Posted by Editor on 02/29/08
Symmetrics Hit by Rising Canadian Dollar
After the rumours which have been flying around in recent weeks about possible troubles at Symmetrics Cycling, Canada's top road team, we have had a chance to talk to team owner Kevin Cunningham and clarify the situation. The long and short of it is that, yes, the team is going through some short term financial difficulties, but intends to continue with its long term goals of an international presence.
"We last year sat down to decide what we wanted to do going forward. We determined that we still want to find the large sponsors necessary to step it up," explained Cunningham. "We are in this sport because we love it, and we do it for the athletes, so we want to continue to grow the program, race in Europe and run the split squads necessary."
"However," Cunningham continues "in my business, forestry [Westlam is his family company], we are devastated right now by the rise in the Canadian dollar, the whole forestry industry is in a tough spot. We [Westlam] will survive, but right now we are unable to continue contributing cash like before."
This cash crunch comes at a particularly bad time, when other sponsors are withdrawing or facing similar issues. "Farm Pure Foods [who came on board as a sponsor in the middle of last season] is also in financial difficulty because they sell a lot to the U.S. - they are a quarter of a million dollar sponsor, so that threw us off our program. And our financial sponsor [Coast Capital, who it is believed contributed upwards of half the cash budget] is being very cautious with the current situation in the banking industry. The other thing we are dealing with out here is the  Winter Olympics as a competitor for sponsorship. It's all about Vancouver out here, but we're very busy, very hopeful on the sponsorship front."
This has necessitated changes to the program from previous years. "The next six months are critical, so sponsorship has been affected for 2008. We need to be more cash efficient this season. If you want to know if we are at a pivotal time, yeah, we are. We have told the athletes that by mid-summer we will make a decision [about whether to continue]. If we don't find sponsors we can't hold the athletes back, and I'm not interested in running a team without the top riders."
The program has been streamlined, with the team only contesting selected major events - Redlands, Philly Week, Beauce, Nationals, BC Superweek, Tour of Utah and the Tour of Mexico. What about Tour de Georgia? "It's up in the air. It is on our program, but we haven't received an invite yet. They chase all the ProTour teams and let us know as the last two or three teams chosen"
"It's a good solid program, unlike last year, we're not getting on planes chasing UCI points for the CCA anymore; we spent a lot of money chasing UCI points last year."
"We have all of our riders under contract and being paid [all riders are returning, plus Ryan Anderson and Francois Parisien], we are just trying to run cheaper. We want to be creative in sponsorship, and try working similar to the Canadian Ski Team, with personalized sponsors per athlete; they have a different sponsor on each athlete's helmet."
Cunningham says that the focus will be on the top athletes, particularly those with Olympic aspirations - Cam Evans, Svein Tuft, Christian Meier and Zach Bell - so what does this mean for other riders on the squad; will there be racing for them?
"There is still lots of regional racing," he points out "the training and preparation races are still available, and we will work on the best roster for each race, which is no different than in the past."
However, Brandon Crichton, one of the 'non-Olympic' riders on the squad, who switched schools and moved west this winter, will be one of the riders left wondering how much racing time he will get. "There is no budget for running a double squad, so local racing is where it stands now. My hat's off to the [team] management; they've put in a hell of a lot of work in the last six months. But am I looking [at staying] inside the sport or outside - is this it for me?"
"This comes at a time when the season is starting, so it puts the motivation at an all time low. I've spoken with a bunch of people [teams], and I have ask myself do I continue racing or pack it in? That's where I am right now. I don't know what the future holds."
"I'm looking around for amateur teams who need someone and keeping my fingers crossed waiting for the phone to ring."
Cunningham is still confident that Symmetrics will be back on track. "This year is a bump in the road, and when you look at the number of days of racing, it's not that different from last year."
He also says that this may actually mean stronger performances for the team. "Last year Svein started in January at the Track World Cup, and he was worn out by June. When you are a clean athlete you have three to four good months, so we are trying to hold back this year. By the time we get to Philly, Svein will be really fresh, and I think that there is a really good chance that we could win Beauce this year. But the ironic thing is that we killed ourselves to get Canada three spots [at the Olympics for the men's road race], and there is a chance that we won't have a single rider selected because of regional politics at the CCA."
"This is the first time in five years that there has been any instability in the program," Cunningham points out. "It is no question that this is a pivotal time for the team right now if we can't get the sponsors. Am I nervous? Yeah, we've put six years of our lives into the program and I don't want to quit."
"We are not giving up, we're fighting like dogs."
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