Symmetrics wins in El Salvador 

But team pulls out of Pan Am Games

By Andrew Mitchell

Symmetrics Cycling has given the Canadian road racing community a lot to talk about in recent weeks, after winning the nine-stage Vuelta a El Salvador and then pulling its riders out of the Pan Am Games in Venezuela in protest of Canadian Cycling Association selection policies.

As Canada’s leading road team — responsible for winning 85 per cent of Canada’s UCI (Union Cycliste Internationale) points in 2007 — both events were hugely significant for the sport.

In El Salvador, Symmetrics placed first overall. Cyclist Christian Meier placed first overall in the Under 23 category, second overall, and third in the mountain competition despite bouts of dehydration and fatigue. Svein Tuft, who finished seventh overall, now leads the North American points list and is poised to place first for all of the Americas.

Cameron Evans also cracked the top-eight, finishing fifth. Whistler’s Will Routley played a supporting role in this race, and finished ranked 32 nd .

Symmetrics won five of nine stages in the El Salvador race.

But while the win provided one of Canada’s best international road showings in several years, Symmetrics’ victory was overshadowed by a decision by team manager Kevin Cunningham to pull team riders from the Pan Am Road Championships in Venezuela. The event is an important one for qualifying Canadians to compete in the world championships, and earning berths in the 2008 Olympics.

The decision includes qualified riders Svein Tuft, Andrew Randell, Eric Wohlberg, Christian Meier, Cam Evans, and Andrew Pinfold.

In a letter explaining the decision, Cunningham said it was a tough choice to make.

“The decision to withdraw was extremely difficult for our organization as Canada will lose an excellent opportunity to acquire even more UCI points. However, we feel it is important to make this statement before more critical events like the 2007 World Championships and 2008 Olympics are upon us. If our nation is able to maintain a top-two ranking in the UCI Americas Tour Canada will receive an unprecedented six spots at the 2007 Road Worlds, which is the stepping stone to the 2008 Olympics.”

Symmetrics’ concern stems from an understanding with the Canadian Cycling Association (CCA) that the selection process for riders would be open and transparent, and based entirely on results. However, in the weeks leading up to the selection dates various riders were being confirmed to the team that had performed well in the past but had not proven themselves over the past season in various events. Symmetrics has no issue with the selections, but rather the selection process.

In its defence, the CCA pointed out that Symmetrics riders still made up the majority of the Canadian Pan Am squad, with six out of 10 spots. They defended their decision to include one rider who is returning from surgery, but has a good reputation as a sprinter. They also denied that any athletes declared their position on the Pan Am team before the team was to be selected, suggesting that the riders were only making it clear that they would be available to the team.

In an interview with Canadian Cyclist, CCA high performance director Kris Westwood said Symmetrics’ decision would hurt the team. With a limited budget, determined by Sport Canada based on Canada’s lackluster results in previous years, Symmetrics had pledged their own corporate funding to send riders to Venezuela.

“I am not optimistic. Without Symmetrics we are not able to field a complete team, since Sport Canada does not provide us with the funding for this project. I definitely acknowledge that Symmetrics has invested more than the CCA, earned way more points than CCA projects. As a private team owner (Kevin Cunningham) was uncomfortable with the situation, and we were not able to create a situation he was comfortable with.”

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