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Rebuilding the Crit Scene in the U.S. - Introducing the ACC

By: Jim Rusnak  May 19, 2022

We give an inside look into the American Criterium Cup and how it came to be.

The American Criterium Cup (ACC) recently kicked off its premier race with the Sunny King Criterium in Anniston, Ala. If the series organizers have their way, the race will have been the start of what will become the premier criterium racing circuit in the U.S.

A core group of cycling stakeholders—including the race directors from each location, cycling teams and USA Cycling—have come together to produce the American Criterium Cup. The series offers a total of $100,000 in prize money and free livestreaming of each race via Outside Interactive.

With the advent of the series comes a bunch of questions: Where did the idea of the American Criterium Cup come from? How did USA Cycling get involved, and what is its role? Who’s running the show? What are the goals? What makes the uniquely American format of criterium racing so great, and is it the future of bicycle racing in the United States?

Where did the Idea of the American Criterium Cup come from, and what is its goal?

According to Malcolm McCollam, Executive Director of the Saint Francis Tulsa Tough race in Tulsa, Okla., he and the organizers of three other prominent crit races from around the country met in 2021 to shape the direction of an independent, privately-run national criterium series.

In addition to McCollam, taking part in those discussions were Mike Weiss, head of The Bommarito Audi Gateway Cup in St. Louis; Jennifer Cvar of IU Health Momentum Indy; and Mike Cooley of the ASWD Boise Twilight Criterium in Boise, Idaho.

Among the first things they addressed were the number of races they wanted in the series, and which other races they would include. The group put together an internal set of guidelines that capped the series at 10 races. In addition, these races had to be established events, with good reputations.

Once they settled on the basic guidelines, they put the word out to other race organizers and teams, and found there was much more interest than they had anticipated.

“So, it was good that we had thought through the guidelines,” McCollam said. “We wanted the series to be seen as a premier event series.”

Weiss agreed, adding that the group set out to produce a “best-in-class product” that would further develop the sport in the U.S. and grow participation… and capital.

“What we’re trying to do is make it a true professional sport, where people want to invest in it—sponsors want to invest in it, the communities want to invest in it, the teams want to invest in it,” Weiss said. “If all of those things grow, then we hope everyone benefits.”

How did USA Cycling get involved, and what is its role?

As McCollam and Weiss and their group were laying the foundation for the American Criterium Cup, USA Cycling was looking into creating a more organized series of criterium races as opposed to a general calendar of events.

USA Cycling eventually decided it would be better to be a supporter of such a series, rather than an owner. Its role would be stepping in with logistical and financial assistance, especially in the first year, to get everything off the ground.

USA Cycling entered the discussion with McCollam and Weiss and their group in September of last year.

“The environment was sort of ripe for this to happen,” said Chuck Hodge, Chief of Racing and Events at USA Cycling. “In our scoping of what this series would look like, we quickly discovered that there was a core group that had a similar idea, so it was happening in parallel to each other.”

Financially, Hodge said that funds from USA Cycling are going to two main areas—media and exposure; and hiring a third-party administrator to help run the series from a logistical standpoint.

USA Cycling worked to bring in in Outside Interactive as a media rights partner to distribute coverage of each event and will be contributing to helping the races fund this free stream. From a logistical perspective, the third-party administrators will be the people calculating the series points, working on the rules and everything else related to the day-to-day administration of the American Crit Cup.

The $100,000 prize money for the series comes from the 10 races hosting the events, not USA Cycling. USA Cycling will act as the central escrow agent and manage the payments.

Weiss said crit racing has been one of the biggest license generators for USA Cycling over the years, so it only made sense for the organization to help develop this series.

“I think they realized that if they want to grow their membership, they need to grow criterium,” Weiss said. “The current staff at USA Cycling, has always been advocates. They bring a lot of talent to the table, and some of that has been guidance. Chuck Hodge and (CEO) Brendan (Quirk) are huge assets for American cycling. Their thought was, ‘If we’re going to do this well, we need to be a supporter.’ They want us all to have a consistent, high-level production at each event.”

Who’s running the show?

With USA Cycling working in the background, providing financial and logistical support, the ownership of the American Crit Cup falls on an LLC consisting of the directors from each of the 10 races. Weiss, McCollam, Cvar and Marco Colbert of the Intelligensia Cup, have been elected managers of this LLC.

“USA Cycling is definitely in a consulting and partnership role,” Weiss said. “They made it very clear they don’t want to own this. They don’t want to run it. They would just like to support it initially.”

As the American Crit Cup gets off the ground, raises capital, and gains experience, Hodge said he sees the 10 race directors gradually taking over more and more of the responsibilities in regard to the financial and administrative help USA Cycling is providing in this first year.

“There’s no pride in ownership here,” Hodge said. “A quality criterium series that’s well-run and does good things for the sport, if we can help get that moving, I don’t care who owns it. If it’s good for the sport, it’s good for the sport. If we can have a part in helping get that off the ground, that’s part of our mission.”

What’s the vision for the series? What are the goals?

The vision for the series in the near term, according to Weiss, is to elevate criterium as its own sport in cycling and to cut through the confusion as to which events teams should be competing in. He and the other nine race directors want to develop a sustainable model that’s not reliant on any one sponsor, or any one team, with consistent prize money and real media coverage.

“I think (criteriums) needs to have a pinnacle product,” Weiss said. “We want to see the sport have an injection of participation and capital. We definitely want to develop the sport at home. That’s the goal.”

He’s also hoping that American teams sponsored by American brands will really step up and support the American Crit Cup.

“I’m a bike retailer, and I can tell you how hard it is to get a national brand to support anything,” Weiss said. “Hopefully we demonstrate that we’ve earned their support and that it’s worth it. We have to prove value. We have to create a relationship. We have to get people a return on investment.”

McCollam agrees and says he thinks the series has laid a good foundation for future success.

“Anecdotally, you’ve got three groups coming together that haven’t traditionally come together in the past,” McCollam said. “You’ve got the governing body (USA Cycling); you’ve got the group of private promoters that are organizing this series; and you have the teams. Those three groups have not typically coordinated to this extent in the past. We’re going to bring a much higher degree of professionalism to the table.”

“One of the things I think will be a good benchmark for us to look at is how those team narratives reflect what we’re doing. If all these teams are out here with their social media, supporting the series, saying good things about it, participating in the series in significant numbers, and giving good feedback for what we’re doing, that’s going to be a good thing. That hasn’t always existed in the past, either.”

What makes the uniquely American format of criterium racing so great, and is it the future of bicycle racing in the United States?

Whether the American Criterium Cup and criterium racing in general is the future of American bicycle racing or not remains to be seen. But you couldn’t find two bigger advocates for the sport than Weiss and McCollam.

“I think it’s a very accessible form of racing,” Weiss said. “It’s easier to set up. You can tell a community, ‘Your restaurants are going to be booming today. There’s going to be a beer garden, and there’s going to be tailgating around the course, and it's going to be a free, fun event.’

“And it won’t be boring. You’re going to see excitement every couple of minutes. To me, it’s a really good alternative investment for a community. It delivers things traditional road racing doesn’t.”

McCollam says the businesses in Tulsa have reported seeing record receipts on the days the Saint Francis Tulsa Tough takes place. And the spectators are always in for a treat. The course in Tulsa consists of a three-quarter mile loop, and the pack comes whooshing through every 60 to 80 seconds.

“(The spectators) are very close to the action, a couple feet away from the athletes,” McCollam said. “The raw speed and power they feel when 150 riders go by at 30 miles per hour—and the wind that is formed… To feel that power and speed that close, it’s an exhilarating experience.”