Hugo Houle has hit out against Cycling Canada, describing a national road program that he feels has been cast aside and “disrespected.”
The 30-year-old had initially voiced grievances over support from his national body in the weeks after the September world championships, blasting the federation’s provision of race jerseys that failed to fit correctly.
“We looked like clowns,” Houle had said soon after the worlds. “Even my father doesn’t wear that to go do a grand fondo on Sunday afternoon. I looked like a Pinocchio with it. The sleeves kept rolling up. I stuck in the wind at the end. ”
The Canadian team’s troubles at the Imola championships went beyond jerseys. The four-man squad was left scrambling for race vehicles and staffer support in what Houle feels is a withdrawal from road programs by Cycling Canada.
Houle, who races with Astana in the WorldTour, explained that the majority of the oversight and support for the Canadian worlds team came from Israel Start-Up Nation infrastructure and staffers supplied by team benefactor, Montreal-born Sylvan Adams. Former Canadian champion Steve Bauer of CCC Team and Paulo Saldanha, coach of Michael Woods, also lent assistance.
“Thanks to Paulo Saldanha and Sylvan Adams who put all the staff in Israel [at our disposal] and to Steve Bauer, who came to help us,” Houle told La Presse this week. “This year, we had the bus and vehicles from Israel [at worlds]. We had a lot of support on that side. Since there is no program, the guys make up for the shortfall.”
Shortly after the world championships, Houle had submitted a letter to chiefs at Cycling Canada, claiming that the resulting discussions had failed to be productive.
Houle’s dissatisfaction with the federation was again stirred this week. The national body confirmed the names of the 47 athletes chosen for funding and development programs for the 2024 Olympic cycle. There were no road athletes on the lineup, while around 50 percent of beneficiaries were from track disciplines.
“There is a selection for BMX, mountain biking, para-cycling, track sprint, men’s track endurance, and women’s track endurance. I don’t see any road cycling in there,” Houle said. “It’s still quite strange that a national federation does not put any development program for road cycling, which is probably the sport for which there are the most licensees. For me, this is a big disrespect.”
Cycling Canada chief of performance Kris Westwood defended the body against Houle’s complaints, describing limited funding and a focus on events most likely to generate medals.
Funding body Own the Podium, which is specifically mandated to target athletes with the potential to score big results, allocated around $60,000 for road, while “several hundred thousand dollars” were provided to track programs.
“The road is essential for our future as a country in cycling,” Westwood said. “If we don’t have a road program, it would be impossible for us to be competitive in the long term on the international scene. We know it. We have long-term plans. The trick now is to build short term plans to get us towards those long term goals.”
“The big challenge is that we have very, very limited funds for that from our public partners, in other words, Own the Podium. Much of our funding for high-performance programs comes from them. They give us very little for the road. They are only focused on Olympic medals.”
When Houle was asked if applications for Olympic funding from road cyclists had been considered, he expressed further frustration.
“I don’t know, I am not consulted,” he said. “I do not take care of them too much because they are so incompetent that I do not waste my energy with them … But when they announce [in] an official statement that no athlete is chosen for a road program, they have no plan for the road, to me that doesn’t make sense … Road discipline no longer exists at Cycling Canada. ”
Cycling Canada recently confirmed that a “new training program for road athletes will be launched soon” and that a review of the road team’s race kit will be performed.
“It concerns me, I take it to heart,” Westwood said. “I lose sleep when an athlete is angry like this. As I told Hugo, we’re going to look at where we can improve overall. “