Canadian Cyclist


March 5/06 1:25 am - Comment on National Team List Selection

Posted by Editor on 03/5/06

Comment on National Team List Selection

We received the following letter from Robyn Snyder Walters, wife of Navigators pro Mark Walters regarding the recent CCA announcement of the national team list for 2006 (see Daily News March 2/06 8:00 pm EST). The list has been cut from more than 170 athletes to less than 90, and Mark Walters was one of the names left off the list.

We contacted Kris Westwood, High Performance Director for the CCA to see if he had any comments on the statements made by Robyn. Westwood responded that he would contact Robyn directly, but made one correction:

"I would just pass on one clarification of fact on Robyn's letter: I wasn't Mark's advocate on the 2002 appeal; Tim Lefebvre was. And the appeal was not about Mark's selection, it was about the process used to change the criteria once Canada's worlds quota dropped from two spots to one."

Dear Editors,
Though I had heard about this injustice prior to the CCA's release of the 2006 National Team list, I wanted to wait to see if it was really true before I commented. Though the purpose of this new analysis system may bear good intentions, it does not seem to have been applied fairly in Mark Walter's case. Mark has been racing for a Tier 2 Pro Continental Team since 1999 - the only Pro Continental Team in North America till 2006. His race schedule, just like the Pro Tour team members, has primarily been outside the U.S., and these events are inherently more competitive on the international scale than most events in North America. It appears that the "subjective" evaluation of riders who are on Pro Tour teams (even if only beginning in 2006) allows for them to have 0 UCI points and to NOT compete at National Championships, to NOT finish the Worlds Road Race and still be named to the National Team. It also appears that National Championships is a primary determining factor as to how someone who does not have significant North American UCI points is judged - and specifically, this only applies to Mark since the other Pro Tour athletes get an exemption on the National Championship requirement.

My outrage here is that if these subjective ideas that the Pro Tour athletes are not judged by the same rules as North American Continental athletes because they are obligated by team dynamics to be domestiques in most events and, thus, unlikely to collect UCI points - why wouldn't this same point of view be applied to Mark? He is in the same position with Navigators most of the time in Europe and Malaysia and the U.S., and in fact does have Euro-continental UCI points to his credit. Meanwhile, it is true for most Tier 3 domestic teams that there is much more latitude for individuals to seek results and, indeed, not the same depth of talent - this means there is an advantage to athletes who stay on Tier 3 North American teams in this new "national team points system" vs. racing on a Tier 2 Pro Continental team. What makes sense about that?

Mark has been on the national team since he was 17 years old (just turned 30), is a 5-time Canadian National Champion, 3-time Worlds Team Member, 2002 Commonwealth Team Member, Won the prestigious U.S. Pro Championship RR in Philadelphia in 2002, and if we are just looking at 2005 relevant results:

Navigators Insurance Cycling Team

Tour de Langkawi, UCI 2.HC January 28-February 6th

Stage 2 RR - Lead out Grishkine (3rd)
Stage 4 ITT - 24th
Stage 5 RR - 28th (Lead out Grishkine (4th) )
Stage 6 RR - 14th
Stage 8 Genting Highlands - 27th
GC - 22nd

Nokere Koerse, UCI 1.1, March 16th - 5th

Ronde Van Drenthe, UCI 1.1, April 9th - 18th (Lead out O'Bee (2nd) )

Tour de Picardie, UCI 2.1, April 13-15
Stage 3a RR - 10th
GC - 30th

Tour of Georgia, UCI 2.1, April 19-24
Stage 1 RR - 19th
Stage 2 RR - 16th
Stage 3 ITT - 33rd
Stage 4 RR - crashed out

Tour of Connecticut, CT, May 20-22
Stage 1 - Lead out Davidenko for win
Stage 2 - 7th

Wachovia Cycling Series, UCI 1.1
Lancaster, May 31st - 21st
Philadelphia US Pro Road Champs, June 5th - 21st (Lead out O'Bee (5th) )

Tour de Beauce, UCI 2.2, June 14-19
Stage 1 - 7th
Stage 2 - 13th
Stage 3 - 11th (Lead out Davidenko (2nd) )
Stage 4 - 11th
Stage 4b - 8th (Lead out Davidenko for win)
GC - 7th
Points Classification - 2nd
Team GC - 1st
Team won individual GC (Nathan O'Neill) - 1st

Bank of America Invitational, NC, August 6th - 20th

US Pro Criterium Championships, UCI 1.1, August 21st - 28th

Chris Thater Memorial Crit, NY, August 28th - 19th (Lead out Davidenko (2nd) )

Barclays San Francisco Grand Prix, UCI 1.HC, September 4th - 12th

Tour of Hokkaido, UCI 2.2, September 14-19th
Stage Prologue - 2nd
Stage 1 RR - 16th
Stage 2 RR - 12th
Stage 3 RR - 5th
Stage 4 RR - 7th
Stage 5 Crit - 13th
Final GC - 10th
Final Points GC - 4th

Mark suffered what some would consider a career-threatening illness beginning in 2002 - Hashimoto's disease (which is an auto immune disease that kills off the thyroid gland, the hormones of which are elemental to normal metabolic function of every cell). However, given his many years of elite training and his will to continue in a sport he loves, he has battled the effects of this disease, waiting out the period of variable thyroid output which makes proper medication a guessing game. It has been a problem for Mark most especially when he has had a prolonged campaign of racing without rest - in the past 2 years, this has been a problem for Mark going into the National Championships and it resulted in him overdosing on his thyroid medication at these events (leading to severe hyperthermia). His Pro Team obligations had him racing from February to late June with little significant rest in May and June. Just like the Pro Tour athletes, Mark's Pro Continental team schedule does not prioritize his Canadian National Championships - however, based on reports to us about the high performance committee's deliberations, Mark has been judged non-worthy of continued national team status based principally on these National Championship results (2nd in 2003, 12th in 2004, DNF in 2005). Once again, I will make note that the Pro Tour team athletes of 2004-5 did not participate in these races and were not in any way penalized for it.

In the past 6 months, Mark has stabilized medically in a significant way and it shows with his 2005 results in San Francisco (12th) and Tour of Hokkaido (10th GC - a CCA project) and 2006 strong results at Tour of Langkawi (12th GC) and great team work at the Tour of California less than a week later. Is it not relevant in the CCA's agenda to recognize an athlete for overcoming adversity? After all, Mark has been re-hired by the Navigators team 8 times - he must be doing something right at the Pro Continental level!

Since Kris Westwood brought up the idea of the importance of athletes that help Canada qualify for world events (see Daily News, March 2, CanadianCyclist), I would observe that once again these judgments are not applied fairly by the CCA to all athletes. In 2002, when Mark won the U.S. Pro Championships, it was his UCI points that earned Canada their only place at the RR World Championships. Instead of sending Mark to the Worlds that year, they sent Dionne. This is not to say that Dionne did not accomplish a respectable feat in winning San Francisco 2002, but simply that it was unjust to send anyone but Mark under those circumstances (Mark finished 2nd in the N.A. Pro Tour and 8th in the NRC in 2002). Mark appealed this decision and asked Kris Westwood to be his advocate at the appeal (an advocate is required in appeals) - Kris agreed to be Mark's advocate, but in fact voted against him in the appeal. Obviously, Mark did not win the appeal. (Editor's Note: This is factually incorrect, as noted above)

Since then, Mark has been ignored for every world-level project until he was listed on the Reserve List (3rd reserve...) for the 2006 Commonwealth Games, and should have gone based on declines from other road athletes and his results late 2005 and early 2006 - but once again the CCA decided to send a track athlete and a mountain biker instead of a full road contingent of 6 riders. This not only decreases Canada's chances of medaling on the road (especially since it is likely that Gord Fraser will be the leader and he will need strong lead-out skills from his teammates), but appears to be a bias toward athletes who are unqualified for this event. Martin Gilbert and Zach Bell were placed on the road team after a poor performance at the Los Angeles Track event in late January, 2006: this event was designated by the CCA and coaches as a qualifying event for the Commonwealth Games for these athletes. Without denigrating their potential, these athletes did NOT come close to qualifying in this event. Yet, instead of sending 1-2 more road athletes - and while ignoring Mark's early season results - the High Performance Committee decided to send Gilbert on the road and Bell in the ITT regardless of their non-qualifying results. What makes sense about this - and where is the justice to athletes who are qualified??

I have been witness, as Mark's wife and a long-term member of the cycling community, to the harm inflicted by the CCA's decisions for the past 4 years and can no longer be silent. I feel mislead about the ethics in the CCA decisions. Another example of the CCA not living up to is obligations as a Sport Canada NSO is the following:

After many years of qualifying for and receiving Sport Canada support funds, Mark was not nominated for renewal of carding status for 2006 by the CCA. Mark had much more than met all (but 1) of the qualification standards to be re-nominated - the only CCA qualification for nomination that he hadn't met was one of being named to Worlds Team 2005, being named to Pan American Team 2005 (traditionally, membership given to developing athletes), or winning national championships - the latter of which was the only non-subjective decision for qualification in the "mandatory" category. Mark did qualify twice on one of the requirements of the "mandatory" category (of which one must qualify with 2 requirements to be eligible for nomination) and he more than qualified in the requirements of the "specific category" for nomination. Though, upon Mark's repeated inquiry, Mark had been told the CCA was going to "try to get him through" - they never contacted him to receive his 2005 results, did not contact him to tell him he wasn't nominated, and did not contact him to tell him he hadn't received Sport Canada carding. The CCA also has not contacted Mark in any way with regard to his dismissal from the National Team.

He had to find out about denial of 2006 "carding" - as well as about being left off the National Team in 2006 - through independent sources or the media. Sport Canada regulates the procedures which go along with non-renewal of carded athletes as follows:

If the NSO (National Sport Organization) does not re-nominate the athlete at the end of the carding cycle, the following must occur:

- If the NSO decides not to re-nominate the athlete, the NSO must advise the athlete in writing that he has not been re-nominated. The reason(s) for the decision must be included in the notice.

- The NSO must advise the athlete about the opportunities that are available, such as National Team program activities (camps, competitions, etc.), and provide details of the Deferred Tuition Program.

- The NSO must ensure access to an appeals process for athletes not nominated or not re-nominated for carding. The athlete shall also have the right to request that Sport Canada review the NSO's appeal decision. In any such review, Sport Canada will decide whether to provide AAP support to an athlete on the basis of written submissions from the NSO and the athlete. The athlete would have a subsequent right to refer this issue to the Sport Dispute Resolution Centre in Canada (SDRCC).

NONE of these obligations were met by the CCA - meaning that the CCA has denied Mark his rights as an athlete to be respected and treated with procedural fairness. I am outraged - and I hope every CCA athlete will be as well because if these kind of injustices can be dealt to Mark, a CCA athlete with such an extensive history of excellence and with an untarnished professional reputation, it can happen happen to any one of you at the whim of the High Performance Committee.

I have also noticed that there is not one male road athlete listed as a 2008 "A" rider on the CCA's list - interesting that they are simply looking past that Olympic year altogether. I am not sure that is in the best interest of Sport Canada, the Canadian Olympic Committee, or the collective cycling community - nor is it explained by Kris Westwood's March 2 CanadianCyclist clarification (March 2/06 11:00 pm EST). Nor does it makes sense for him to say that the reduction of the national team size is related to budgeting issues, at least for athletes like Mark, who require no real financial support as a member of the National Team.

Please post this communication as representing my thoughts only. Though I am essentially biased toward my husband, I am also a professional in the world of sport and exercise science - ethics in sport is also essentially my bias. Thank you for your consideration.

Robyn Snyder Walters, Ph.D., CSCS


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