True patriot love

The ‘dangerous summer’ is interrupted for a special post. It is an interesting quirk of professional sports, which typically know no national boundaries, that nationalism is still celebrated. As you may have read, seen, or even witnessed, a Canadian on an American cycling team, supported by a multinational cast and crew, sponsored by two American companies, just won the Giro d’Italia. And we celebrate Ryder Hesjedal’s victory as a ‘Canadian’ win – complete with the maple leaf flag on a hockey stick.

This is not to say that we should not celebrate Hesjedal’s win in this way (and we are indeed celebrating it here). It is just interesting to note that his being Canadian, something largely irrelevant in the pro cycling world, is somehow now receiving attention and prompting discussions of how Canadian cycling may benefit. One such suggestion has been that a Canadian flavoured team, along the lines of Orica-GreenEDGE or Astana, might now be possible – although with team SpiderTech under Steve Bauer, maybe we have that already. The financial health of both those aforementioned teams, though, relies on wealthy benefactors: one individual and one company for the former; for the latter it is Samruk–Kazyna that pays the bills, “a company managing government-owned assets [in Kazakhstan], which controls shares of national companies and financial development institutions” (what it is actually promoting seems a bit less clear). Whether SpiderTech might attract such a local benefactor is uncertain and whether such benefactors simply delay much needed financial reform in pro cycling is an issue worth discussing but not here.

Pro cycling, like all pro sports, is about money. Which is why Garmin-Barracuda boss Jonathan Vaughters did not ask team supporters to go along to their local races in Canada and help out with the juniors so that more Ryder Hesjedals might make it up through the ranks. Instead, he asked supporters to let sponsor Garmin know if they had bought Garmin products based on the company’s sponsorship of his team. Mercenary? Of course. Vaughters likely has a narrow set of interests and knows full well that sponsor dollars are required to get a team to races like the Giro and to win shiny trophies that will reflect enough glory to allow us all – team supporters and perhaps even Canadians as well – to bathe in.

One is not being cynical here, just commenting on the reality. The business of cycling is at the core of the story told by Mark Johnson in his engaging and visually sumptuous book, Argyle Armada, which is available from VeloPress. Your author had the pleasure of speaking with Johnson about his book for an article to appear shortly on Pez Cycling News. As a sneak peek, for the loyal readers of this blog, the postscript to that interview is as follows. Johnson comments on the significant of Hesjedal’s win at the Giro and puts it into a more informed context than your ‘holidaying’ author could manage. The link to the full interview on Pez will be included here later once it is posted.

One of the things that struck me about the team’s medical staff is how interested they were in holistic approach to medicine. The doctors, chiropractors and physical therapists were personally and professionally vested in looking at the riders as interconnected mind-body organisms, rather than machines that demonstrated various symptoms.

For me, Hesjedal’s Giro win is a testament to how that holistic approach to human performance also informs the way Vaughters has built his team. Rather than hiring a single superstar rider and dictating to the team that they are at his service in the defense of a Giro win, Vaughters and Allan Peiper put together a raft of riders whose collective efforts allowed Hesjedal to reach a level of success that was latent, but as yet not totally realized. The Giro win is a tremendous validation of Vaughters’ approach to winning races: hire a collection of strong, honest, like-minded riders then get out of the way and let them perform to the best of their capacity. I also think that the win shows what a smart move it was to bring Peiper on board. He is one of the most experienced, and, in the general public’s eyes, perhaps under-appreciated directors in the sport. His quiet guidance of Hesjedal to a Grand Tour win may change that perception for good.

I’m looking forward to seeing how this Giro win affects the team’s collective sense of confidence at the Tour de France this year. I also think the win can’t but help give Vaughters more stature as he continues to try to improve the business side of the sport. With every big win like this, it becomes more and more difficult for the old guard to dismiss him and his vision.

Mark Johnson’s website is right here.

Canada. Hockey. Ryder. Who would've thought it possible...

One thought on “True patriot love

  1. Very well written and insightful as always. One of the things that I have appreciated about Garmin (and its various co-sponsor iterations) – aside from the 7-eleven-esque quirkiness – was that they always pursued modest goals. There have never been the kinds of overreaching promises issued that make sponsors unhappy when they go unfulfilled. This approach encourages long-term sponsor committments, I think, because there aren’t the expectations of instant results. Collaterally, since expectations are realistic, it reduces the kinds of pressures on performance that can lead to doping when teams become desperate to deliver.

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