Rob Brit­ton

Rob Brit­ton’s long jour­ney from Prairie kid with lit­tle prom­ise to one of the con­ti­nent’s top climbers and stage rac­ers

Canadian Cycling Magazine - - CONTENTS - by Matthew Pioro

“W hen we raced lo­cally, we beat the hell out of him,” said Kevin Cun­ning­ham. The gen­eral man­ager of the Sym­met­rics squad, which dom­i­nated west­ern Cana­dian cy­cling in the mid-2000s, was speak­ing about Rob Brit­ton and a fa­mil­iar pat­tern at that time. “There’d be a break of eight guys. We’d have five in there. He’d be one of the other guys. Then it would dwin­dle down to three of our guys and him. The poor guy would just get at­tacked to the point there was noth­ing left in him.” This rou­tine didn’t stop even af­ter Sym­met­rics folded. Late in the 2011 na­tional cham­pi­onship road race, Brit­ton was in the break with Zach Bell, Will Rout­ley and Svein Tuft, all former Sym­met­rics rid­ers then on Spi­dertech. They swept the podium. “Yeah, we screwed him over real good,” Bell said re­cently.

In early Au­gust 2017, Brit­ton had a more in­ter­na­tional squad work­ing against him. On Stage 6 of the Tour of Utah, the bmc Rac­ing team had put Brett Brook­wal­ter up the road. Brit­ton was in yel­low hav­ing nailed Stage 3’s up­hill time trial, but Brook­wal­ter had be­come the vir­tual race leader with less than 40 km to go. Un­like the gang-ups Brit­ton had faced seven to 10 years ago, this one was dif­fer­ent. He had the full sup­port of a strong team, Rally Cy­cling. He was no longer the whip­ping boy of Cana­dian cy­cling, but a leader whose strength had forced a Worldtour team to try some Hail Mary tac­tics.

Brit­ton, a 33-year-old rider who ex­cels at high-al­ti­tude climbs, grew up in Regina. In Grade 7, af­ter a floor hockey game, he over­heard a teacher and some other stu­dents plan­ning a night moun­tain bike ride on the trails of White Butte. He in­vited him­self along. While the oth­ers had “real” moun­tain bikes, Brit­ton showed up with a depart­ment store bike, no light and no rid­ing fit­ness. “They were wait­ing for me all the time,” he said. “I was just dy­ing. But I was hooked af­ter that.” Then, he saved up and bought his teacher’s bike, a rigid alu­minum Trek 900. Sask Cup races fol­lowed, in which his re­sults were poor. “There’s no ‘phe­nom’ or ‘show­ing po­ten­tial suc­cess’ story or any of that,” Brit­ton said. “There were so many peo­ple along the way who were pretty adamant that I pick a dif­fer­ent sport or get a real job.” Still, he did im­prove. In 2002, he won the ju­nior pro­vin­cial moun­tain bike cham­pi­onships and won the over­all rank­ing in the com­bined pro­vin­cial road and moun­tain bike se­ries in 2004. Near the end of that year, he moved to Vic­to­ria, where he started a job in con­struc­tion on cruise ships.

Through­out the next five years, Brit­ton slogged away on teams such as Coastal, Giga-bike/la-z-boy and Trek Red Truck. He had some suc­cesses, in­clud­ing a stage and over­all win at the Tour of Walla Walla in 2008. The guys from Sym­met­rics would beat up on him be­cause he was one of the strong­est rid­ers on the lo­cal scene. Kevin Cun­ning­ham no­ticed Brit­ton’s ded­i­ca­tion to the sport. “Rob was a guy I ab­so­lutely wanted to sign,” he said. “We used to drive him home from races from time to time. If we had had a big­ger bud­get and more space, he would have been on the team. My worry was that if we had signed him, we might have held his ca­reer back a bit.” With a squad that in­cluded Svein Tuft, Chris­tian Meier and Cam Evans, Cun­ning­ham fig­ured Brit­ton likely wouldn’t have been se­lected for big­ger races had he been on the team.

For 2010, Brit­ton got on the continental-level Bis­sell Pro Cy­cling. For that season and the one that fol­lowed, he took part in some of the top races in North Amer­ica, in­clud­ing the Tour of Cal­i­for­nia, Tour of Utah and usa Pro Chal­lenge. He came close to sign­ing with Spi­dertech, the Cana­dian pro continental team, at the end of 2011, but the deal didn’t go through, which stung. “Then, I def­i­nitely had an axe to grind with Spi­dertech,” he said. “I’d go out of my way to try

to beat them. I guess I had a spite­ful na­ture.” He now says that re­ac­tion was sim­ply the kind of stupid thing you do when you’re young. But that spite, that de­sire to stick it to those who stuck it to him, is one of the rea­sons he’s per­se­vered in the sport. “I have a re­ally long list of peo­ple I want to beat. Un­til I check those names off the list, I’ll be rid­ing,” he said re­cently be­fore tem­per­ing his words. “That was part of it for the long­est time. I was an an­gry kid and just wanted to prove every­one wrong. I never had any­thing handed to me, ever. There was a lot of spite that fu­elled a lot of it.”

It was down to a de­vel­op­ment team, H&R Block, in 2012. Again, near the end of that year, he was get­ting en­cour­ag­ing signs from Spi­dertech, but things fell apart as the team’s man­age­ment re­al­ized it couldn’t con­tinue run­ning the or­ga­ni­za­tion into 2013. Brit­ton was close to giv­ing up on cy­cling, but an of­fer from U.k.-based Team Raleigh came through. He got to ex­pe­ri­ence Bri­tish and Continental rac­ing, and a race di­rec­tor he felt was crazy. He needed a new team.

Marsh Cooper, who had raced against Brit­ton in B.C., con­nected his fel­low Cana­dian with Mike Creed. The U.S. rider was re­tir­ing and was pre­par­ing to di­rect Team Smart­stop, based in Win­ston-salem, N.C. Creed and Brit­ton met at the Tour of Al­berta in 2013. “He was the first rider I signed,” Creed said. “Rob has the abil­ity to be at the Worldtour. He’s seen guys who have got­ten chances and he hasn’t. I’m sure it drove him nuts that he had to go to a crazy Bri­tish team.”

Former Sym­met­rics and Spi­dertech rider Zach Bell also joined Smart­stop. In­stead of beat­ing up on Brit­ton, Bell, as team road cap­tain, was now help­ing him. “Rob would get fourth or fifth in races, so I thought he was fourth-or-fifth qual­ity,” Bell said. “But when I started rac­ing with him, I re­al­ized he’s of­ten the strong­est guy in the race, but he ends up solv­ing all his own prob­lems all of the time. Rob was used to hav­ing to catch a break and then try to win on the fi­nal climb. What he needed was a de­pend­able guy who was going to sell out for him. That ended up be­ing me for the first year. I’d say, ‘If you need any­thing, any­thing, solved be­fore that last 10 km, you tell me. Even if it feels easy for you, I solve your prob­lems for you.’”

While Bell helped Brit­ton learn how to rely on the team, Creed showed Brit­ton how to get the most out of his own skills. “Rob is an al­ti­tude-climb­ing mon­ster. He should have won a cou­ple of stages at Utah, but played it wrong,” Creed said. Dur­ing the 2015 edi­tion of the race, on Stage 6 to the Snow­bird ski re­sort, Brit­ton was in a break­away that in­cluded Worldtour and pro continental rid­ers. “He had so much good form,” Creed said, “he was just shoot­ing bullets like a cow­boy.” But from the team car, Creed was try­ing to get his rider to take it easy, make some of the other rid­ers in the break do the work. When they got to the fi­nal climb, Brit­ton didn’t have enough en­ergy left to con­tend for the win. That evening, Creed told Brit­ton that he had to stay calm, trust in his abil­i­ties and wait for the right mo­ment. Creed said that Brit­ton ap­plied that ad­vice. Later in the season, it’s what led Brit­ton to third-place over­all at the usa Pro Chal­lenge. That re­sult, as well as his win at Tour of the Gila, made for break­out season. At the In­ter­bike Awards Gala, he was named the North American reve­la­tion rider of the year. His per­for­mances are also im­pres­sive con­sid­er­ing the team was struggling with fi­nan­cial and man­age­ment prob­lems as rid­ers and staff weren’t get­ting the money they had been promised.

For the 2016 season, Brit­ton landed on one of the most sta­ble and high-per­form­ing squads in North Amer­ica. Rally Cy­cling, known pre­vi­ously as Op­tum pre­sented by Kelly Ben­e­fit Strate­gies, took him on. He con­tin­ued to do well at North American stage races. He also fit in well with the team. Gen­eral man­ager Jake Erker and his staff

have fos­tered a very co-op­er­a­tive cul­ture on Rally. Rid­ers will sell out for their fel­low rid­ers be­cause they know the favour will be re­turned. It’s an at­mos­phere Erker helped to build on Sym­met­rics when he rode for the Cana­dian squad. At the 2016 Tour de Beauce, Brit­ton guided Sepp Kuss on the Mont-mé­gan­tic stage. Brit­ton helped the young rider to the stage win, pulling for him and telling him when to at­tack. In 2017, Brit­ton was key in the team’s suc­cesses at the Tour of Cal­i­for­nia, help­ing team­mate Evan Huff­man to a stage win and sec­ond place in the over­all moun­tains and points clas­si­fi­ca­tion.

Kuss, Huff­man and the rest of the Rally squad worked for Brit­ton at Utah in 2017. On the stage in which Brook­wal­ter be­came the vir­tual leader on the road, Brit­ton wasn’t too wor­ried. bmc’s tac­tics – send­ing guys up the road to have oth­ers bridge across – showed that they were afraid of him, that they didn’t think they could take him on the fi­nal climb. Rally chased hard through the val­ley and even had some help from Caja Ru­ral - Se­guros rga, thanks to Brit­ton’s former Smart­stop team­mate Chris But­ler. Brit­ton rode well on the fi­nal 10-km climb to Snow­bird with grades rang­ing from eight to 10 per cent. He had yel­low into the fi­nal stage.

On the last day of Utah, Brit­ton ac­tu­ally be­came ner­vous. Be­fore the cir­cuit around Salt Lake City, he wor­ried about what a loss would mean to the team. “I’ve lost a lot of bike races,” he said. “To lose an­other would have been sim­ple enough. But oth­ers had worked so hard for me. Every­one had worked so hard, from rid­ers to staff. I didn’t want to let any­one down.” When he did seal the win, his most over­whelm­ing feel­ing was re­lief.

While it was the hard work of the team that helped Brit­ton to his big­gest vic­tory, his own work ethic has made him into the top North American rider he is now. “Ev­ery year I’ve known him,” Creed said, “Rob has trained harder and harder. He’s been tougher and tougher on him­self. That’s why he keeps im­prov­ing. He’s the model of a pro­fes­sional cy­clist.” Cun­ning­ham, Bell and many oth­ers have said the same thing: there isn’t re­ally any­one who can out­work Brit­ton.

Af­ter years as a strong continental squad, Rally Cy­cling has pro continental sta­tus. Tech­ni­cally, an in­vite to Grand Tour is a pos­si­bil­ity, but is un­likely in the short term. Still, more Euro­pean races seem to be in store for Brit­ton, who’s signed on un­til the end of 2020, and his team­mates. “I’ve never re­ally had that great of an ex­pe­ri­ence over there. That’s mo­ti­va­tion in it­self. It frus­trates the hell out of me that I haven’t had a good ride in Europe. I don’t like when I can’t put it to­gether,” he said. “I guess, over the next cou­ple of years, I’ll try to fig­ure that puz­zle out.”

op­po­site Rob Brit­ton in the Canada 150 jer­sey on Stage 2 of the 2017 Tour of Al­berta

top left Brit­ton re­cov­ers at the end of Stage 7 at the 2017 Tour of Utah

top right

Brit­ton stands atop the podium af­ter win­ning the 2017 Tour of Utah

be­low Brit­ton, in the most coura­geous rider jer­sey, leads the group in the 2017 Tour of Cal­i­for­nia

above On the podium and get­ting soaked dur­ing the 2015 USA Pro Cy­cling Chal­lenge

above B.C. cham­pi­onships with Trek Red Truck in 2009

left In 2015 at the Tour of Cal­i­for­nia dur­ing Stage 3

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Canada

© PressReader. All rights reserved.