Charting American cycling’s path to the future

The CEO of USA Cycling on where the sport pedals from here
Start of the USA Cycling Pro Road championships
Start of the USA Cycling Pro Road championships

Volkswagen is the official vehicle of USA Cycling and has been a sponsor of the sport’s governing body in the U.S. since 2012. Recognizing the active nature of its owners and the love so many have for their bikes, Volkswagen champions cycling in the United States by attending races with interactive displays for participants and fans, and supporting many of the country’s top cycling athletes and events.

Recently we caught up with USA Cycling CEO, Derek Bouchard-Hall, to talk about his role in promoting the sport in America and new initiatives to encourage cycling across all levels of competition.

Question: What is USA Cycling, and what role does it play in cycling?

Derek Bouchard Hall: USA Cycling is the National Governing Body for cycling in America, which means that we have the formal responsibility for overseeing elite international athletics. For international competition, we select the athletes that participate in those events and we fund their participation. We also develop athletes—our juniors and youth—into the best they can be. We help them create a set of opportunities so they can move on to elite athletics.

We are also responsible for overseeing the management and structure of amateur bike racing in America. We have 70,000 members who participate in the sport of bike racing and we help define the rules, provide officials, and organize racing calendars for those members.

So we oversee both the amateur and elite side of the sport. The term “national governing body” or NGB is a standard term that all sports use and pretty much all of us have that same mandate of overseeing both the elite and the amateur side of the sport.

A group of cyclists climbs a hill during the USA Cycling Pro Road championships
A group of cyclists climbs a hill during the USA Cycling Pro Road championships

Q: How do you balance those two roles of supporting the amateur cycling community while also nurturing your professional athletes?

DBH: Traditionally, we’ve thought about the cycling community as elites and then amateurs who participate in racing as two disparate things. Then, we have this third component which is enthusiasts who aren’t racers, but enjoy the sport of cycling. We sometimes talk about it that way, but the reality is it’s an entire ecosystem and there’s a really interesting continuum between these groups. There’s no real definition here. There are elite amateurs who are quasi-pros, there are people who don’t engage in racing, but are actually very high level, talented athletes. We’re trying to look at the sport of cycling as an entire ecosystem where there must be a well-developed, professional end of athletes that inspire us on TV, but there also needs to be a huge group of folks that just enjoy the sport of cycling for themselves. It all needs to be supported.

We are happy to help somebody who is just an enthusiast and rides their bike for fun—whatever way that is, we are happy to do that and we see it as part of our mandate. We also want to support all of our marquee athletes, helping them to develop and achieve the best they can in international competition. For us it’s all part of our mandate to try and help the sport grow. For the sport to be healthy, all of those elements must be healthy. You can’t just have the top of the sport be healthy—there needs to be strong lower-level participation in the sport. And conversely, you absolutely have to support the athletes—it’s our formal mandate to do so as an NGB, but also those people competing at the elite levels are what drives fans. People like to see athletes that they can identify with competing, so we want to see Americans doing well in big competitions around the world.

Q: USA Cycling has recently reaffirmed its commitment to this enthusiast community by introducing the “Ride Membership.” What is that?

DBH: The Ride membership is a new initiative for us. Historically, we’ve been focused on those that race and traditional races, but 99 percent of the entire American enthusiast cycling community doesn’t race. They ride their bikes for fun, and they might participate in various fun ride-style events, but not racing. This ride membership is an opportunity for this big group of cycling lovers to become members of USA Cycling and support our organization and athletes. This membership doesn’t enable you to race, but it does give you a collection of benefits that includes a USA Cycling T-shirt, some other merchandise, a subscription to Bicycle Magazine, roadside assistance—if you were to ever get a flat away from home, you can call a number and get picked up, and more. Finally, a portion of the membership fee supports USA Cycling and the work that we do to develop young athletes and promote the sport as a whole.

Q: Beyond the Ride Membership, what else is USA Cycling doing for enthusiast riders?

DBH: We’re also seeking to sanction and permit more non-racing events. We are trying to be the permitting body for more Gran Fondos, fun rides, and the like, meaning that we’ll support those events with some marketing help, online registration expertise, and a range of things that help them put on an event. Coupled with the Ride Membership, this is part of a range of ways in which we’re trying to further our influence into the general enthusiast community, helping to grow the sport at all levels.

"It’s about a celebration of cycling and an acknowledgement that you are part of a broad community of folks that enjoy the sport."

Derek Bouchard Hall

Q: Tell us about your own cycling career and how your experience helps you understand the different types of cyclists who make up USA Cycling’s membership.

DBH: I started out as a young amateur at the lowest level of cycling when I was in college. I worked my way up through the amateur level, slowly crawling my way up to become a domestic top-level amateur and then became a domestic professional and ultimately became an international professional. So I sort of went the entire spectrum of the sport after I got into it at the age of 17.

Then I retired from the sport, and now I’ve come back into it as a masters racer. I do participate in a range of traditional races, but now I’m more often doing cycling events that are not races, doing Gran Fondos and a lot of those fun rides and big group rides that are not traditional races. So I’ve lived all the levels of the sport and I’ve enjoyed them all. I can identify with the masters racer that tries to fit in a little bit of racing around family and work commitments, and also with those enthusiasts who don’t want to race and just want to have a fun ride with another group of people in a cool atmosphere. I can identify with the young kid who’s just discovering racing for the first time and doesn’t know what he or she is doing. I can identify with our international pros who are dedicating their life to the sport and need support from us in order to be the best that they can be. I feel like I’ve lived all those things, so I can kind of identify with a lot of the constituents of our membership.

Q: Your connection to Volkswagen goes well beyond VW’s sponsorship of USA Cycling. Can you tell us a little about VW’s role in your life?

DBH: I’ve actually only ever driven Volkswagen vehicles. The first car I started driving—which was my father’s car—was a Volkswagen Rabbit. The first car that I purchased was a Volkswagen Jetta, which I remember buying for its big trunk since I preferred to not have my very valuable bikes on roof racks and I could fit two bikes in the car. The next car I purchased was a Passat Wagon, which was another awesome vehicle because it’s ideal for bike racing with all the room inside. Now I drive a Touareg from Volkswagen, which is great out here in Colorado for driving in the mountains.

Q: Discuss Volkswagen’s participation with USA Cycling and how the brand contributes to the organization’s work.

DBH: We tremendously value our relationship with VW. The fact that we get so many vehicles as part of VW’s sponsorship to help in running our events is fantastic, and the way they support us at our national championship events by providing the cars and venues for spectators to further enjoy the event makes them a great partner. At our national championship events, Volkswagen comes and sets up a really cool demo area for their vehicles that adds to the festival atmosphere. They bring so much more than a typical sponsorship.

Q: It’s an atmosphere that goes beyond just the competitors. Many of your big events are held in cities, and you’re cultivating a crop of new fans and the sport’s future participants, not just your current members.

DBH: We want these events to be more than just the race at hand. It’s about a celebration of cycling and an acknowledgement that you are part of a broad community of folks that enjoy the sport. And it is absolutely about more than just this elite side of the athletes. Our biggest events are amateur events. We host 17 national championships—the majority of which are for elite amateurs. We’ve got young kids out there competing and we’ve got 65-year-old women competing. Our entire community participates. This is where our amateurs go to have the best racing experience they will have all year and that’s what Volkswagen is supporting with its presence.

Q: Thoughts on the future?

DBH: There are two particular things I think we’re starting to gain some traction on that I’m most excited about. One is this move into the enthusiast space and the sort of redefinition of USA Cycling to be more than just a supporter of traditional racing, but of the sport more broadly. I’m really excited about our reimagined direction and look forward to seeing what kinds of success we can have there. On the professional side of things, we really excel at women’s cycling in America. We have an incredible crop of female athletes and I believe that we’re on the cusp of becoming the top country in the world for women’s cycling, and that’s a very exciting feeling.

For more information on USA Cycling, visit usacycling.com.