Trying To Not Fall Through The Cracks – Thorsten Askervold Heads to France

The intro to this post took me a while to put together. I was struggling with the direction that I wanted to go while at the same time trying to not go off on a rant about the current state of bicycle racing for young riders trying to make a go of it. I am not entirely sure that I succeeded but I do know that at some point I just needed to hit “publish”. So here it goes……


I have been a part of what I will call “the development pathway” for young aspiring American cyclists for the past 10+ years. I have been a sport director for domestic based teams at both the elite amateur and continental level. I have worked for USA Cycling as a part of their European Junior Development Program based in Sittard, NL. I have also been the personal coach to a number of young athletes striving to reach the highest level of the sport. I have seen a number of riders succeed at various levels but I have also seen many of them fall through the cracks.

If a rider’s goal is to reach the highest rung of bike racing they need to spend time racing as much as possible and they need to continually strive to swim in bigger and bigger ponds. If circumstances are just right (they started early enough, they were surrounded by people that not only had good intentions but also some actual knowledge, maybe they got selected by the junior or U23 national team and got to race in Europe or they were able to get on a domestic based team that got them to enough of the right kinds of races with at least a bare minimum level of support and they were able to get some results that got them noticed by individuals and teams higher up the food chain) then that rider might just make it.

If however all of those things don’t quite stack up in the right order then that rider may end up falling through the cracks.

And that would be a shame.

It’s particularly disheartening to see riders with potential who just need a little more time to develop and because of that have a tough time finding just the right kind of environment to help them with that development. It is particularly tough now that many of the old amateur development teams that were successful like Cal-Giant or Hagens-Berman or Snow Valley have either been absorbed by bigger programs looking for more cash or have gone away altogether. And many times if those riders that need a little more time do find a team often those teams promise a lot but deliver very little (but that is a topic for another post).

I would characterize PNW based Thorsten Askervold as one of those riders. He has shown some potential but he could just as easily fall through the cracks.

I started working with Thorsten in the fall of 2017 after he decided to make a coaching change. He had some success as a junior, even winning a national title on the track. Success was harder to come by in his under 23 years though in part because I think he was pigeonholed as a track rider and a sprinter and his previous training seemed more geared toward that without the proper level of volume to help him succeed on the road. We started to build in some volume and he was able to get onto a team in 2018 that seemed like it might be a good one for his development. The reality ended up being something different. They didn’t travel to many high level races (and remember part of the development pathway is actually racing and racing in races that will get you noticed). The one PRT race that they did go to was Redlands. Unfortunately Thorsten was involved in a pretty bad crash just a week prior so Redlands didn’t go well for him. He did ok at BC Superweek later in the year but nothing I would call earth shattering. He was able to salvage a result by getting on the podium at track nationals in the scratch race towards the end of the year. But with no real results on the road (and a tough environment with many long time teams folding) he was looking at a potentially grim 2019 season with even less support. Those cracks I mentioned that he could fall through – they were getting bigger.

I made a few inquiries to some teams that I thought might fit for him but nothing materialized. He reached out to a number of teams himself including a few in Europe. He ended up with a couple of options including one from a French based amateur team and another from a Pacific Northwest based team. The French team was going to be a stretch financially with the move so he decided to spend one more year racing domestically with the idea that he could save some money and then try for Europe again in the future. The PNW team was going to be a no frills affair but had a rather ambitious race schedule and two older riders (one a former continental pro who I also just started working with) who could mentor him so it seemed like a decent option. But then exactly two weeks into 2019 the team informed everyone that the company funding the team was declaring bankruptcy and there would in fact be no team.

Classic.

Classic, disappointing, but not surprising, especially if you have been around this sport for any amount of time. I could write numerous pieces about teams that promise a lot but deliver very little or in this case nothing at all. I felt bad for all the riders involved especially since January is a little, well actually A LOT late to try and find another team. I felt really bad for the young guys on the team like Thorsten (and got a little pissed because, like I said, I have seen this over and over and over again). Now those cracks were getting even bigger.

Thorsten reached out to the French team again. Fortunately they still had a spot for him and Thorsten and his family decided that he should just go for it. Things moved pretty fast from there and last week Thorsten boarded a plane for Paris. To say that I am psyched for him would be an understatement.

Those cracks just started getting smaller.

It’s not going to be easy. Living and racing in a foreign country on a foreign team and not knowing the language is going to be an entirely different level of stress and I am sure that he will find himself way outside of his comfort zone on more than one occasion. But this is a great opportunity which I am certain Thorsten will make the most of. I know that he is super motivated and that can carry you pretty far. He will be submitting posts throughout the season here on the site describing his time living and racing in France. Here is his first. I hope that you enjoy it.

 

Knowing that this was my first time ever being to Europe, I had no clue what to expect. It’s crazy to also think that this is my first time to Europe, yet I’m moving here. I arrived in Paris on the 21st and spent 4 days in the city staying with my family, they live in the center of Paris only a 7 min walk to the Eiffel Tower. Paris was a dream…. No matter how many times I’ve heard about it from family and all the times I’ve seen it on tv, it was an experience that I will never forget. It was the most beautiful place I’ve ever been, the food unbelievable, and the people were very welcoming. Honestly it felt like another world.

 

A little background of my family history. All of my family on my dad’s side of the family comes from France, my grandma was born in Paris, my dad was born in the US but he lived in France for a while and he did professional swimming for the French National team. So when I arrived my family picked me up and the crazy thing is that as soon as I landed it felt like home. I feel like I was meant to come here. I normally don’t feel like things happen for a reason, but with all that has happened to get me here I can’t help but feel like this part of my life happened for a reason. After my time in Paris eating great food and spending time with family I hopped on a TGV which is a high speed train to Laval where I will live and where my team is based out of.

 

When I arrived my Team President, Vice President and Manager greeted me. Next we drove to the big chocolate shop “Monbana” which is one of our title sponsors. Waiting there was the President of the Chocolate shop and multiple reporters waiting to interview me about my arrival and my ambitions for the racing season. It was a great time meeting all the sponsors, answering questions and taking pictures.

 

On the 27th I will have my first team trip in Lloret Del Mar, Spain. It will be the location of our team camp. That will be an 8 day trip, then I will fly back to Laval and arrive at my new studio apartment. Then 2 weeks later my racing season begins. The city of Paris was nice, but I can’t wait to get to the countryside and start training more on my bike and to start thinking about the season. It has been a little difficult communicating since I don’t speak fluent French yet, so hopefully I can learn quickly. This next month will be crazy I’m sure but I’m taking everything day by day and I’m staying positive. But it feels like home here and I can’t complain.

 

If you’re reading this and are curious about my team, its a division 2 French team called “Laval Cyclisme 53”. Check them out on all social media, I will also be sharing all of my experiences here in France. All of my writes ups will be here on “Tete De la Course” run by my coach Joe Holmes. So take a look at the website!!! Will keep you all posted 🙂

 

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