The Future is Bright for Team RaceClean Canada
At the recent Cycling Canada Hall of Fame ceremonies, I had the opportunity to speak with a few of the coaches and managers of the National team program. I also spoke with my fellow inductees, all of whom had gone through the National program in the 80's and 90's.
After reflecting on the conversations, I've realized that a transformation has taken place within the program. In the past, the National team was essentially trying to be everything to everyone. The National program was more about supporting the amateur women and men for track and road at the Worlds, Pan Ams, Commonwealth and Olympic Games. It was essentially a shotgun approach, waiting for athletes who had potential in a specific discipline and then trying to help them after their strength was discovered.
In the past, in order to be selected to a National program, there was no formal process. If you showed strength at the Nationals or on a random European race trip, then you could possibly be selected to the next trip or major event. It was very difficult to build a developmental program as a young athlete. Consequently, we were very dependent on our Pro trade team, in my case, Team 7-Eleven. For Brian Walton, it was 7-Eleven, then Saturn that kept us in races and supported us financially. Then, once we turned Professional, there was really no support for us at major events. It felt as if the National program did not know what to do with us.
Fast-forward to the current timeframe. The National program is focused and its endgame is clear – develop young athletes so that they can win medals on the world stage; develop them with a mindset that they can win without taking drugs. Thus the mantra “Team RaceClean,” which I love. The program is focused on disciplines where the athletes have the best probability of winning. Endurance and sprint track events are the most likely areas where the environment can be controlled, the training can be focused, even throughout Canada's tough winter. Men and women have equal opportunity to excel. Since the events are on the track, it's much easier to build selection criteria at the Provincial level, so that the path to success is easier for the next crop of junior athletes (and their parents!) to understand.
Pure road racing is very difficult to control and train for. Road races at the international level are contested by full-time Professionals and are often the longest distance races that these riders do all year. Canada's road team at the Worlds and Olympics are often made up of a handful of fulltime Pros who race on trade teams during the rest of the year. There are so few Canadian Pros who are eligible to race at these events, it is impossible for them to compete as a team.
Mountain-bike and BMX racing are equally difficult to control. There are so many variables in a race that the even best riders are always at risk of falling out of the top-three places. In Canada, we are fortunate that many junior athletes grow up riding and racing mountain and BMX bikes, so we have organically risen above these logistical challenges purely by employing our drive and determination.
Back to track racing, the future is bright for Team RaceClean. The Mattamy Velodrome in Milton, Ont. has now become the National team training centre, right here in Canada. In the past, the National team had to travel to other indoor velodromes for consistent training, the closest being in Los Angeles, Calif. Consequently now, there have been some amazing recent successes that have given me hope for the future of Canada's National cycling team. For example, our men's Team Pursuit squad recently placed top three and then won their event at the first World Cups of the 2016/2017 track season in Apeldoorn, The Netherlands. Our women's Team Pursuit team took home bronze from the Rio Olympics. Stefan Ritter just won the Junior Worlds for Kilometre, placed third in the sprint, fourth in the Keirin and then set a new world junior record for Flying 200 metre and Kilometre. Other junior riders, including Devaney Collier and Maggie Coles-Lyster, also medaled at the Junior Track Worlds this past summer.
All of these programs cost money. Currently, new riders coming into the program must fund a large portion of the costs themselves. Hopefully, as the exposure value of the programs increase, sponsorship will grow and costs for individuals can be mitigated. These programs could not function without the support of valued corporate partners – Global Relay, Lexus Canada, Mattamy Homes, Louis Garneau and Bear Mountain Resort – along with the Government of Canada, Own the Podium, the Canadian Olympic Committee and the Canadian Paralympic Committee. I believe that the appointment of Cycling Canada's next CEO, Pierre Lafontaine, will now take the program to new heights. Team RaceClean is on very solid ground.
Team RaceClean Canada Canada is making solid headway and seeing positive results with both the road and track programs.