Wednesday, June 13, 2012

The Ryder Effect - Opportunity is all about timing

Ryder Hesjedal holding the coveted Giro Trophy
Looking back at the last 4 weeks, I can help but marvel at where we are now in Victoria with respect to the sport of road cycling.  Recent events have created some amazing opportunities to develop and grow the sport on so many levels: from attracting new people into the sport, to broadening the opportunities for creating and/or enhancing cycling events in Victoria.  It also brings into sharp focus the fact that Victoria is the perfect place to live and train if you are pursuing a career in the sport.

I still have to pinch myself from the fact that we have Canada's first Grand Tour winner living in our own neighbourhood.   The attention that Ryder received from his unprecedented victory has not only put Victoria BC on the world cycling map, but it has put Canada in a very respectable place among other cycling talent producing nations such as Spain, Italy, France, and the United States.   And it seems that we have only just begun.  The Tour de France starts next week, and for the first time ever, we have a Canadian listed among the favourites.  Who would have thought?  Certainly not the Europeans.

For the first time, we now have a household name that represents our sport, similar to how Simon Whitfield did the same for Triathlon.  The expectation and the hope is that Ryder will inspire people...particularly the consider cycling as their sport of choice.

Annie Ewart (Optum p/b Kelly Benefits)
We also have to look at the emerging talent that we have: Rob Britton, Annie Ewart, Gillian Carlton, Nic Hamilton, Jamie Sparling, Craig Logan, Adam de Vos, and others.  Rob is one of Canada's best road cyclists and is likely to get a pro contract next year; Annie is racing for a big US Pro team (Optum p/b Kelly Benefits), Gillian is a world-class track racer and accomplished road cyclist...and likely going to the London Olympics; Nic Hamilton is racing as a professional with Team Jelly Belly; Jamie is racing for a big UK Pro Team (Raleigh), and Craig and Adam are rising stars racing for Trek/Red Truck Racing.....Adam having recently finished 2nd in the R Cameron Law Cycling Series Omnium and holding the new record for the Sidney TT.

Last weekend, at the Robert Cameron Law Cycling Series, we had almost 150 kids ages 5-10 participate in the Tim Horton's Timbits Challenge.  What impressed me the most is that, most of them knew who Ryder was.  When I asked them why we were decorating their bikes pink, a sea of hands went up.   I was also impressed that many of the kids had road bikes!  Yes, they now have kids road bikes with 24 inch wheels and integrated shifting.   My 9 year old son now wants one.
3 x World MTB Champion Alison Sydor leading the Kids at the Tim Horton's Timbits Challenge
I made a point to acknowledge Ryder's victory by having the elite men hold up a "Congrats, Ryder" sign while they were lining up for the Condo Group Bastion Square Grand Prix.   The message conveyed was twofold: To the racers, it showed them that anything was possible and that some of them will aspire to bigger and better things.    To Ryder, it showed him that he has begun to lay down his legacy, to inspire new youth into the sport, and to create a foundation of cycling development that will be seen for many more years to come.

So where do we go from here.

If the goal is to attract and introduce more people to competitive cycling, so many things need to happen on so many different levels:

- Primary School:  Here we need to see more primary schools involved in bike rodeos, and also consider having fun bike races for kids that could involve the participation from various school districts.   My son has a track meet at UVIC this week which features 10 schools, with over 1000 kids. Why can't we have cycling related activities organized along the same lines?  Having local cycling celebrities involved would be important.  Perhaps Ryder should consider putting his name on a new Primary School Cycling initiative?

- Secondary School:  Victoria has a good high school racing program, and can use the "Ryder Effect" to push to get more kids into either MTB or Road Racing and compete in their High School Racing Series.   The teacher job action situation hopefully will be resolved soon so that extracurricular activities like this can continue and blossom.  The challenge is always finding volunteer parents, teachers, etc... and to also find the venues to have the events.

- Grass Roots Development:  Cycling Clubs in Victoria need to consider offering more support to young cyclists who are coming from the Secondary School program, or are just beginning to learn the sport.  Clubs need to act as a catalyst to help the youth raise their skill level to the point where sponsorship opportunities can manifest.  Clubs need to be structured with a general membership of people who make up the base, but who have a program to support younger riders so that they can travel and compete to cycling events in BC and abroad.

- Trade Team Development:  Victoria should have its own Trade Team that provides opportunities for the top young riders to travel to bigger races in BC and Pacific Northwest, and also fund development projects to Europe and South America.  These riders should have equipment and expenses covered, and to expose them to the elite level of the sport with the ambition that they will be offered a professional contract by a well funded professional team.    This team would need strong support from the local business community and also require a strong core of people to handle administration and logistics.

- Coaching and Cycling Camps:  Victoria has some of the sport's best coaches.  A program needs to be created that brings the vast coaching expertise that we have, and to offer a Cycling Camp that attracts athletes of all ages, who are looking to improve their performance.  For this to work, it would require new partnerships between various coaching services, but also strong community and business support.

- Facilities and Road Access:  We have some of the best sports facilities in the Country to develop and grow cycling. The PISE facility offers sport education and athlete development under one ‘roof’, and incorporates sport science, sport technology and innovation, and sport and wellness research.  We also have the Juan de Fuca velodrome, brought back to life through the efforts of the GVVA.  We also have great venues for "learn to race" opportunities with the Western Speedway circuit and the Sidney Velo Time Trial 

- More Cycling Events:  Victoria has a great local grassroots racing program called the Victoria Cycling League.  It also hosts one of BC's biggest and most popular cycling events, the Robert Cameron Law Cycling Series as part of the Victoria International Cycling Festival.   However, on the Island, there are no other provincial sanctioned road cycling events that provide the opportunity for local racers to compete at rather high level (Cobblestone Classic in Nanaimo was cancelled).  This needs to change and more people are needed to consider organizing larger sanctioned cycling events, and more support is needed by organizations like Cycling BC in order to equip and provide training.

Looking back at this list, I see that with opportunity, comes certain new challenges.  We have the pieces of the puzzle in front of us, but we need to get the right people to start putting the pieces together.

L-R: Drew Mackenzie (PISE), Nic Hamilton, Rob Britton, Craig Richey, Annie Ewart, Henri De Boever, Erinne Willock, Rod Henderson (The Condo Group), Bob Cameron, Alison Sydor, Mandy Farmer (Accent Inns).
I wonder if I should organize some kind of  "Cycling Development" conference here in Victoria, which would invite key stakeholders into a strategic brainstorming session that would focus on the various development ideas mentioned.  If the common goal is to raise the bar here in Victoria, and to capitalize on Ryder's amazing Victory to attract and develop new cyclists into the sport, then I think we can collectively come up with some great ideas.

Who is with me?

1 comment:

  1. Bravo to this very inspiring post! :) Such a worthwhile read as this inspires cycling enthusiasts to be the best that they can be - to become great cyclists just like those that are featured on this blog.