USA Cycling putting timely emphasis on personal well-being

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LENEXA, Kan. — Kelsey Erickson had spent nearly a decade working in the mucky world of international anti-doping when she heard that USA Cycling was looking for someone to build and administer a wellness program for riders at all levels.

She jumped at the opportunity. And the timing couldn’t have been better.

After spending the past 10 months crafting and implementing the program, Erickson has used it as the framework to help USA Cycling respond to the global coronavirus pandemic. She has already been in touch with all of the national team riders, many of whom have had their Olympic dreams put on hold until next year. She’s been providing support and guidance for everyone from recreational riders to race promoters and event organizers.

“There is a lot of unknown right now and a lot of anxiety and fear,” she said, “so I want to provide consistency and support.”

Erickson’s road to USA Cycling began at Biola University, a small school in Southern California where she pursued a degree in psychology. But it was while earning master’s and doctorate degrees in sports and exercise psychology at Leeds Beckett University in England that she plunged headlong into the erupting world of anti-doping.

She rose to become a senior research fellow, leading multiple global anti-doping research projects with funding from the World Anti-Doping Agency, the International Olympic Committee and the International Athletics Foundation.

Her research focused not on doping itself, though, but rather whistle-blowing procedures and anti-doping education. She was interested in the psychology of drug cheats more than the substances they might be putting into their systems.

“While I was doing that research,” Erickson said, “things were coming to light in the U.S. in gymnastics and other sports, and the importance of speaking up became a big deal. I was doing work with how emotional and scary it was to speak up about doping in sport, and I kept coming back to, `I can’t imagine how much more difficult it is to speak about sexual misconduct and things that are potential violations of yourself.”‘

Even though USA Cycling has avoided the same sex abuse controversies that have embroiled USA Gymnastics and USA Swimming, new chief executive Rob DeMartini knew that no governing body is immune. So when he took on the job last year, one of his priorities was to establish a well-being program that empowered athletes to speak out.

The job posting went up. Erickson saw it. And the work soon began.

She reached out to other governing bodies with a simple question: “Would you like to talk about what you’re facing?” Six responded, including USA Weightlifting, which launched its own wellness program a year ago. Representatives now meet on a monthly basis to discuss best practices, new ideas and their attempt to change the sporting culture.

With their input, Erickson began to build USA Cycling’s own wellness program. She established an online community where riders can discuss what is happening in their lives in anonymity. She has built a knowledge bank of resources that deal with everything from financial pressures to stress on the home front. She even helped convince USA Cycling’s board to provide free mental health services for anyone who has been affiliated with its national teams.

That was especially important for those who knew Kelly Catlin, the popular track cyclist who was part of the silver medal-winning pursuit team at the 2016 Rio Olympics. Catlin killed herself in March 2019 after dealing with depression, possibly brought on by a concussion that the Stanford student had sustained in a cycling accident.

“We wanted people to know that they could talk to USA Cycling and they also could talk within the community and we would listen and take action,” Erickson said. “We wanted to create a place where our entire community, whether it’s a little kid just getting on a bike the first time or a two-time Olympic champion – it doesn’t matter to us who they are or what their connection to the bike is – we care about them and have a space for them to be heard.”

That dovetails nicely with USA Cycling’s push to be more than just a governing body for Olympic-caliber athletes, but also an organization that supports the recreational cycling community as well.

“We want to get out in the market place and not operate from our heels, and take our history and sweep it under the rug and hide from that,” said Bouker Poole, the chief commercial officer for USA Cycling. “We’re taking a proactive approach in identifying where we can be helpful within this lifestyle, whether it’s athletes, service providers, promoters – how can we focus on them and provide a service or information to help engage with the sport?”

Lately, that has been in response to COVID-19, which has caused the cancellation of hundreds of races and recreational rides across the country. USA Cycling has felt the financial pinch of that lost revenue while riders in many places have been left to wonder when they can get back on their bikes again.

“It’s OK to not be OK. We’re all in this together,” Erickson said, “and we’re going to support one another in whatever way that looks like. If you have ideas and desires, share them with us. It’s a constant process of growth and learning and knowledge.”

Thomas sees Giro d’Italia lead cut slightly by Roglič; Buitrago wins Stage 19

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TRE CIME DI LAVAREDO, Italy — Geraint Thomas maintained his bid to become the oldest Giro d’Italia champion although his lead was cut slightly by Primož Roglič during the toughest stage of the race.

Roglič crossed the summit finish of the so-called “Queen Stage” three seconds ahead of Thomas at the end of the race’s final mountain road leg.

There were no flat sections and five tough, classified climbs on the 114-mile route from Longarone to the Tre Cime di Lavaredo, which had gradients of up to 18%.

Stage 19 was won by Santiago Buitrago, who finished 51 seconds ahead of Derek Gee and 1 minute, 46 seconds ahead of Magnus Cort and Roglič, who just missed out on bonus seconds.

“I’m really happy with this victory. It was the most difficult moment of a difficult Giro for me personally,” said Buitrago, who rides for Bahrain Victorious. “I wanted to try and raise my arms before the end and coming here at Tre Cime di Lavaredo is amazing.

“This is the recompense for all the work that I’ve done. … There’s a lot of motivation for me and the whole team having seen the fruits of our labors.”

The 37-year-old Thomas, who rides for Ineos Grenadiers, is 26 seconds ahead of Roglič going into what will be a decisive penultimate stage

Third-placed João Almeida lost more time and was 59 seconds behind Thomas.

Roglič changed his bicycle shortly before the start of the penultimate climb and he made his move inside the final kilometer. However, Thomas was able to stick to his wheel and the British cyclist made his own attack in the final 500 meters and looked to have slightly distanced his rival.

But Roglič came back and gained what could be a vital few seconds.

The winner will likely be decided in the mountain time trial that ends in a demanding climb up Monte Lussari, with an elevation of over 3,000 feet and gradients of up to 22%.

“Tomorrow we go full again,” Roglič said. “It’s good. We got a bit of legs back, so tomorrow we go full, eh?

“If I wouldn’t be confident then I don’t start. The best one at the end wins.”

The race ends in a mostly ceremonial finish in Rome, where Thomas could beat the age record held by Fiorenzo Magni, who was 34 when he won in 1955.

Thomas celebrates 37th birthday by retaining Giro d’Italia lead; Roglic into 2nd

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VAL DI ZOLDO, Italy — Geraint Thomas celebrated his 37th birthday with another strong ride in the mountains to retain the pink jersey during Stage 18 of the Giro d’Italia.

Thomas crossed immediately behind Primoz Roglic, who moved up from third place to second.

“The legs have been good,” Thomas said. “Need to enjoy these moments.”

Joao Almeida dropped from second to third overall after losing 21 seconds over the 100-mile route from Oderzo to Val di Zoldo, which included two first-category climbs followed by two second-category climbs in the finale – including an uphill finish.

Thomas – the 2018 Tour de France champion – leads Roglic by 29 seconds and Almeida by 39 seconds.

“It’s a pleasant day. I take time on Almeida and didn’t get dropped by Primoz,” Thomas said. “I felt pretty good, always under control but Primoz obviously went hard. It wasn’t easy. … I just want to be consistent until the end.”

Italian champion Filippo Zanna won the stage ahead of fellow breakaway rider Thibaut Pinot in a two-man sprint.

With only two more climbing stages remaining before the mostly ceremonial finish in Rome, Thomas is poised to become the oldest Giro winner in history – beating the record of Fiorenzo Magni, who was 34 when he won in 1955.

Chris Horner holds the record for oldest Grand Tour champion, set when he won the Spanish Vuelta in 2013 at 41.

However, Thomas will still be tested over the next two days.

Stage 19 is considered perhaps the race’s toughest, a 114-mile leg from Longarone to Tre Cime Di Lavaredo featuring five major climbs. Then there’s a mountain time trial.