A place to race

17 08 2012

There have been bike races in North America ever since there were bikes, but it’s still pretty much a niche sport.

Most of the continent seems to think the season begins and ends with the Tour de France. Even as Canadian Ryder Hesjedal rode to the Pink Jersey in this spring’s Giro d’Italia, mainstream sportscasters had to remind viewers that race was like Italy’s version of the Tour.

Following the ProTour can be a challenge, overcome only with patience and persistent to root out those online streams from Eurosport, not always with english commentary. Before the Internet, we’d have to wait for stories and agate to appear in the latest edition of VeloNews or import a Euro cycling magazine.

Try initiating a conversation around the watercooler or beer keg about Phillipe Gilbert’s chances in the cobbled classics or Andy Schleck’s comeback from injury and the reply is usually blank stares.

In fact, outside of July, the only time cycling gets much attention in the ball-obsessed sports media is when the latest doping scandal hits the fan.

It can be frustrating.

Ironically, even as we exist in this vacuum, there is local racing all around. Dedicated amateurs train on their own equipment, at their own expense to place in weekly criteriums put on by cycling clubs. The glory is minimal, respect from their peers, maybe enough points to move up a category. Prizes might be a box of energy bars, a new pair of gloves.

Occasionally there are races with more regional interest, attracting a hardy band of North American neo-pros with sponsorship backing and a modest weekly stipend, in addition to the few dollars of prize money they might earn.

There’s not a lot of glory in winning local events like the Seymour Challenge.

 

I don’t imagine it’s an easy life. At the very least, it’s a far cry from the pampered existence of mainstream sports stars who earn millions catching a ball or swatting a  hockey puck.

And very very rarely, one of those neo-pros will have the chops to race with the big boys in Europe. When they come back for local events like BC SuperWeek, it’s incredible to see how far ahead of the North American scene a little time in Europe puts them, how undeveloped and relatively small-time racing really is over here. Which makes the international successes of Canadian riders like Hesjedal, Svein Tuft, Christian Meier, Michael Barry, and a generation before them, Alex Steida and Steve Bauer all the more remarkable.

Christian Mieir, of ProTour team Orica-GreenEdge, at the Gastown Grand Prix.

 

Svein Tuft powers off the front at the Giro di Burnaby.

Hopefully the attention given to Hesjedal’s victory in Italy, and his subsequent effort at the Tour and the Olympics, even though they didn’t go so well, will spark a new generation of cyclists to develop their skills in local races, motivate coaches and sponsors to take them under their wing, promoters to up the ante, organizers to construct challenging and rewarding events.

Then, as they go on to international success, maybe we’ll actually be able to watch the Tour of Flanders, Paris-Roubaix and the Giro di Lombardia live on the 50-inch plasma. In high-def. With english commentary.

Ah, to dream…

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