Canadian Cyclist


October 19/06 4:23 am - Eric Van Den Eynde Interview

Posted by Editor on 10/19/06

Eric Van Den Eynde Interview

Editor's Note: Eric Van Den Eynde contacted me after reading the interview below to clarify a statement he made regarding athletes attending school. What he wanted to say is that he likes working with athletes that are going to school or are having other interests in life, meaning not all their eggs in the same basket, because that puts a lot of preasure on them, and sometimes they feel if they don't make it in cycling they don't have anything else to look foward too. For some of them (mostly out of America) it could be an incentive to use some "outside help" to be able to perform better. This is what he was trying to say, when he mentioned drugs, and he doesn't want people to think that if you're not in school and a full time cyclist you're automatically using drugs...

Yesterday the CCA (Canadian Cycling Association) announced that National coach Eric Van Den Eynde has accepted a position with the Québec cycling federation, the Fédération Québécoise des Sports Cyclistes (FQSC), meaning he will no longer be a national coach, effective at the end of the month. (See Daily News: October 18/06 11:00 am EDT - Eric Van Den Eynde Leaves CCA)

Eric was down in London, Ontario at the Forest City Velodrome yesterday holding a camp when the news broke (although we had heard rumours it was coming earlier), and we arranged to talk today about his decision to leave the CCA after ten years. We spoke this morning with Eric pulled over at the side of the highway near Kingston as he drove back to his home in St Bruno, Quebec (south of Montreal). (It should be noted that conversation with Eric tend to be long and rambling, so this interview does both!)

Eric may be known primarily as a track coach, but he has worked with athletes from mountain bike (Marie-Helene Premont and Mat Toulouse) and road (Lyne Bessette) as well. Other athletes whom he has mentored include: Travis Smith, Zach Bell, Gina Grain, Ryan Mckenzie Cam MacKinnon and Clara Hughes (when she was still cycling). This is by no means an exhaustive list - at the Olympic Games he was the coach who looked after Lori-Ann Muenzer during her amazing gold medal competition (although he was the first to point out that Steen Madsen was Lori-Ann's coach), and Lori-Ann had a ritual of rubbing his head for good luck while he held her on the start line!

The critical question that I asked Eric was why? Why leave the CCA and being involved in running a national team program to go back to a provincial program? Eric's answer boiled down to Vision; more specifically a difference between his vision and that of the CCA.

The job, it started to change - they are thinking 2016, not 2006. I'm more of a day-to-day person. I think it is right (to look ahead), but I am wondering why 2016 (Olympics) when they are not thinking about 2008?

Two years ago I made a program for 2006 and discussed with the (national team) athletes, and they were excited by it. Matt Barlee asked me - 'Eric, will this happen? What if the CCA changes the plans?'. I said 'I will quit the job.'

It is not the wrong vision (that the CCA has), but it is not my vision. You know it is like political parties, and you join the one that fits with your ideas ... My 'party' was changing.

To be fair, Eric admitted that much of the change is mandated by Sport Canada, and the CCA had to adjust its programs.

I don't mean everything is wrong, but the job is becoming more desk-oriented and I'm a person who is working with people. It was no more 'my' vision.

As an example, he pointed to the schedule imposed on athletes. I don't coach people if they don't go to school; some of that is because of drugs - the athletes say 'I have to win, I don't have anything else.' Everyone I coach goes to school - Mat Toulouse he is a lawyer, Marie-Helene in pharmacy studies ... Sport is only a little bit of it, you build people.

The CCA they have it (school), but the program they build only works for the one's that don't go to school; the race schedule doesn't work. But I know a lot of their vision is imposed by Sport Canada, and that there is nothing you can do with that. What's the point of speaking about 2016 when we don't have the money to take care of 2008?

One example is the carding. When an athlete moves to senior ranks 95% have one bad year in the first three - Pierre Harvey was at the Olympics when he was 19 and had a poor year when he was 20. With carding, if they can't meet criteria one year then they lose it, and many quit the sport. It would be better to take the carding money from when they are 17 years old and put some of it in a trust for when they are older.

Sport Canada does not provide the money we need for the results they want. No other country has one coach for every aspect of a an athlete - there is a separate weight coach, endurance coach, sprint coach ... Canada is a one man orchestra.

We did the best we could with what we have, but it is a vicious circle. It's not like 'the CCA sucks', I wouldn't say that; the decisions are made by the money that is provided and the requirements that (Sport Canada) makes. I could stay and complain like a lot do, or I could do what I did.

I'm happy that I have been able to help Canadian athletes get better for the last 10 years, and that the athletes have appreciated it. I have been touched by the e-mails I have received from athletes; Travis (Smith) said 'if I got a medal it is because of you'.

(Kris) Westwood (CCA High Performance Director) tried as much as possible to convince me to stay, and I think they are a little shocked that I left.

The move to Quebec will allow Van Den Eynde to focus on the person to person contact he prefers and working with some specific athletes. It is easier to train the athletes in Quebec because they are closer, I can see them more and have more training sessions. In Quebec I am the head coach ... of myself! My objective is to get more athletes involved in programs. There has been some talk of closing Bromont (training centre), and I can make a difference to that, to how much it will be used.

I will put track back in Quebec, make it solid. I will want to put more Quebeckers on the national team. I plan to have talent detection camps; we didn't have time for that with the CCA - I will do it on the street in Montreal and Quebec (City). We will find talent this way.

Charles Dionne is one of my goals because he has so much talent, once he has the operation to fix his leg ... Lyne (Bessette) has always had to do too many races with demands from her team. Now we will have the specific time to do specific training. Each time of the three times she has been on the track she has been excellent.

We are eligible for the 'B' Worlds in women's speed and pursuit events (on the track), so my plan is to go to L.A. (Track World Cup) with Lyne to make a time which proves that she is competitive and then go to B Worlds in South Africa and make top-2 to qualify for Olympics.

While Van Den Eynde is excited about the possibility to work more closely with athletes, his biggest regret will be having to make a break with other (non-Quebec) athletes he has worked with over the years.

This is the sad part, yes. It will be the first time in my life that I let people down like this. I will make a transition, so that riders like Travis (Smith) and Zach (Bell) are not left alone, and some riders like Gina (Grain), Ryan (Mckenzie) and Zach say that they will work now to become Quebeckers.

Zach is coming very close - ten years ago to win the pursuit at the Worlds was 4:11 and five years ago 4:17 ... last year was 4:23, so I think the sport on the track is cleaner now, and Zach is now getting close. My transition with some riders like Zach may go as long as the Pan Am championships, and I will still do some projects with the CCA; they want me to do the big Games, and I would love to do the Pan Am championships. Even at other events, where I am there with Lyne for example, I will still help as I can, of course.

I still work for Canada, making riders as strong as possible to go on the national team and represent Canada.


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