By Ed Arzouian
“We have met the enemy and he is us.” The quote sounds like something from antiquity, perhaps a comment by a great general. It is actually a line from from Walt Kelly, the cartoonist who created “Pogo,” and first appeared in a poster for Earth Day in 1970.
I use it here in reference to Canadian cycling and what I observed during our recent Tim Horton National Road Championships at Hamilton on the world’s course. We seem to be our own worst enemy.
Coming from a road-racing background, educated in the sport by French, Belgian and Italian coaches and managers, and having raced with and managed many road teams myself, I was appalled by the lack of organization, planning and professionalism by many of the teams attending our national championship. Some riders and team managers apparently have no respect for the sport.
I place some of the blame on mountain biking and its individualistic approach. Riders crossing over from mountain biking to road racing do not understand the team aspect of cycling. Guys, Lance Armstrong doesn’t give his Tour de France prize money to his teammates and pay them bonuses for nothing.
In the elite men’s road race, on the very demanding 12.4km world’s circuit in downtown Hamilton, Ontario, teams of five to eight riders were required. This event was getting two hours of national TV coverage on CBC. The local newspaper, The Hamilton Spectator, came through with superb coverage, including a two-page, full-color, broadsheet spread of photos. About 10,000 people came out to watch.
You would think, given all this, plus a chance to ride the world’s course, local teams would have been full and turning would-be riders away. You would be wrong. Teams from Ontario were complaining about having to start five guys because they could not find them. Apparently, in the entire province of Ontario, with about 12 million people, they could not find enough elite riders to fill the spaces available on all the teams entered. It was very disappointing – as were the riders who chose to register as individuals in the team event, disregarding the rules and causing more headaches at packet pickup.
Told that riders on mixed teams all had to wear the same jersey, one competitor asked if they could just turn their jerseys inside out to hide the sponsors. I told them nobody was turning a jersey inside out in a televised national championship.
Given the opportunity to have a team vehicle in a race caravan, why would a local team – which should have access to cars and drivers – choose not to do so? Beats me. For years, as Evian team manager, I kicked, screamed and complained when denied the opportunity to use a team car to properly support my riders and do my job as it should be done. Now some team managers just don’t care. What a waste.
Online registration simply proved too difficult for some to comprehend. The night before the race, we had about five guys show up with transaction reports that had been automatically sent to them. They said, “See, I registered, but my name was not on the start list.” The transaction reports invariably read, “Transaction declined.” We still managed to get most of those riders in the races.
Some provinces assumed that the registration deadline of noon, June 24, did not apply to them. One province sent its entire team registration in the late afternoon of June 25, about the same time we had hoped to begin creating a start list for the time trials.
Why are the deadlines there? Well, if teams respected them, organizers could get out start lists early to the teams, making their planning easier, and to the media, thereby properly promoting the sport. Riders and teams lower their own profiles when they don’t get their stuff in on time.
And then there were the masters riders!
I have learned you can basically divide the masters into two groups: those who raced in their prime and have come back to the sport because they just can’t stay away (these guys are a pleasure to deal with), and those who never raced as young men, or did but were not very good (these guys were the most self-centered, egotistical bunch I have ever seen).
Criticizing masters is a dangerous proposition because many of them buy the $10,000 bikes and expensive accessories that are the lifeblood of many bike shops. But regardless of their purchasing power, masters – especially Master A riders, not Master Ds – should realize that racing isn’t about them. It is about the juniors, espoirs and elites who represent or hope to represent our country. If only a portion of all the effort and money that goes into masters racing went to the development of young local riders and the clubs that support them, our sport would be in much better shape.
Masters A used to start at age 40; now it’s 30. About half the pro peloton is over 30 years old – are those guys masters? In my humble opinion, if you are between 30 and 40 you ride elite or you don’t compete.
One Master C rider and his wife were all upset after driving from Kingston – without pre-registering, without calling for any information – only to be told that they couldn’t enter the road race on race day. Apparently, the thought that there might be some criteria for participating in a national championship never occurred to them.
And a word to the 20 or 30 masters who called me two weeks to a month before the competition began: No, you cannot get a time-trial start time to the minute that early! You would think the 30-minute window of possibility would be enough for these guys, but no, they want to know right to the minute so they can decide when to leave work. If you are cutting it that close, why bother showing up at all?
There were a few bright spots. Charley Mottet, technical delegate for the Union Cycliste Internationale, was at The Tim Hortons Road Nationals as an observer and was pleased with the organization and execution of the event. He was very satisfied with the operation of the race and indicated that only some little details needed to be corrected for the world’s in October.
As for the championships themselves and the rehearsal on the world’s courses, the informed opinion of the riders and cycling press was that the Hamilton venue will be one of the most selective ever. Some of the comments included “spectacular,” “technical,” “challenging” and “awesome.” The women’s race came down to Geneviève Jeanson and Lyne Bessette alone. In the men’s race, Saturn’s Nathan O’Neill and Will Frischkorn finished one-two, respectively, followed by Dominique Perras (Canada’s new road champion), Mark Walters, Eric Wohlberg, Charles Dionne and Czeslaw Lukascewicz.
The cream definitely rose to the top. There was no hiding out there, and there won’t be in October.