Facing arbitration fight, USAC may revive Olympic trials

Facing another arbitration process ahead of the Rio Olympics, USA Cycling plans to change selection process. Derek Bouchard-Hall supports return of Olympic trials.

Photo: Casey B. Gibson

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SAINT-LÔ, FRANCE (VN) — After a messy Olympic selection process that resulted in yet another arbitration procedure against USA Cycling, the governing body plans to re-write its selection criteria and is pondering the return of Olympic trial events.

“I don’t know exactly where the Olympic selection will go. But we are absolutely going to revisit,” said USA Cycling CEO Derek Bouchard-Hall. “We’ve had this conversation with the board they support it. We are going to revisit our approach to selecting Olympians.”

Carmen Small opened arbitration procedure against USA Cycling on Tuesday. The current national time trial champion had been seeking one of the two available women’s time trial slots, which went to Kristin Armstrong and Evelyn Stevens. Small’s arbitration comes on the heels of a last-minute roster swap at the Richmond world championships last fall, which saw Allie Dragoo replaced by Lauren Komanski just days before the road race.

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Formal Olympic trials have been absent from road cycling selection since the Athens Olympics in 2004.

Bouchard-Hall believes trials would help eliminate some of the subjectivity inherent in the current process. They wouldn’t be used to fill every slot.

“We can’t give away the concerns about getting the right athletes. So we must select the right events and the right venues,” Bouchard-Hall said. “We certainly could have one road spot given to win-and-you’re-in, and one or TT spot. I’m not saying for sure you’re going to do it. But I, and the board, have an interest in pursuing that as a possibility. We think we can select the right athletes, add drama to the sport, and remove some of the subjectivity.”

The remaining slots would remain a combination of discretionary picks and, where applicable, automatic nominations based on previous race performance.

“Whatever we do, there will be coach’s selection. We’re going to look at those [discretionary picks] and see if we can tighten the language,” Bouchard-Hall said. “What we’ve learned is that these aren’t just used by coaches, selectors, and athletes, they’re used by lawyers in arbitration. The standard of language precision is not good enough for arbitrations. We are going to revisit the language and clean up some of it so we have better clarity.”

Olympic trials would also be a marketing opportunity, a way to add some hype to a process that has been defined as much by lawyers as athletes in recent years.

“It’s a great way to promote the sport. I think we’ve given away one of our most marketable assets in removing the trials,” Bouchard-Hall said.

Bouchard-Hall’s hopes to make changes this winter, in time to impact selection for the 2017 world championships.

“We’ll start after the Olympics. We’ll do it this winter. I’d like to have it in place for selection of the 2017 world champs,” he said.

An American in France

What’s it like to be an American cyclist living in France? Watch to get professional road cyclist Joe Dombrowski’s view.