With the upcoming 2014 road season, the Eastern Collegiate Cycling Conference (ECCC) enters the third year of incorporating junior racers into its races, and is opening the fields up even wider. Previously juniors were required to race for teams that held USA Cycling High School club licenses. New for 2014, all full time high school students will be permitted to race in the ECCC with simply a USAC Juniors license. Those juniors will compete as an integral part of the collegiate fields, instantly creating twenty five high quality juniors races throughout the northeast US in March and April, featuring ambitious road races, exciting downtown crits, several team time trials, and multiple hill climbs and other individual TTs.
Growth & Experimentation
Incorporating juniors cycling has long been a goal for many within the ECCC, both to improve the early racing experiences for those younger riders and to better establish a recruiting pipeline developing new collegiate and then lifelong racers. Over the years a number of races experimented with separate juniors categories, particularly at Dartmouth’s L’Enfer du Nord weekend, Yale’s Lux et Velocitas, and the US Military Academy’s Spring Classic. With a diminished pool of juniors in the region though these were sparsely attended, almost exclusively by cycling teams from Killington Mountain School (KMS) and Deerfield Academy. This was further exacerbated by variances in the availability of these opportunities with the natural changes of the ECCC’s road schedule from year to year, crippling sustained growth. Similarly, several more novice juniors such as Victoria Gates (Fitchburg High School) began racing in the ECCC with the expansion of its Women’s Intro fields to all new women racers, but this left no opening or growth path for experienced juniors.
Headed toward the 2012 season, Peter Vollers, coach of the KMS team, proposed simply including the juniors into the collegiate fields at all of the conference’s races. After wide ranging discussion about USAC permits, potential culture clashes, increased liabilities, and other considerations, the effort moved forward and was an instantaneous success on the first race of the year. ECCC director Joe Kopena remarks “All those concerns basically washed away immediately on seeing how much it meant to the kids, particularly the girls, to have such a great, valid race, with a large field of other young riders.” The KMS team and Gates have since become fixtures of the ECCC circuit, competing throughout the season and even threatening to claim the vaunted ECCC season leaders’ jerseys. Tony Fedirko, Gates’ uncle and constant race day companion, says “The competition is excellent and the experience is invaluable to the juniors. All the schools have been very welcoming to us. We are also so grateful for the opportunity.”
For 2014 that opportunity will be open to many more junior riders. Previously juniors were required to be part of a USAC licensed high school club to race in the ECCC’s collegiate fields. While straightforward to acquire for organized programs and highly motivated individuals fortunate enough to attend amenable schools, this presented major barriers to participation from juniors at schools with less supportive administrations, particularly the many who find themselves the sole competitive cyclist at their institution.
Beginning this season that requirement is removed, and all full time high school students with USA Cycling Junior licenses will be permitted to compete. The only additional requirement is that they race in jersey and bibs featuring their school name and/or logo, or plain cycling clothes. Club and trade team kits are not permitted.
These racers will compete directly in all of the ECCC’s fields and are included in all of the team and individual season standings. Notably, those fields include five categories for both men and women at all races, ranging from pro and elite racers in the A fields, to the beginners in D and true neophytes in the ECCC’s Introduction to Bicycle Racing category. The latter in particular provide an excellent opportunity for new, young racers due to their innovative structure: Each ECCC Intro race features veterans and coaches directing off-course skills clinics and course walkthroughs, followed by a coached, controlled segment on-course to teach safety and group riding skills, and concluded with a short but full-out, no-holds-barred race.
Following the KMS team’s highly successful 2012 and 2013 seasons, head coach Vollers reports “I FULLY credit the awesome ECCC racing for my guys being in such great form this early in the season for crucial national team selection races like Battenkill. The conference racing is simply a dream come true for a coach trying to prepare juniors for elite level racing, or any level of good racing development for that matter. Moreover, the kids have a blast and they get exposed to all of the wonderful collegiate teams.” With so many categories offered throughout the entirety of its full slate of early-season races, and a universally praised atmosphere and excellent races, this new ECCC initiative is poised to drive significant progress in juniors racing throughout the northeast and upper mid-Atlantic.