Tales from Track Center Montage

Tales from Track Center Montage

Tales from Track Center Montage


When I think of great sports films, I can always remember them by their sports montages. It’s a cliché yes, but a necessary one. How else can we fast forward through days, months, or years of training and competition to one singular climax? In real time these montages can be tedious, they can feel like Groundhog Day. They can also be quick, thinking back on these years from 2013-16, it flew by.

Some of my favorite sports films include Miracle on Ice, Better off Dead, Boys in the Boat, Bull Durham and Breaking Away. All worth a watch but as a cyclist and cycling fan I have to say Breaking Away is a must see. A young man from a small town in Indiana with dreams of racing in Europe. At one critical point in the film the Italian Cinzano team comes to America for a race and the protagonist Dave tries to ride with them out on a training ride. They put a frame pump in his front wheel and crash him! Breaking Away is really about David and Goliath. Funny how the protagonist was named Dave. At the climax of the film Dave and his buddies race against all the elite college teams in the little 500. A race that runs in Indy to this day. Their team was the locals, the Cutters as they are known by the college kids who typically dominate the race. In the film Dave’s team wears t-shirts in the race, Plain white t-shirts with the word CUTTERS in bold along the front. They embraced the derogatory nick name the college kids gave them. A name as a slur to the stone cutting quarry workers of the town. If you ever see me wearing my CUTTERS shirt at TCR, now you know where it is from.

Those first few years as we built the track program, we really were the cutters. We had a shipping container parked beside the velodrome in Los Angeles. The shipping container contained a few old Look track frames, a dozen wheels, a couple Garneau aero helmets, and half a dozen sets of rollers. 12 years later when I left the program I had 50 brand new Argon 18 Electron Pro frames, 30 SRM power meters, 120 track wheels, 3 gear boxes full of chainrings and cogs, 4 custom build travel compressors, 20 sets of rollers, 30 Wahoo Kickr trainers, 10 Tacx Neo trainers, 30 double bike boxes, 15 Giro aerohead helmets, 30 ice vests, 15 coolers, a drill press,  A Retul fit system, a metal lathe, 48in sheet metal bender, 2 Tissot timing start gates, 2 SRM “science” stationary bikes, 10 Argon 18 Gallium road racing  bikes and ten pair Ultegra C36 spare wheels to go along with them. A European service course with three vans and two cars. A Milton Ontario track service course (3000sq ft) and 12 full-time staff in Milton. In 2012 we qualified 7 riders for the London Olympics. Canada just qualified a full quota for Paris, every event on the track, 16 riders.  I finished my time there as one of the pretentious college teams from Indiana. Well, nearly. The Brits, Germans, French, Japanese, and Aussies still doubled or quadrupled our annual budget!

 Los Angeles before Milton

The start of this growth was in the summer of 2013. We had lost most of the staff from the 2012 quad and were building the 2016 group. Mike Patton and I were still on while Jacques hired three new coaches. Craig Griffin, Ian Melvin, and Erin Hartwell. All foreigners from New Zealand, Australia, and America respectively. Two additional Canadians were brought on, Chris Eastwood and Craig DeVeer both from Ottawa. Chris would work closely with me for the next decade as he was the Manager of the program while Craig DeVeer was our soigneur. Without a 250-meter indoor track in Canada, we all commuted to Los Angeles for the next two years. The Milton Velodrome wasn’t slated to be done until early 2015. In these first few months of the 2013/14 season these new coaches held tryouts for the track team. Something like 40 Canadian riders all came down to LA that summer for a track camp and team selection. Many were returning athletes from the 2012 quad, but we did get a bunch of new riders who would go on to great careers in Europe. Alex Cataford, Ben Perry, and Leah Kirchmann would all try out for the track. All three of them would effectively make the team but turn down the offer in favor of road cycling. A year later, Allison Jackson would also try out for the team, get offered a spot, and turn it down. Looking at Allison’s career now I think she made the right decision. In the end, we put together a team of 7 endurance women, 6 endurance men, 3 sprint women, and 3 sprint men. At that time, we were woefully under resourced for this endeavor.

Commuting to Los Angeles in those years was nice, it was a lot of fun and as a Winnipegger I was getting paid to leave “Winterpeg” from October to March. I would often experience a 50–60-degree swing in temperature getting on and off the plane. We did, however, have an awkward team division right off the hop. Having success in London with the women’s team, Jacques made a decision to put his eggs in the Women’s Pursuit basket. This meant in no uncertain terms that these women were our priority.  Jacques made it quite clear to me at least that their success was our meal ticket. We had to succeed as Own the Podium (OTP) mandated and our best chance to succeed was with them. Ian and Erin were really left with the crumbs of our resources, and they weren’t too happy about it. This division in time and resources meant that Craigs, Mike, and I would typically fly down to LA for a couple weeks, run training with the riders who were either living in LA or commuting there as well. We would then fly to a race. I would then fly back to LA, drop off gear and head home for a couple weeks. In comparison, Erin was living in a motel in LA and his sprinters were living in LA on their own dime. Sprinters are different people; they need to train daily on the track and in the gym whereas endurance athletes can spend a good chunk of their time on the road bike around their homes. Ian was running a similar program to the women but with a fraction of the staff, funds, and success. These early years flying in and out of LA were my real learning years of airports, breaking them, and learning the system of traveling with mass luggage alone. Thinking back on stress, how we cope with it and what I would have told a younger self given the chance. This was kid stuff in hindsight.

Close but no Cigar

Through that winter (2013/14) we did well with the women’s team and had some results with the sprinters as well. Enough at least to qualify women’s endurance for the world championships in Cali, Columbia. This winter in 2013/14 was the start of that real life montage. We started a run of podiums that was incredible. We never missed a podium with that team from 2013 to 2016. Every single team pursuit. 4-5 world cups per year, world championships, multisport games, and continental championships. Something like 32 races straight. Can you imagine any sports team with that record? It’s like the Chicago Bulls in the 90’s or the Oakland A’s in 2002. We didn’t win every race, we finished bronze more than gold, but we won a good number of races, at least ten. Despite this run of success, in those years leading to Rio we never won the rainbow bands. We did come close once, really close, edge of your seat, holding your breath, please god let this be the one close.

In February of 2014, we took the girls down to Cali Colombia for the world championships. We went down there one rider short. Gillian Carleton from our London squad was out with injury/personal reasons. When I think of the most talented, best riders that ever walked though our door, Gillian is in the top 5. Missing her in Cali was a huge blow to the team’s horsepower. Despite this we were able to qualify for the gold medal ride against Great Britain. The Brits were the Olympic champions and defending World champions. A tough match to be sure. In 2014, a new format for the women’s team pursuit had just started. The women would race 4km with 4 riders, up one km and one rider from the previous year. This additional rider and distance really highlighted the weaknesses of any team. In Team Pursuit, you can only go as fast as your slowest rider. Getting three women who can do 5.5watts per kilo for 20 minutes is hard, getting 4 is even harder. Then get them all healthy, happy, motivated, and working together. This possible weakness in a team ended up being on the British side. With three km down in the final race, the British rider in third wheel ran out of gas, she dropped off the wheel in front of her and opened a gap to the front two. Taking the fourth rider with her! In moments we went from being down by two seconds to up by four seconds with four laps to go. The next minute was grueling, that fourth rider on the British team happened to be Laura Kenny (Trott at the time), maybe one of the greatest track cyclists to ever live. Laura was, unfortunately for us, able to ride herself back up to the lead two on her team, closing the time gap to our team, and squeaking out the win. We lost by two seconds, the closest we have come to winning the rainbow bands, even to this day.

This week of racing also created a tradition that I would rue for the remainder of my career. Somehow, someone on the team learned that it was my birthday while we were in Colombia. They were able to get the Cali Police band to come to our hotel and play happy birthday for me in front of all the teams at dinner. I would endure this joyful embarrassment for the next 8 years as season after season Worlds would be in late Feb and someone from the team would always find a more outrageous birthday celebration. One year, an Italian chef came out of the hotel restaurant. Sang me happy birthday in a beautiful baritone voice, then spoon fed me ice cream. 

Our 2014 season didn’t really end. We knew that we had the Commonwealth games that coming summer in Glasgow and we really wanted to present the entire team men, women, and sprinters in the best light we could. Jacques had annoyed a lot of people focusing on track, so we needed to represent.

European Road Lessons

Shortly after Columbia, I flew to Belgium for a spring of road racing. I was joined by our men’s team, women’s team, Ian our Men’s coach and both Craigs. We were also joined by Denise Kelly the National team road coach for Women and Luc Arsenau the men’s coach for road. I was tasked with the women along with the Craigs and Denise. Luc, Ian, and some random French mechanic without a driver’s license dealt with the men.

This spring was my first real foray into professional road racing in Europe. At that time, there were pro women’s teams, but the sport wasn’t as big as it is now. The biggest and most wealthy team had a car, a van, and a small camper. Now the smallest team has buses, trucks, cars, and vans to put it into perspective. In those days a national team could enter a 1.1 women’s race alongside the pro teams. This is exactly what we did. 6 weeks in Belgium, driving to races and back to our base in Tielt-Winge an hour east of Brussels. I learned a great many things that year about road racing. I pulled riders out of ditches covered in mud, I worked into the wee hours of the morning building new bikes, I drank a lot of Trappist beer, I learned the French and Flemish words for Crash! (Shoot and Val-Par-Te respectively), and I rode my bike a lot over Belgian roads and cobbles. It was these experiences, in the rain and cold of a European spring that I realized the shortcomings of my skill as a mechanic. Of all these stories, experiences, and lessons, I developed “race craft” as a skill. By this I mean I learned everything there is to know about running a race as a team. How many staff you need, where and when. What they need to do where and when. What mechanics do, where and when. What parts we need, what the riders need. What to do when X happens, or Y or Z, or ZZZ, an entire profession I learned. Leaving this racing world and heading back to life in retail and the bike shop was a wake-up call. Sure, I can bleed a brake upside down and backwards in pitch black in a French parking lot, or grab the middle bike from the roof rack in 5 seconds, or change a rear track wheel in less that 45 seconds on the apron. But, forecasting the number of chains we need to book with Shimano to not run out by June. Uh yah, I have some learning to do!

The Mur de Huy

Of all those races Fleche Wallone stands out. That final climb up to the church on the Mur De Huy will stick out in my memory. Smoking clutches on team cars, riders dropped among the caravans. Dutch fans screaming Canada as our team car drove by. I would learn that the Dutch are an odd people, but darn do they love Canada. They speak Dutch (Flemish) in that country instead of German because of Canada. In that year, I spent many hours in the team car with Denise Kelly, Denise is a retired road cyclist, she rode in the original Women’s tour de France in the 80’s. In my years as a mechanic I have been in the team car with a lot of great Canadian DS (Director Sportif). Kevin Field, Zach Bell, Gord Fraser, and Steve Bauer to name a few. Of all these directors, Denise was the best driver. Denise could talk on the radio, while drinking a coke, and drive stick on any road, pave, or sidewalk the course took us on. She is truly a lost talent. Denise also had the uncanny ability to call a race with the least bedside manner imaginable. On several occasions I remember her telling a rider at what point they would be dropped, when they should get in the broom wagon, who would ultimately win the race from what strategy, and what our best result would be on the day. She could do this with such accuracy and lack of compassion that the riders resented her and unfortunately failed to learn as much as they might have if they had just been born Dutch. I would also learn that the Dutch are very blunt in their conversation. Denise would have made a great Dutch DS.

Commonwealth Games, Glascow

The summer of 2014 was a busy one for me. Up to this point in my life I thought I had understood hard work. University (electrical engineering), fast food, service manager at a bike shop, European bike racing, and international travel with 20 bike boxes. I was wrong, so incredibly wrong that if I met my young self today, I would laugh in his face, call him a lazy sod, chug a Red Bull, throw the empty can at him and tell him to pick it up. We knew over a year previous that the Commonwealth games in Glasgow would be a big event for our team. In the world of track cycling at that time there were four big teams, teams that took the lions’ share of the medals. France, Germany, GB, and Australia. In the Commonwealth games, Australia shows up as does GB under all of its flags. Ireland (Northern), Scotland, Isle of Man, England, and all the rest. In essence, this is the largest games for competitive track cycling outside of the Olympics. Sure, the Worlds is a tough event, but Commonwealth Games is our only real test of metal before the Olympics. In addition to this event, I knew that I was moving to southern Ontario immediately after the games to get set up in our new velodrome in Milton ON. Leading into these games we held a camp in LA for a week or so. This was before our planned camp in Alkmaar Holland. Going into this camp, the riders and coaches flew from LA to Amsterdam and then shuttled to Alkmaar. I flew to Belgium to grab our van and some equipment from the service course. The trip up to Alkmaar is short, only three hours and through some agricultural countryside. Growing up in Winnipeg, this was like a weekend trip out to the grandparent’s farm in Sanford MB. From Alkmaar we ran a three-week camp on the track there. Uneventful with the exception that this was the first time in my life I got to ride a velodrome. In Winnipeg the velodrome was torn down after the Pan Am games in 99. Growing up racing road bikes in Manitoba and the mid-west US didn’t allow for a lot of track racing. From this camp, the riders and coaches once again flew to Glasgow while I took the van on the ferry from Amsterdam to Newcastle. From Newcastle I drove all the way up to Glasgow. Having not experienced the UK countryside this was an incredible experience for me. I stopped halfway up and went to see Hadrian’s wall. The wall the Romans built to fend off the Woad (Celts) in Britain. If you ever have the chance, it’s worth the trip.

Arriving in Glasgow I learned immediately a harsh lesson. Secure your gear!

We were set up in condos for accommodation. This is a classic strategy of any multi-sport games. Get a bid in, get government funding for the bid, build condos for accommodation. Sell the condos after the games and recoup some funds. These condos were lovely and built in a large complex, every country was represented here, and there was security in and out of this complex. Believing that we had a level of security, I foolishly left a pile of wheels outside of our team condos and went to lunch. An hour later the wheels were gone. Someone, from some team in the commonwealth stole all our road wheels for the road races. I never recovered these wheels, we borrowed wheels from the brits for the road race, and I learned a valuable lesson in cycling. Only trust your friends.

I have gone on long enough here, and plenty more to say about my years leading into Rio 2016 and our challenges qualifying for it. Two serious life changing crashes, success and heartbreak, What it really means to be tired. Part 2 will need to continue.




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