Many of the top cyclists in the world are now some of the youngest in the professional peloton. World Tour teams are recruiting from the junior ranks, and many are now investing in their own development programs to foster young talent in farm teams. Despite the shift, there remains a large gap in North American junior cycling with few teams, races and opportunities. High School cycling programs such as NICA in the US are attracting more youth to the sport than ever but an opportunity gap remains at the junior level when the riders turn 16. Many quit and move away from cycling while a few are able to seize the limited opportunities to rise to the top of the sport. Under the direction of the new CEO Brendan Quirk, USA Cycling has identified the gap and is now investing heavily in collegiate and junior cycling. Ultimately, developing juniors will produce the cycling icons who will, in turn, increase the popularity of the sport. Steve Bauer, Greg Lemond and Lance Armstrong inspired a generation to ride bikes, whether to school or in the local races.
In Canada, a similar opportunity gap exists for juniors, especially on the road. The Mattamy National Cycling Centre has become an incubator for talent producing multiple world track champions over the last few years. To pursue opportunities on the road, the top juniors have to leave Canada to go overseas to compete. Some succeed while others, due to lack of opportunity, poor team conditions, economic barriers or homesickness, quit the sport. Most never who have the opportunity to race against the best in the world and, ultimately, never realize or show their abilities.
Athletes thrive in a community where they can push each other, support each other, and grow together. The Mattamy Cycling Centre has built a hub and a community. Keeping those athletes together on a team throughout the year, where they will race on the road against the best in the world, will not only provide them with the opportunity to grow further as cyclists but also be noticed internationally. After identifying the need for a road team based out of the Mattamy National Cycling Centre, the Ignite Junior Cycling was founded.
Under the direction and coaching of Kevin Simms and Chris Reid, two experienced and successful youth coaches, the team started the road and track season in early February in Milton on the track and in Phoenix at the Valley of the Sun stage race where they competed against many of the best juniors in North America, some who have already been recruited by professional teams for 2024. Despite having spent the winter months in Canada, where they were forced to train indoors on their hometrainers or on the velodrome, impressively and cohesively, the Canadians animated the races and placed in the top ten on every stage.
Most importantly, the kids are maturing at the races together, as they deal with new circumstances while they discover foreign environments and cultures. Follow them as they progress through the season and strive to compete against, and beat, the best in the world.
If you’d like to support Ignite, and junior cycling through a tax deductible donation please click here. If you are based in the United States, and would like to support an excellent US based youth cycling program with a tax deductible donation, please click here to support the junior team EF Education-ONTO. Both teams will keep donors updated with the team’s progress throughout the season.
EF Education – ONTO Junior Cycling Team. Phoenix, AZ. February 2023.