November 15/03 7:32 am - Canadian Cycling: A Vision for the Future
Posted by Editor on 11/15/03
Most readers will be aware that two national level coaches have left Canadian cycling in the past month. What they are probably not aware of is that, in total, FOUR high level Canadian coaches have left cycling this year.
In addition to Kurt Innes and Jacques Landry, who were both headhunted by New Zealand, and left for the opportunity to further their professional development, Dan Proulx has gone to Triathlon (working out of PacificSport), and Vincent Jourdain has left the sport entirely, burnt out. Proulx did a lot of development work, particularly with women, and Jourdain was a Quebec-based coach who helped our disabled cyclists (such as visually impaired tandem) win many international medals.
Canadian cycling for the next three Olympic cycles (at a minimum) is in serious, serious difficulty, and many of those left in the system are becoming more overburdened, meaning the exodus could continue.
Some may point to three medals at the mountain bike world championships, Michael Barry's stellar seventh place at the Road Worlds, high UCI rankings for mountain biking and women's road cycling as indications that we are in good shape, but I disagree.
In 1996 we won five Olympic medals, in 2000 none. Three of our top women mountain bikers had to make an end-of-season trip to Europe to ensure three starting spots for Athens. The men were going to do the same, but realized that it was pointless, since there was no realistic way they could move up far enough in the rankings; thus Canada gets two spots in Athens for the men. On track, the situation is bleak, and road representation for the men will be minimal.
All year, starting with the Tour de Langkawi, there was a mad scramble to get male road riders to attend enough events and collect UCI points for the Worlds. Much back slapping ensued when we qualified two, and were awarded four spots as the host nation. Regularly, squads for national team projects are filled only after riders are begged to participate, and then they are sent out with too few resources (sometimes it is embarassing to watch what the riders and the managers have to make do with). Canadian women used to be ranked among the top three road nations in the world, currently we are 8th.
Almost all of our most productive riders, on the international scene, have been involved in the sport for at least two Olympic cycles. We cannot keep relying on these same athletes - they will retire, get injured, even just slow down a bit. Anyone new that does appear, is instantly thrust into high level competition and, sadly, the burnout rate is excessive.
I speak constantly with national team riders, staff, coaches, volunteers and provincial representatives, and the overwhelming feedback I receive is a sense of frustration at the lack of direction and purpose that seems to pervade the entire program. Canada is drifting, at both the elite and development levels, and the only thing that will arrest the continuing erosion is serious and deep rooted action.
So, what should be done? We suggest a two-pronged approached, based on development and finance. The two are intertwined, since finance is needed for development, and the development of new stars brings increased financing.
The CCA has proven itself to be, to be perfectly blunt, inept at commercial fund raising. After Atlanta, and five medals, cycling should have been able to reap a bonanza, instead, they managed to stick with Tim Hortons, and lose UPS. Since then, the sports body has been unable to find any other significant cash contributor, instead, relying on international results to maintain government funding.
Government funding will never allow cycling to build the sort of development program it dreams of, and another poor Olympics (in the sense of no medals) will cause great harm to the existing program, such as it is. Add to that the fickle nature of political will, and it becomes very clear that cycling needs to invest heavily in the private sector to achieve its goals.
Currently, the CCA tries to serve two masters - the sport and its sponsors. This cannot work. The CCA is supposed to represent the needs of the athletes and its provincial voting members. Sponsors want to get as much exposure as they can for their contribution, no surprise there. They will push to get as many advantages as they can, even though they often have conflicting demands with the national team, athletes, event organizers. The CCA, by trying to serve two masters, ends up annoying both and, unfortunately, the sport side of the equation usually gets the short end of the stick, since money always talks.
We have long called for an arms length arrangement between the CCA and its sponsors, one that will allow the CCA to concentrate on the sport and administration. The CCA needs to invest in a marketing agent to represent their interests with existing sponsors, and to bring in new ones. A competent agent will buffer the relationship between the organization and sponsors, setting parameters for both sides, and ensuring that the needs of each are met.
It will ensure that sponsors' contractual needs are met, while limiting their ability to pressure the CCA past the bounds of the agreement. The CCA will be able to focus on their primary activities, knowing both the requirements and the limits of the sponsorship agreement are clearly defined. It will also bring a measure of professionalism and objectivity to the process of acquiring sponsors, removing the suggestion of cronyism which currently permeates many existing agreements. I have been told by potential sponsors that they were informed by the CCA not to even bother submitting a bid to become a partner, since the organization was "quite happy" with their current partner! A primary rule is that you always look at new proposals.
When I suggested this in the past, the argument was made that the CCA would "have to give up some of the money" for commissions. My response is: so what? It is better to have a significant slice of a larger pie, then a whole cupcake to yourself. The CCA should be soliciting proposals from agents now, so that there is the opportunity to put some agreements in place prior to the Olympics (it should have started a year ago).
"Development? There is no development, it just lurches from one project to another."
The above quote was from a well respected member of the national team, and sums up the feeling among many people involved in the current "system". One national coach told me he was at a seminar where an Australian coach said that they were working on 2012 and beyond - anything earlier was already too late!
That may be the ideal, but it does point to the primary weakness of the current Canadian system; or lack thereof. We have a radical (by CCA standards) proposal: start your 2008 development program now.
Forget the Athens Olympics; the athletes who are going to go there are already pretty much decided (or, at least the pool to be picked from is). Certainly, monitor their programs, but they are mainly with pro teams, and know what they need to do. Set the selection criteria for them, and let them get on with their jobs.
Instead, be proactive. Grab some young coaches and riders now, make a commitment to them and map out a long term program - at least to 2008. Put some of the current program funds, and the ones we want to be raised through our new sponsor agency, into a European base. Other funds should go into a development coordinator, who would work with the national training centres and the provincial programs, and some should go into proper national series for road, mountain bike and track.
A European centre is crucial for early season training and racing, and for the experience of racing in the crucible of cycling. All cycling disciplines would benefit from such a centre. Tie some sponsorship directly to it, possibly partner with another smaller cycling country. Make the core of your development team be a team that races together through the pre-season (at a minimum), possibly register them as a UCI Tier III squad. Allow other riders to use the place as a base, for a fee that will help fund the centre. Who knows, eventually it could become self-sufficient.
The Development Coordinator is a key figure. That person would help tie together and coordinate the actions of the various National Cycling Centres (NCCs), possibly facilitating exchanges, and definitely building synergies between them. The Development Coordinator will also work with the NCCs, provincial coaches, trade teams and other interested parties to identify talent, introduce new programs and ensure coaches are developed also.
The third leg is a race series that serves as both a stepping stone to the next level of competition, and as a publicity vehicle for the sport and the sponsors. The mountain bike Canada Cup is a good start, since riders do currently follow the circuit, and a number have used it to jump to the next level, including Marie-Helene Premont, Kiara Bisaro and (in the more distant past) Chrissy Redden, Seamus McGrath and Andreas Hestler. Road and track Canada Cups also need to implemented, and soon. While it would be nice to offer monetary rewards, using them for development projects, or to decide on who is invited to the European base is a significant incentive in and of itself.
Initially, such series may involve just tying together existing events (we suggested our own list of events not too long ago for the road series), and providing top performers with the opportunity to participate in international projects. Long term, if inclusion in a series becomes desirable to organizers, as a way to attract strong fields, we could see the series develop its own brand and supporting sponsors.
Canadian cycling is currently drifting and directionless. We are losing the people who will determine the future success of the sport at an alarming rate, and some of our current stars will retire in the next few years. The CCA, with a new Board and structure in place, has an opportunity at this time to arrest the problems and take bold steps forward for the future. We only hope that they will.
You can make an impact. Post your comments on the Forums. Contact your provincial representative and tell them what you want them how you want them to represent you at the CCA AGM. Contact the CCA directly.
Canadian Cycling Association
Pierre Hutsebaut - Direct General
Bill Kinash - President
702 - 2197 Riverside Drive
firstname.lastname@example.org (Attention Director-General or President)
Cycling Association of Yukon
Eldon Pfeiffer- President
37 Takhirin Avenue
Whitehorse, Yukon Y1A 3M5
Phone - 867 668-7611
Fax - 867 668-4456
Cycling British Columbia
Tom Fawsitt - Executive Director
332-1367 West Broadway
Vancouver, BC V6H 4A9
Phone - 604 737-3034
Fax - 604 737-3141
Alberta Bicycle Association
Shauna Richards - Executive Director
11759 Groat Road
Percy Page Centre
Edmonton, Alberta T5M 3K6
Phone - 780 427-6352
Fax - 780 427-6438
Saskatchewan Cycling Association
Vacant - Executive Director
2205 Victoria Avenue
Regina, Saskatchewan S4P 0S4
Phone - 306 780-9289
Fax - 306 525-4009
Manitoba Cycling Association
Mike McKee - Executive Director
200 Main Street
Winnipeg, Manitoba R3C 4M2
Phone - 204 925-5686
Fax - 204 925-5703
Ontario Cycling Association
Steve Merker - Executive Director
1185 Eglinton Avenue East
North York, Ontario M3C 3C6
Phone - 416 426-7243
Fax - 416 426-7349
Fédération Québécoise des sports cyclistes
Louis Barbeau - Coordonnateur Général
4545 Pierre de Coubertin
Montréal, Québec H1V 3R2
Tél. - 514 252-3071 x3522
Fax - 514 252-3165
Velo New Brunswick
Andrew McNair- Executive Director
PO Box 3145
Fredericton, New Brunswick E3A 5G9
Phone - 506 474-0214
Courier address: 165-A George Street, Fredericton, NB, E3B 1J2
Bicycle Nova Scotia
Ike Whitehead - Administrator
5516 SpringGarden Road, 4th Floor
Halifax, Nova Scotia B3J 1G6
Phone - 902 425-5454 x316
Fax - 902 425-5606
Bicycle Newfoundland and Labrador
Leon Organ- President
PO Box 2127, Station C
St. John's, Newfoundland A1C 5R6
Phone - 709 738-2597
Glen Flood - Executive Director
PO Box 302
Charlottetown, PEI C1A 7K7
Phone - 902 368-4262
1 800 247-6712
Fax - 902 368-4548