Canadian Cyclist


May 4/07 1:18 am - Interview with Kevin Cunningham of Symmetrics Cycling

Posted by Editor on 05/4/07

Interview with Symmetrics' Head Kevin Cunningham

Late last night, Symmetrics team owner Kevin Cunningham sent out a press release stating that he was withdrawing his team members from participating in the upcoming Pan Am Road and Track Championships, to be held in Venezuela, May 21-27 (see Daily News - May 3/07 10:45 pm EDT - Symmetrics Cycling Withdraws All Riders from Pan Am Championships).  This came only few hours after the CCA had announced the team - which would rely heavily on Symmetrics riders for the men's road squad (see Daily News - May 3/07 6:00 pm EDT - CCA Announces Pan Am Road & Track Squad).  Earlier this morning we spoke with CCA Director of High Performance Programs - Kris Westwood - (see Daily News - May 4/07 10:45 am EDT - CCA Responds to Symmetrics' Pan Am Withdrawal).  Now we have had a chance to discuss the matter with Symmetrics team owner Kevin Cunningham.

This is not be a question and answer format interview - the conversation was just that:  a conversation.  The primary question we had for Mr Cunningham was Why?  Why pull your squad from the Pan Am Championships when they make up a significant proportion of the team and are clearly riding very strongly?

Kevin Cunningham stressed repeatedly that it wasn't because of the specific (non-Symmetrics) riders selected, but because of the selection process and, paradoxically, the track squad selection.

"My problem is with the (High Performance) Committee.  I don't have a problem with the individual athletes, but how they were selected to the team.  It isn't about Charles Dionne, it isn't about Martin Gilbert."

"It is partly about the pre-selection of riders for the track squad.  When we sat down to plan, we planned for both the Pan Am Road AND the Track Championship.  We (Symmetrics) have the (National) Madison track champions but, unbeknownst to us, a pre-selection was announced, so we weren't given any option to qualify at the track trials (to be held in Burnaby this coming week).  And then some selections were made to the road team through being pre-selected for the track team."

"The CCA announced March 20th the (Pan Am Track) criteria, which was top 8 at the Worlds.  No one made top-8 so everyone had to qualify, but then CCA announces a pre-selection!  How come?, Why didn't we know about it?"

"This is all about fairness to all Canadian athletes - I was as much upset about (Symmetrics rider) Zach (Bell) being pre-selected for the Points Race; we told Zach he had to qualify at Track Trials.  It's wrong."

Besides the track pre-selection, Cunningham is also frustrated by what he feels is a lack of focus by the HPC on the critical factor - UCI Continental points, and the necessity of doing what is required to get them.

"I don't think the HPC gets it.  This goes back to a year ago, after the last Pan Am Championships where we sent 3 riders.  I was talking with (Symmetrics rider) Eric (Wohlberg), and he pointed out that if we want to be successful we need to send a team.  Brazil and Colombia send 12 riders each..."

"We all know that pro road racing is all about numbers, you can't do it with two or three riders, you need to have the support for your top riders during the race.  It's a vicious cycle - if you don't get results, you can't send many riders to Worlds.  We need to be top-2 (nations) in the Continental rankings to get six guys (for Worlds)."

"Kris (Westwood) and I were talking about this last year, about how we need to send a full roster.  I know Kris is in a difficult position; there is no funding for men's road.  So, I offered in the fall (of 2006), once we knew the dates of the Pan Ams, not to schedule my team to do any races that conflict with the Pan Ams."

"It is crucial to send a full squad and critical that we win points and, just as important, keep those points away from other countries like Brazil.  So we need to send a full squad to be successful.  With a team of 10 riders we can make a difference."

"I don't want to talk about specific riders, but we have been given reasons (for sending certain athletes) about riders who had performances one or two years ago.  To me, we need to ask: 'Who are the strongest right now?'  'Who can perform in May 2007?'  We should just put the best 10 guys in the race based on where they are in April and May of 2007."

"We have lots of great riders, but Dominique Rollin and Mark Walters will be over in Ireland at the Milk RAS - I hope they get a ton of points - and Ryder (Hesjedal) is not available.  I'm surprised that they didn't look at Ryan Roth, he wasn't even on their list and he is riding really well."

So, Cunningham decided to take the unprecedented step of pulling his riders from the national squad.  "Yes, this is a severe step, but it is not about specific riders, it is about a process that is flawed.  We decided: 'Would we go based on the current roster?'  The answer is No.  But if we didn't do something now, it would be worse as we move towards the Olympics.  We are pushing a rock up a hill, and the only way we can do it is by working together."

"It is a huge disappointment, and makes this a bittersweet week after our success in El Salvador.  We got a lot of points this week, and I think Svein will take the overall lead in the Americas Continental Tour."

"It is a huge mandate of mine to push Canadian cycling forward.  When we started five years ago, we wanted to build a pro Canadian squad and have 20 guys, so that we could send teams to a number of races at the same time.  We send out team to different races around the world because riders need to race in different styles, against different fields to get better."

"When we go to a race like El Salvador, with that huge climb in stage 8, we know it is going to be impossible to beat the Colombians.  Our strategy is to get the (leader's) jersey the first day and keep it as long as possible to rack up as many points as possible.  We get 4 points for every day we have the jersey, plus for the stage wins, so I think that we will come out of this race - as the number two nation in the rankings.  This year, I think we have a chance to be a top-2 nation on August 15th and get 6 spots for the Worlds."

"So now we will just stay home, get rested and hopefully get some points in Philly week."

Editor's Note:  Without the Symmetrics riders, the Men's Road team will be reduced to Charles Dionne, Martin Gilbert and Ryan McKenzie for the elite road race, and David Veilleux and Keven Lacombe for the Espoir road race.  For the time trial there will be no elite men, and Veilleux and Lacombe for Espoir.

We spoke with Kris Westwood after this interview regarding the track pre-selection situation.  He said that Symmetrics had launched a formal appeal, so he couldn't say much, but that Gilbert and McKenzie were the top squad at the only World Cup (Los Angeles) which Canadians competed in, and were qualified (for pre-selection on that basis.  Westwood also said that for the road, the HPC did not automatically take the track riders, and that each was debated on merit and subsequently selected by the HPC.


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