2021 CX Club of the Year BJC

Meet 2021 Cyclocross Club of the Year: Boulder Junior Cycling

By: Jim Rutberg  March 29, 2022

It’s virtually impossible to not have fun at a cyclocross race, and for Boulder Junior Cycling (BJC), the 2021 USA Cycling Club Cyclocross Club of the, ‘cross is the ideal discipline for getting kids engaged and excited about cycling.

Executive Director and Head Coach Pete Webber – a Masters National and World Champion in cyclocross in his own right – points to key aspects of the sport that are conducive to junior and high school programs. Team practices can be held in compact locations like parks. This makes it easier to include a wide range of age and skill levels, with everyone feeling connected to the team. Park-based practices are safe because athletes are not interacting with cars or other trail users. And it’s accessible for parents because they know where their children are, and practices are held close to where many live and work.

Even if cyclocross is a great cycling discipline for young athletes, that alone doesn’t explain BJC’s success. For the past nine years, BJC-trained athletes have represented USA Cycling at Cyclocross World Championships, including five junior women in the two years that have included a junior women’s category. Over the past 16 years, BJC estimates they have introduced more than 1,000 boys and girls to the sport of cyclocross. In recent years, the team has consistently enrolled more than 100 riders per season, with 140 enrolled in 2021.

Understanding What Teens and Parents Need

One reason for BJC’s success is a keen understanding of teens and their parents. This is highlighted by the team’s schedule of 15 weeks of after-school practices, two days per week. Webber says the schedule helps parents make plans for consistent after-school activities. And because cyclocross is an all-weather sport, parents know practices won’t be cancelled for rain, snow, or cold.

Holding after-school cyclocross practices twice a week also keeps the kids engaged. Unlike school-based sports, BJC riders attend a range of schools in the Boulder area. Many only meet and become friends because of the team, and frequent practices and weekend races give kids the time and opportunity to build meaningful relationships.

Teaching fundamental cycling skills (that are applicable to other disciplines) is one of BJC’s high priorities. In addition to sport-specific drills, they utilize a range of games to teach cycling skills and keep kids engaged. ‘Bump & Thump’ is a game of elimination as cyclists ride around in a small patch of grass, leaning and bumping each other to see who can be last to put a foot down. A team favorite, called ‘Garbage Ball’, sounds like a version of Ultimate Frisbee or rugby, in which teammates pass a ball while riding, with the goal of putting it into the opposing team’s garbage can.

A Program for Every Rider

Boulder Junior Cycling riders range from ages 8-18, and even supports some U23 riders. They work with kids who are brand new to the sport and advanced competitors preparing for National and World Championships. To provide the appropriate learning environment for such a range of young athletes, BJC developed three programs:

Devo Cyclocross Team

The Devo program is for girls and boys ages 8-14, from beginners to experts. Practices are held twice a week for 12 weeks, with a focus on fun, developing skills and fitness, and an introduction to racing.

CX High Intro Program

CX High is a low-commitment, one-afternoon-a-week program designed to introduce cyclocross-curious youth to the sport. The program is deliberately scheduled on Monday afternoons, when many traditional school-based sports teams do not practice.

Hoogerheide Cyclocross Team

The co-ed Hoogerheide Team is for experienced cyclocross racers who have mastered the competencies in the Devo program or completed the “CX High” program, are high-school aged, and who want to be a part of a competitive race team. In addition to twice-weekly practices, riders at this level also receive full-time coaching, a training plan, and mentorship.

Lowering the Barriers to Participation

Boulder, Colorado, has long been home to many of the top athletes and outdoor brands in the United States. Thanks to the club’s reputation and support from sponsors, Boulder Junior Cycling has been able to amass a formidable fleet of cyclocross bikes that can be loaned to team riders. The availability of loaner bikes creates opportunities to introduce junior road, track, and mountain bike riders to cyclocross, without the immediate need of procuring another piece of sports equipment.

Professional Coaching and SafeSport Training

A staff of paid, professional coaches is another big reason for BJC’s success, in terms of training high-level competitors and in developing good people. BJC has been designated a USA Cycling Centers of Excellenceevery year since 2008. In addition to USA Cycling Coaching certifications, every member of BJC’s coaching staff must complete SafeSport training. BJC is the only USA Cycling Club to achieve the Gold Level SafeSport Certification.

For Webber, SafeSport training is about more than preventing abuse. “We’ve spent a lot of time around the topic of athlete wellness. It is about preventing abuse, but it is also about providing a welcoming environment for all types of people, being inclusive, preventing bullying, and taking care of the health and wellness of the people in your community.”

When asked about the impact of SafeSport training on the staff’s perspectives, he said, “Our coaches and staff are better educated on all aspects of athlete wellness, and we’re able to provide much better coaching and care. For instance, in how we support kids who might have an injury, how we implement best practices for concussion, and understanding mental health issues and how to support kids with depression or anxiety and other issues kids are dealing with these days.”

Time to Race

Providing juniors with opportunities to race requires a concerted effort from multiple communities. In Colorado, race directors and junior cycling programs have worked together to make sure junior categories are included in cyclocross races throughout the season. Furthermore, to make the events more accessible for parents and kids, junior races are scheduled in the middle of the day’s competition schedule. And because kids mature so quickly, organizers also offer two-year age groups in the junior categories to encourage competition throughout each field.

At 10 to 20 designated “team races” each season, BJC provides coaching, support, and a dedicated base camp. An average rider does about six to eight races per season and the older riders race as many as 15 to 20 events.

BJC also hosts the annual “Schoolyard Cross” race every October. In 2021, 525 riders – including 150 juniors – took part, making it one of the largest cyclocross events in Colorado. To encourage participation, all juniors and first-time women raced for free. And to provide fun for the whole family, the event included a harvest festival with pumpkins, face painting, food trucks, a pedal-powered cider press, and a non-competitive pre-junior cycling event for 6, 7, and 8-year-olds.

Although Webber acknowledges that Boulder and the surrounding areas support an uncommonly robust cycling community, he credits the scale and success of BJC to the kids, parents, and coaches who create a supportive, welcoming, and high-performance environment.