultra-long distance races that have sprung up – that had nothing to do with USA Cycling’s oversight or support.

Much like New Balance, the organization had become an afterthought.

So with that in mind, DeMartini decided to lead USA Cycling in a bold, new direction. It still provides significant support for elite riders, perhaps more than ever, but DeMartini envisions an organization that fosters a true cycling community, where a rider headed to the 2020 Tokyo Olympics is just as valued as the family riding bikes to the local ice cream shop.

“We’re working very hard on it,” DeMartini told The Associated Press in a wide-ranging interview. “I have a staff of 70 very committed people. They’re in this because they believe in the power of cycling. They believe in the power of sport. They’re not in this to get rich and driven by those motivations. They believe in what cycling can do.”

After years of being dragged through the mud, largely due to the fallout over Lance Armstrong and the sport’s doping past, cycling is experiencing a modern boom not only in the United States but also abroad.

Thousands have embraced indoor spinning classes such as Flywheel and SoulCycle, or purchased a Peloton bike, and many in turn hop on bikes outside. Gravel events such as Dirty Kanzaa in rural Kansas and group rides such such as the Dempsey Challenge – put on by actor and cycling enthusiast Patrick Dempsey – fill up almost immediately. Sales figures for bikes, equipment and apparel suggest more people are embracing the sport than ever before, and municipalities are building bike lanes at an incredible rate to both embrace the cycling movement and ease their own traffic congestion.

Now, the task for DeMartini is to figure out how USA Cycling best fits within that vast milieu.

“This is different than New Balance,” acknowledged DeMartini, who took that company from sales of about $1.5 billion to roughly $4.5 billion. “Our responsibility to the sport is much more direct. We’re not a profit-making organization.”

But the organization is in the business of growing the sport. To do that, USA Cycling has done everything from revamping its website and appearance to offering new membership programs to spur even the most casual interest.

Recently, it became a founding member of the Youth Cycling Initiative, which offers free and discounted memberships to youth teams and leagues, and carved out a new department within USA Cycling to focus on youth and collegiate development. The organization has even crafted a reciprocal membership program with USA Triathlon and, realizing the crossover appeal, is discussing a similar arrangement with the much larger USA Swimming.

While it may not seem like it on the surface, those efforts dovetail quite nicely with USA Cycling’s elite program – along with membership numbers, the most visible and tangible way in which the organization can judge its success.

“Racing can no longer financially support racing. You need a broad audience to keep things vibrant,” DeMartini said. “Soccer and swimming are the two best examples of Olympics sports with a well-developed infrastructure and competitiveness and participation. And bike racing hasn’t been that way. It’s been this pinnacle community at the very tip of the spear, but there has been no way to develop people along the way. You need to be able to make the pie bigger.”

More riders means a larger talent pool. Larger talent pools means the potential for more Olympic success.

USA Cycling brought home five medals with just as many near-misses from the 2016 Summer Games in Rio, and that has led to more support from the U.S. Olympic Committee. As a result, Bouchard-Hall proclaimed the goal of bringing home a record seven medals in cycling from the Tokyo Games this summer, a benchmark that DeMartini supports.

“We get a little worried about making it transparent,” he said, “but we’re very confident with this team.”

DeMartini doesn’t want to put undue pressure on U.S. athletes to perform, but it will be there regardless, and it won’t just be pressure to bring home gold. Elite athletes such as world champion road racer Chloe Dygart Owen, World Cup mountain bike overall champion Kate Courtney and track cyclist Ashton Lambie – the world record-holder in the individual pursuit – can help USA Cycling’s outreach efforts by coming through on their biggest stage.

The timing is right, DeMartini said, for the organization to take advantage of the global inertia of cycling and the cyclical interest in the Olympics to re-position USA Cycling at all levels as a central figure in the sport.

“We’re choosing a new direction, far less federation influence and more creating a community,” DeMartini said. “We want to create a community that supports racers at the elite level but also supports juniors and youth and creates an organization that is much more diverse in its makeup and interest.”

Australia’s Jay Vine wins Tour Down Under

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ADELAIDE, Australia — Australia’s Jay Vine defended his overnight lead to win the Tour Down Under, the first event of the 2023 World Tour.

Simon Yates of Britain won the final stage and moved up from third to second place on overall standings. Vine came in second on the stage to secure the biggest win of his career in a stage race.

The UAE Team Emirates rider took the overall tour lead when he finished second in Stage 2 and third in Stage 3. He came into the final stage with a 15-second lead on general classification.

The 70-mile stage involved four laps of a 15.5 mile-circuit through the Adelaide Hills before finishing just beyond the summit of Mount Lofty.

Yates led the crucial attack on the ascent less than 1.2 miles from the finish, but Vine jumped onto his wheel and Australian Ben O’Connor also joined in.

O’Connor led out close to the finish line, Vine briefly passed him but Yates came over the top to claim the stage win. Vine retained his overall advantage and claimed the title in his debut appearance in the Tour Down Under.

The 27-year-old made his name in e-Sports before being signed by the UAE team after winning the academy program on the Zwift online platform. He won two stages of the Vuelta a Espana last year and the Australian Time Trial title.

“It’s pretty incredible to be standing here and wearing this jersey,” Vine said. “The way we drove that was first class. My guys were incredible.”

The final stage featured a breakaway of 13 riders but Vine’s UAE teammates led the chase by the peloton and put their rider in a position to contest the win.

Yates again rode an aggressive race but had to be happy with the stage win.

“We came Down Under with a lot of ambition. We put a lot into it and we didn’t come away with the overall but we can walk away pretty happy,” Yates said. “Obviously Jay Vine is a massive talent and the crowd will be happy with a local winner.”

France’s Coquard wins Tour Down Under Stage 4; Vine leads

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ADELAIDE, Australia — French cyclist Bryan Coquard won Stage 4 of the Tour Down Under for his first-ever World Tour win, while Australia’s Jay Vine retained the overall tour lead by 15 seconds with one stage remaining.

Coquard is a lightweight sprinter who has had 49 wins in a decade-long career but had never won on the World Tour until he cleared out near the finish to claim the 82-mile stage by a margin of about just over 100 feet.

Vine was among the leading group that shared Coquard’s winning time and who retained his lead on general classification over Britain’s Simon Yates and Germany’s Phil Bauhaus. The race concludes with Stage 5, which ends atop 2,329-foot Mount Lofty.

“It’s a long time that I’ve waited for this win, 10 years,” said Coquard, who rides for the French Cofidis team. “I never really expected and I’m very happy and relieved with this win.”

While the stage was flat and suited sprinters, it had its challenges. Cross-winds and occasional gradients made the stage difficult and confounded some riders.

After an early breakaway by Jonas Rutsch and former tour winner Daryl Impey of South Africa, the peloton broke into two groups with Vine and other tour leaders among the leading group.

The leading group stayed together around the last, sharp bend towards the finish and Coquard bided his time until his late sprint left other riders flat-footed.

“It was pretty stressful,” Vine said. “There was one point there, I thought we were going to have an easy day and I was happy, smiling, waving to families on the side of the road.

“Then, 45 kilometers in it was on and it was on until the end so it was a very hard day. There was a lot more calorie expenditure than I was planning.”