In this video FasCat coach Isaiah Newkirk goes through the three key Olympic Development Academy criteria and how athletes can use this to know if the “ODA” is the right development path for them.

Summary with graphics below.

In this video, we share how you can decipher when(if) USA Cycling’s new Olympic Development Academy would be the best development path for a young cyclist. The hope here is to guide young cyclists, parents, or other advisors that are debating whether or not this investment is the best path for a particular rider.

To explore this we go through three different categories to decide if a rider is well matched for the program. The categories are: metrics and or performance criteria, experience, and maturity or personality.

But first we cover what the Olympic development academy is.

The ODA was recently announced by USAC to mixed reviews.

Direct from the USAC’s website, they define the ODA as

“USA Cycling’s Olympic Development Academy exists to elevate young riders to the elite ranks of international cycling. Providing world-class coaching, comprehensive training curriculums and immersive competition schedules, the Academy is meant for riders that have a desire to take control of their future in the sport.”

Okay yes…but what does the program actually provide and what really is it? I recently spoke with Jim Miller on my podcast The Training Edge, Jim is the high performance director at USAC and between that and combing through quite a bit of loose verbiage on USAC’s webpage I think I have put together what the program is focused on. By the way if you are wanting to listen to the podcast I did with Jim Miller you can find that by searching The Training Edge podcast.

So what is the ODA exactly?…it is a new pathway for developing young cyclists across multiple cycling disciplines. This pathway is NOT the national team. The ODA is instead to provide another pathway where riders who are a little earlier along on their development path a way of getting to big races and developing under a pretty large umbrella.

You might be wondering, if this isn’t a pathway to the National Team, what is this “pathway”?

It’s a curriculum.

They split these curriculums up into “semesters” during which you are staying at a world class facility. I’m assuming that is the Olympic training center and other USAC facilities in Europe. The curriculum also is access to coaches, sport scientists, and strength coaches. However, it does seem limited to competitions, camps, and clinics.

It’s also coaching.

I know through chatting with Jim Miller that he has received some requests from some pretty high level coaches to be a part of this program.

It’s also: training camps with the National Team members, performance monitoring with a rider assessment, and monthly performance assessment, plus nutrition reviews each semester.

Another big one that will stand out is “On-Going Network and Collaboration with professional teams and opportunities” – While exactly what this means is unknown, if USAC can provide continued collaboration with professional teams, Collegiate teams, or even Elite teams, that would go a long way in making sure athletes have continued success after the ODA.

Now you are likely still wondering…so exactly what is offered during each semester?…

One of the cool things about the ODA is USAC could have very well chosen to just take on Road and start with that. Instead they are starting with six different disciplines. Road, cyclocross, Mountain, track, BMX Racing, and BMX Freestyle (in 2022).

Each discipline starts with a training camp, then goes into different high level events, and finally, discipline-depending, will then include more training camps.

Each discipline’s “semester” (which has been made into a “super semester” for 2021) tends to vary quite a bit by discipline. They average anywhere between a little over three months to a little over five months. All programs cost the same.

Cost of a semester is $7,500 for tuition, $2,500 for housing, and $500 for a one time per year clothing fee- for a total of $10,500 per semester.

According to USAC, the ODA is NOT something that they will profit off of, so the costs associated with the ODA are to cover what the athletes will receive through the program.

So with that, the Tuition will cover what I listed earlier in coaching expertise, training camps, races, support, and so forth. The housing will cover costs of living for some of these programs in several different countries as well as at camps in the US.

This may seem a bit out of reach for a large number of people, and, at face value, might not feel accessible. That being said, USAC is offering scholarships for the ODA in hopes of making it more inclusive and to available to a wider variety of athletes.

 

Now that we have a better understanding of what the ODA is, we can dive into the specifics and how you can use metrics, experience, and maturity to see when the ODA is the right pathway.

To start, let’s go through what the race calendar is for the super semester. For simplicity we’ll stick to the road discipline as the example. If you want more info, you can find specifics on each discipline on the ODA webpage.

The road program is broken up into four categories. U25 women, Junior Women, U23 Men, and Junior Men.

To start, the U25 Women and U23 Men: Both programs are four months long, starting with a pre-nationals camp in Tennessee that is in preparation for Pro Nationals. In years past, Elite teams have been invited to pro-nationals but for a U23 athlete that has not had this opportunity, it can be a very big deal to race against America’s world tour riders and fight for the stars and stripes.

After this, both the men and women travel to Europe for a mixture of camps and races in four different countries. Both calendars have athletes racing a mixture of stage races and single day races that are UCI ranked and pretty well known at that.

The final criteria to consider: Maturity

The semester would require the U25 to be gone for four months total, one in the US for pro-nationals and three in Europe. This is a pretty big block of time out of the gate, so I would advise that the athlete have some previous experience in being away from home for an extended period of time and then also having some international experience. Racing adds a pretty big stressor and racing abroad is very different then racing in the US. To have at least the experience of travel and the know how to handle homesickness would be a big step up when signing up for the ODA. Maturity can vary from kid to kid, but I think most parents will have a pretty good insight into if their child would do well for a four month period away from home.

 

Last up, experience:

Both the women and men programs will be doing stage races of six to seven days long on the U23 side. For the men, the longest stage race is six stages long and is close to 700km total throughout. For the women, the longest race is seven stages long and covers over 840km. Keep in mind this is a development program, so riders would not be expected to necessarily win, but they should be ready for the demands of the event. As both teams will be taking part in pro-nationals and pretty demanding stage races I would advise that athletes at the U23 programs at least have a cat 1 license and have already competed in a few 5 day stage races. U23’s should also be very confident with handling their bike in rough weather and roads, racing in a field of close to 200 riders, and have experience in a caravan. This is a pretty intense calendar, and while it is a development program, I would argue that it’s for athletes that are already well along in their development path and are truly focused on the professional ranks.

 

The Junior U-18 programs are a little different with a much more reduced race schedule. The male and female programs are quite different here with the female calendar being much reduced.

Both programs will be taking part in Tour of Americas Dairyland and Junior road nationals.

The female program will then do Intelligentsia Cup and the Men will go to Junior Tour of Ireland. After that point, both programs will go to Europe. The female program simply lists race and training camp in Sittard, while the men have Sittard as well as single day races in Belgium and a stage race in France.

 

In general, Juniors can get away with a little less racing experience. Junior nationals, and TOAD/Intelligentsia cup will be quite a few race days (all crits) right up front which means that they will get race experience quickly. For Category I would advise Juniors having a Cat2/3 license and having participated in a few stage races as well as feel comfortable in a criterium dynamic. The longest race the juniors will be competing in is the Junior tour of Ireland which is 544km through 6 stages, so it is important that the junior can handle this distance and has raced races of similar length before.

Europe is a different animal but it will always be a bit of a shock at this age, and I think as long as you are confident that you or your junior athlete can handle her or his bike well and can handle a variety of circumstances then I think they will be able to handle the program well.

 

Now onto the fun stuff: using metrics and other performance criteria to know if this program is right for you.

In the past, USAC has used TT’s at junior camps to know how the athletes compare. But as power meters are becoming more and more commonplace among young athletes, I am going to focus more on power metrics. Not all Juniors will use power meters, nor do I think that it is needed at that age. If you do not use a power meter then I would advise primarily looking at the demand of each of the races in duration and terrain and seeing if you can handle those demands in part in training. This should give you a good indication of where you are at.

 

To know that an athlete is ready for an event, or the ODA’s calendar, we need to look at the demands of the event, and in this case we can go a step further to see if the power profile matches the demands.

To do this we can pull some peak metrics and lay them out to formulate a power profile from a specific event. Now keep in mind that comparing power from one rider to another is tricky and not apples to apples. There is a lot that can be at play- the differences between meters, weight of the rider, and so forth. But this does give us a good guide.

Often times we get caught up in looking at the winner’s numbers, but as this is to see the demands of the race and to see if an athlete is ready for them, I will instead be looking at riders that finished mid-pack. To see an example of this analysis, check out the full video, but it’s important to remember that all racers race differently.

 

So, let’s recap

For athletes or parents that are deciding whether or not the ODA is the right program for them, go through the three criteria- maturity, experience, and metrics. Ultimately this can be a great pathway for the right athlete in the right stage of their development.

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