USA Cycling selected Sportzone in the Netherlands Limburg municipality of Sittard-Geleen as its European training base, it was announced Thursday at a press conference at the Hotel Merici. Approximately 150 U.S. cyclists and staff will utilize the Limburg location year-round to train and race for road, mountain bike, track and cyclo-cross.
"This base is what makes everything we do in Europe possible, and that is a significant piece in all our programming," said USA Cycling Vice President of Athletics Jim Miller.
A 10-year agreement was jointly signed at the press conference by USA Cycling President & CEO Steve Johnson, Regional Minister of Sports for the Province of Limburg Noel Lebens, CEO of Topsport Limburg Geert Ruigrok and Alderman of Sports for the Municipality of Sittard-Geleen Ruud Guyt.
“Limburg as a cycling province, combined with the facilities at Sportzone Limburg, provides us with the best environment in Europe for developing our talented young cyclists,” said Johnson. "Cycling is unique in that you don't train to get better, you race to get better. So, it's important to race at the highest level against the world's best athletes during your development years."
In addition to racing, the USA Cycling program introduces Americans to the culture of Europe. Each year about 130 athletes will rotate through the program.
"Some of the athletes in our program will go on to professional careers, but the reality is that many of them will not," added Johnson. "They will go back home and pursue their respective careers and ultimately become the decision makers for the next generation. I believe this group will have an entirely new perspective on the world thanks to their experiences in Europe, so we're doing our part not just to develop the next generation of cycling heroes and role models, but also to develop Americans with a larger world view."
Prior to this arrangement with Limburg, USA Cycling's development houses in Europe were scattered, with the men’s endurance programs based in Izegem, Belgium, the women in Lucca, Italy, and the mountain bike program in Freiburg, Germany. The program in Limburg provides a centralized base for all of USA Cycling's European operations and offers a substantial upgrade in the size and scope of facilities, from housing and dining for the athletes to a separate service course for the mechanics that provides ample storage space.
“Limburg’s cycling plan is what got the Americans interested in Limburg," Lebens said. "We invested a great deal of time and energy in showing them the facilities at Sportzone Limburg, in addition to all the cycling facilities the region has to offer. We held extensive discussions with them during major events such as the London Olympics and last year’s UCI Road World Championships in South Limburg.”
The European training hub and its facilities allow numerous American riders to live, train and compete in a structured environment only a few hours drive from some of the world’s toughest and most prestigious races in Belgium, France, Germany, the Netherlands and other European destinations.
"It allows us to be able to kind of shut down and really relax and recover in between these races so we can get the most out of the experience over here," said U.S. rider Kristin McGrath. "It sets us up for success. USA Cycling has always been trying to set us up for success but this is a very big step and I think it will bring a lot more success a lot quicker."