Intersports came on late, but has made an impact
By Bryan Jew, VeloNews Senior Writer
On a bright, sunny New Mexico day in early May, David Cathcart stood on the side of the road at the Tour of the Gila criterium. As he watched his riders, split between the chase group and the main field, Cathcart barked orders into his hand-held radio. The Canadian team director switched back and forth fluidly between French and English each time his riders climbed the stiff hill on the back side of the Silver City course. Of course, the language skills come as no surprise, considering the makeup of his Intersports team.
Based in Canada, Intersports is home to its fair share of French-Canadian riders, but also includes a couple of Americans, French star Catherine Marsal and British mountain biker Caroline Alexander, when she’s on the roads of the United States. It’s an interesting mix, and ever since the team hit the road this year at Redlands, everyone has had a smooth ride.
Smooth now, that is. Late last fall, things were looking good for the squad when the sponsor, a multipurpose sports facility project in Canada, said it wanted to expand the scope of its cycling team. And word of former world champion Marsal signing on gave an added boost.
As the season approached, though, the riders had to endure a difficult waiting game as the progress of the sponsorship began to drag. The team also saw one team manager quit during that period, with rider Anne Samplonius temporarily assuming those duties.
“It wasn’t really falling apart. We just didn’t know,” explained Elizabeth Emery. “Anne was really confident that it was going to come together. It was just a matter of when and how.”
“When” turned out to be at the last minute, but the team was ready to roll at the first major race of the season, Redlands. Meanwhile, Cathcart, who was hired in March, took care of the “how.”
“He’s really a pro,” said Emery of the former Elita team director. “He’s gotten a lot of sponsorship together, has made us feel like professionals, has made the sponsors feel like they’re working with professionals.”
The team started the season well, with top-10 overall finishes at both Redlands and Sea Otter. But the highlight of the spring came at the Solano Bicycle Classic, where Marsal took one stage win, while Samplonius took another and the overall title.
“It was awesome, and we really fought hard for that,” said Emery. “Anne was really on form, and she was riding really smart and strong. Cathy, as I said, is amazing, and when she won that stage, I told David, ‘She shouldn’t have won that stage, she wasn’t the strongest one,’ but she’s so smart, so many years of experience, that she knows exactly what to do and when to do it.”
Marsal’s wealth of experience is a hot topic when the team talks about its chemistry. Even a veteran like Emery raves about teammates Marsal and Samplonius.
“They’re just the smartest and most wonderful teammates. I couldn’t ask for anything more,” said the American. “It’s amazing that we all ride together really well. We didn’t ride with radios for the first races. We didn’t have radios, we had other things that we were working out. It just didn’t seem like something that we really needed to have, and it was fine.”
At 30 years old, Marsal brings a wealth of experience, including her world road title in 1990 and a world junior championship in 1987. After a near-lifetime of racing in the European peloton, the French woman decided to seek greener pastures for the next phase of her career. And surprisingly, Intersports was the only team to express serious interest.
“I think we were the only North American team to return her phone calls,” said Cathcart. “Well, maybe that’s not totally true … but now we have the most experienced rider in North America.”
For Marsal, it was just time for a change: “I’ve been racing for 20 years now, and in Europe, I’ve done every race. It was a little boring. I wanted to change a little bit.”
It’s a change that has worked out well. Marsal has been a good fit with Intersports carryovers Sandy Espeseth, Chloe Black and Samplonius; former Elita rider Erin Carter; Emery; and young American rider Jessica Phillips, who was added to the team after Sea Otter.For a group that began the season with low expectations, and some uncertainty, the team has emerged as a serious challenger on the U.S. circuit.
“We’re here and we’re racing,” said Cathcart. “And we’re winning races.”