Almost three years ago, after 26 years on the coaching staff of Cycling Australia, Gary Sutton was informed that his contract would not be renewed. He was duly recruited by USA Cycling which recently finished third in the track world championship medal tally…
“I am here to make a difference, believe me,” Gary Sutton told me early in his tenure with USA Cycling. “I’m on a mission. I’ve always been like that. I’m very motivated and they know that I’m going to give 100 percent.”
That was in March 2018 after his first track cycling world championship as coach of USA Cycling’s women’s team. His mission continues, his motivation remains high, and his riders are responding to his advice by winning gold medals and, occasionally, breaking world records.
On 11 March 2020, he is still buzzing from the track worlds in Berlin that concluded 10 days earlier. USA was ranked third in the medal tally, and it was the American women who earned the rainbow jerseys: winners of both the team pursuit and individual pursuit (in a world record time).
In the coming days, RIDE Media will be presenting a series of articles about USA Cycling, its conquests on the track in Berlin, its ambitions for the Tokyo Olympics (hoping that they go ahead), and what it’s like to work with people like Chloe Dygert and Jenn Valente.
Gary’s eyes light up when he hears those names: Dygert and Valente, between them they earned five medals at the worlds. Team pursuit (gold for both), individual pursuit (gold for Dygert), points race (silver for Valente), scratch race (silver for Valente)… not a bad haul for a few days in Germany.
Another thing that makes Gary Sutton happy to be in the position he is, in an Olympic year and in an adopted country, is news that Jim Miller has returned to USA Cycling after a two-year hiatus.
Miller was pivotal in luring Sutton, the boy from Moree in NSW, across the ocean and into the mountains of Colorado where Gary now lives with his wife Debbie. It is, we learned a few years ago, possible to shift allegiances if the circumstances are right. As proud as ‘Sutto’ is of his Australian upbringing, he is happy to be part of an organisation like USA Cycling, and pleased that he still has a mission to complete.
We aren’t certain that all will go as originally planned for the Tokyo Olympics, the main appointment for Sutton and his troops in 2020, but the 64-year-old believes that with Miller’s return, the chances of success for USA Cycling at the Games in July and August have just increased significantly.
“It was just amazing being there and seeing the racing,” Sutton said of the Berlin experience. He then listed some of the highlights, beyond the accomplishments of the women riders he coaches (reported above).
“Watching the men’s 3:44 TP, the men’s 4:01 IP, the women’s IP world record, it was impressive.
“Every event was stunning,” he said of the worlds before almost correcting himself, fearing that he may have stated the obvious about this gathering of the world’s best track cyclists. “You would expect it – it’s the ultimate test of the season. It’s the world championships.”
It has been hypothesized that the Berlin meet may yet be the biggest event in track cycling in 2020. If the influence of COVID-19 continues, the target of #Tokyo2020 may not come to pass.
But USA Cycling wants its athletes to perform when they represent their country, so the approach in 2020 has been: good for the worlds and – all going well – better for Tokyo! We wait with interest…
Jim Miller’s return to USA Cycling
Early in an interview over FaceTime with Gary Sutton today, I suggested that the news about Jim Miller’s return to USA Cycling was significant, and the coach needed no more prompting to talk.
“Oh man, I’m excited,” exclaimed a normally reserved Sutton.
“There are several reasons why I’m excited. The first is that he has been a mentor for me. He is one of the guys I have the utmost respect for. He covers all areas: he’s a great administrator, a great motivator, and a great coach.
“On the technology side, he’s a level above everybody else.”
Miller’s hiatus from USA Cycling began in 2018 when he moved to the role of ‘vice president of business development’ with TrainingPeaks.
As the release from USA Cycling today explains, “Miller rejoins the organization where he worked for 17 years”. For Sutton, this provides even more motivation than he had when the team set off for Germany a little less than a month ago.
“Jim Miller, to me, is one of the most highly respected guys in all areas in our sport – all the way across, from administrator through to coach. His knowledge is amazing,” said Sutton who then expanded on the respect he has for the man who will now lead USA Cycling’s athlete development programs.
“The reason I came here, to the United States, was because of Jim’s involvement at the time.
“I had other opportunities,” said Sutton about the transitional period between leaving Cycling Australia’s high-performance unit after 26 years and moving to Colorado Springs early in 2018.
“It was never about the money for me, it was actually about working with Jim Miller and learning from him.”
When we spoke on FaceTime, Sutton had just returned to his house after an informal dinner with Miller and he was obviously inspired by the reappointment.
“The place is buzzing because he’s back,” said Sutton.
“Things have been going pretty well. It hasn’t been easy,” he says about the opening stanza of his association with USA Cycling. “But in 12 months we’ve clawed our way back, which is exciting. All the ladies are on a real high at the moment and I feel blessed to be working in this environment.”
The tale of the pink shoes… a “team decision”
In part two of this series, we’ll delve a little deeper into the appreciation that Gary Sutton has for one of his star athletes, Chloe Dygert. For now, however, we’ll conclude part one with an explanation of the colourful footwear the coach wears trackside when Dygert is racing on the velodrome.
“I can tell you that I didn’t want to wear the pink shoes,” said Sutton when asked if he was required to match the colours worn by Dygert when she’s racing.
“It was a team decision. I won’t say it was ‘pressure’ from the team, but me being the team player, I’ve obliged in the request.
“They said, ‘Gary, you need to wear pink shoes when Chloe is riding because pink is her thing.’ And I said, ‘Yep, no stress.’ So, they ended up buying the pink shoes for me.
“It is all about being a team player, that’s all it was.”
It’s a small gesture for Sutton and if it’s one thing the coach needs to do to help his athletes, then he’s willing to add some colour to his feet.
– By Rob Arnold