Posted by Editor on 08/28/07
The CCA's Drive For Success?
A Commentary by Matt Hansen
What's happening to the future of elite men's Canadian cycling? After a year of remarkable gains by Canadian elite cyclists, the CCA seems to be changing - or possibly - losing its focus. This year saw Svein Tuft take over the leadership of the UCI America Tour (something he is still doing), and saw Canada jump up the Nation rankings to fourth, just 40 odd points behind Brazil. What does that mean? It means Canada is right on the cusp of fielding three riders, not two, at the 2008 Bejing Olympics for elite men. One extra rider might not sound like a big deal, but bear in mind it seems like a lifetime ago since Canada fielded a giant 5 riders (Atlanta - 1996). Granted, the rankings and qualification has changed since then - but it doesn't seem like the CCA is interested in trying to up that number.
If you take a gander at the UCI website, you'll see under the America Tour standings Canada slots in fourth, at 845 points. Brazil lies in third, at 888. Much of these points can be attributed to Symmetrics racing all over North and South America. It's no secret I'm a fan of the team - and I'll say (biased or not) that they've racked up a ton of points for Canada - Tuft leads, Christian Meier sits 14th, Cam Evans 18th, Andrew Randell is 34th, and so on. Couple that with a great season for Martin Gilbert (Kelly Benefits) who scored a huge win at the Pan Am Champs, putting him in 13th, and you can see how Canada has climbed the ladder.
The fact that it's Brazil that Canada is chasing points is significant, too. If you're still on the UCI site, take a look at what's left of the Brazilian season. Not a whole lot. (Brazilians don't race much of out South America, by the way.) That means Canada could very well take over third, giving them that additional spot at the Olympics, and also up their rider total for the '08 World Road Champs. But the deadline for that is the end of September. Canada's in a sticky situation as it is - countries like Brazil are organizing more and more UCI races of their own to pad their standings. There's even been allegations that Brazil is organizing races that don't meet UCI standards (not enough foreigners) - which forces Canada to travel more.
So what's the CCA to do? As has been made clear, the organization is cash-strapped. So cash-strapped in fact, they've even had to let go one of the biggest assets in the office, that of the High Perfomance director, Kris Westwood. (Which is a whole other diatribe for some other rainy day.) Ideally, the plan would be to follow the Symmetrics model and send teams to races where Canadians could score points - The Tour of Venezuela, The Tour of Missouri, and so on. But alas, that's a long plane ride and muchos dineros. Fine. Huzzah! What's this? Univest Grand Prix? In Pennsylvania! And what about this Tour de Leelanau thing? Oh, lookit that - in Wisconsin. (Hey, you could almost drive there from Ontario or Quebec.)
The Leelanau race is even more significant as it's taking place during Missouri - meaning you could take any Canadians not riding Missouri (read: lots) and pluck those points like apples in Autumn. Between Univest and Leelanau, there are 250 points to be grabbed - 40 each for the win.
And Canada is, by the way, racing abroad this upcoming month. After much flip-flopping (due to budgetary constraints, the project was cancelled, then uncancelled) the CCA is sending U23 riders to the Tour de l'Avenir. Which is not a bad thing - this stage race offers tremendous opportunity for riders to showcase their abilities, and is meant to serve as excellent prep for the Road Worlds. But it's hardly a development project - it's a very tough race where many of the biggest future Tour de France winners have made their mark.
If you take a look at the roster, only David Veilleux or Christian Meier have a chance of any possible result. (Hey guys, if somehow someone else does well, I'll happily congratulate you and let Karma sink its fangs into my ass.) Granted, it is over a week of racing and it's not out of the realm of possibility that a Canadian could score points. But bear in mind, it's only Canada's top-10 riders that contribute to the Nation rankings. Which means at this point, only Meier or Red Truck Racing's Ryan Anderson are eligible to increase Canada's ranking.
And what if one of Canadians at Avenir score an incredible result? They'll be picked up by a ProTour team and be thrown to the wolves. Which, again, is not a bad thing, but it's not a great thing either, necessarily, considering the state of affairs both abroad and at home. At the end of the day, it still leaves the country hanging, and low on numbers at top level events like the Olympics. The question remains: Where is the CCA's focus? Is it truly building for the future?
Don't get me wrong - Canada is already a huge underdog at the Olympics in the elite men's road race. It would be foolhardy to suggest that a medal in the road race was something on a CCA "list of things to do". Apart from a rider like Michael Barry or Ryder Hesjedal having a ride of his life, it doesn't seem exactly probable. But as any cyclist knows, there's always strength in the power of numbers. Why not field three, instead of two? That way, if there is some 10 man breakaway that manages somehow to stay away, there's one more rider to try and get in it.
It just seems strange, given the circumstances, to send a team to Avenir, instead of competing in North America where riders could get achievable results, possible domestic contracts (which means being able to complete against a higher number of cleaner riders) and valuable points for the country. There are forty odd measly points right now that could mean a slightly better situation for Canada on the road.
The CCA has talked about the track being a tremendous opportunity for medals at the Olympics - which may or may not be true, time will tell. Ironically, if Zach Bell didn't have to ride the Track Nats and Christian Meier wasn't riding the Tour de l'Avenir, Symmetrics could probably send a team to Univest. Thankfully, Canada has other teams and riders riding in some of the aforementioned races. Gilbert, Dom Perras and their Kelly Benefits team, or Dom Rollin and Mark Walters for KodakGallery. Or Colavita's Charles Dionne. But these riders are riding for their professional teams - which means if an American team leader gets in a break, they have to sacrifice their own (and Canada's) chances at success. A CCA team with all Canadians guarantees at least a focus on a Canadian rider.
It's easy being an armchair critic, but to me, there's a simple solution if Canada wants to really make a bid for one more rider in Bejing: just swap France plane tickets for a drive to the US of A. If piling a bunch of guys in a van and driving to Pennsylvania could mean a few extra points and another berth to Bejing - can't someone at the CCA find the gas money?
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