Originally appeared in Pedal Magazine – Spring 2017

My legs are screaming, my lungs are on fire and my mind is racing…can I beat the peloton to the line and win the time bonus away from Eric Vanderaeden? It’s 1km to go on the 1st road stage of the 1986 Tour de France and I’m hanging on for dear life in the breakaway…pulling on the bars with everything I have left.

Suffering on the Rivet

Suffering on the Rivet

At the age of 25, I’d been bike racing, full time for 10 years. I’d already learned many lessons on how to maximize my potential as a cyclist. Efficiency, strategy, grit, perseverance, sacrifice…and I was drawing on ALL of them to stay strong all the way to the line…

Looking back, I often wonder where these skills came from. I certainly acquired aspects of these attributes as I raced as a junior and with the 7-Eleven and National teams, however, were these learned skills or inherent in my psyche? This is something that I’ve always wondered about. 

Over the years, I’ve raced with and against many talented riders who were often stronger than me on any given day. I noticed that if I played it smart and used my energy wisely, I could often find a way to beat them. Even then, there were times in the race when it came down to “mano-a-mano” where we each simply had to grind it out to see who could suffer the most and mentally “crack” the other guy. 

On the topic of Grit, I recently read an article written by Jared Smith, owner of Incite Marketing and an adventure seeker who loves to ride and who recently trained with Navy SEALs in a 5 day "suffer-fest". As part of Jared's preparation, he interviewed Dean Golich with Carmichael Training Systems who has years of research on the topic of "grit" under his belt. Here's an excerpt from Jared's article: 

Golich, citing Angela Duckworth, (who’s studies have concluded that "single mindedness" or "lifelong deliberate effort" result in “true grit”, which results in higher and greater achievement in any field) has concluded that personality traits can be a predictor of one’s ability to breakthrough mental ceilings in performance.  Using profiling tools, Duckworth has extrapolated the willingness of different athletes to push past their max efforts.  

 According to Duckworth: most athletes generally fall into one of two personality types: Those with mental toughness, and those without. Those with it are able to doggedly, and persistently pursue a course of action over and over and over again towards an end goal. Duckworth calls this personality’s tendency towards persistent practice and action: “true grit” - "the role of deliberate practice in acquisition of expert performance.” People with true grit tend to be entrepreneurial, attracted to routine, high achievers, so called AAA's who will continue down a path despite fear of, and experience with multiple failures. You can point them out in a room, because they tend to lack empathy, they're not warmhearted, and they thrive on receiving (and giving) negative feedback. She puts them into a category of “fast learners”. Thick skinned people who enjoy self-critique and who willingly accept negative feedback learn significantly faster than those who require a more diplomatic approach to learning (i.e. the “empathetic types”). 

 According to Golich, empathetic types; i.e. people who are good-natured, thrive on positive reinforcement, are willing to listen, are typically patient, and seek to learn multiple and diverse points of view tend to perform worse on tests of mental toughness. However, they do play a major leadership role in high performing teams (all high performing teams require people who are intuitive to the emotional requirements of the group and who will often sacrifice themselves accordingly. The so-called “fast learners” tend to ignore their teammates’ signals of emotional overwhelm – often to the detriment of the team.  

Team Spirit in the New Era

Team Spirit in the New Era

This is the dichotomy of bike racing…you need to be selfish in addition to being mentally and physically tough - “True Grit”. Nothing can get in your way as you pursue your short and long term goals. At the same time, bike racing is a true team sport. Everything that a rider does is a calculated effort designed to benefit the team as a whole – “Pure Sacrifice”.

I believe that there are specific personality traits that are inherent in successful people, including cyclists, some of which can be enhanced with repetitive training and some, that are simply part of who we are. Think about where you fit into the Grit and Sacrifice spectrum and try and blend the two to be the best “Gritifice” team player you can be.


Hall of Fame Induction

October 2, 2016

It was a huge honour to be inducted into the Canadian Cycling Hall of Fame this year. Cycling Canada hosted the event at the Mattamy velodrome in Milton, Ontario, home of the Cycling Hall of Fame. Gord Fraser and Brian Walton, some of my esteemed racing peers were also inducted.

The event coincided with an international track race. My wife and son arrived on the Friday evening to watch some of the races with me and get a tour of the amazing facility that was built for the Toronto 2015 Pan-Am games.

On Saturday, my 22 year old son and I had an opportunity to ride the indoor, 250m wooden velodrome. What a treat it was to ride on this track and I was reminded of the Olympic venue in Montreal that was eventually removed in favour of a ‘biodrome’. Even more importantly, I was able to ride with my son and we staged a couple hard fought sprints to keep each other honest! He’s got a great jump on him and he beat me in the first round. I had to use all of my craftiness to make him lead out the next sprint and I came around him to take the second heat. We decided to leave it a draw and re-visit next season when we will both be racing “A-group’ at our home velodrome in Edmonton.

Sunday morning was a well organized group ride with 50 or 70km options available. We had 60 or so riders and we rolled along at an enjoyable conversational pace (just the way it should be) until it started raining. Then it was time to make a bee-line back to our lunch location for a hot shower and a change into our civvies for the ceremonies.

Here’s an excerpt from my acceptance speech.

I’ve been involved in competitive cycling in 1 way or another for the last 40 years.  Along the way, I raced amateur for 8 years, pro for 7 years and then after retiring have continued to stay involved in the sport in many ways. I think my proudest post-retirement moment came in 2013, at the start of the race that I founded, the Tour of Alberta. We just completed the 4th edition of the race this year.

I was a hockey player growing up in Vancouver and by a series of unique circumstances, I found cycling. Along the way, a family of dedicated cycling people volunteered their time to help me be the best I could be.

By the way, it’s very appropriate that the Hall of Fame is housed in the Mattamy Velodrome as my first real success in racing came on the track.

In the 70’s we had a velodrome in Vancouver called China Creek. It was an outdoor wood track originally built for the ’54 British Empire games. The magic came from my first coach, Baz Lycett. He just happened to be in Vancouver at the time and took a group of us juniors to a new level by applying everything he had learned about bike racing in Europe.

A seasoned pro also happened to be in Vancouver at the time, Ron Hayman. Ron took us juniors under his wing and illustrated to us what kind of work and dedication it would take to become a pro.

My Dad bought a van and equipped it with all of the equipment needed to run a race on city streets. Brooms, safety vests, signage. The road race at the Tour of White Rock still bears his name on the trophy.

Roger Sumner was a tireless volunteer who worked continuously to bridge the gap between the provincial cycling organization in BC and the National program based in Ottawa. Without Roger, many BC-based cyclists would not have represented Canada on the world’s stage.

My wife, Samantha was been a stalwart supporter of my career as a professional cyclist and then throughout my post athlete transition, often listening to my frustrations and tribulations with a sympathetic ear. Thank you Sam

I’m describing these stories because in my mind, people like Baz, Ron, my Dad, Roger and many others are the real heros. They understood the difficult circumstances that a budding racing cyclist faced and worked behind the scenes to create a support structure.

These say it takes a village and the cycling community is no different.

I’m very proud to be a volunteer coach of the Juventus Cycling club in Edmonton. I feel an obligation to give back to the sport that did so much to shape my character…who I am today.

At Juventus, we have an army of volunteers that have built our own cycling programs, completely self-funded. From our 8-10 year old Spockids, to our 11-14 year old Track/Road/MTB program, to our Junior racing team, Juventus has spawned an amazing group of racers who have gone on to represent Canada – all funded through the Juventus program.

Some of those riders are here today including Junior World Champion, Stefan Ritter, National Pursuit Champion, Kinley Gibson. Evan Burtnik, a member of Team RaceClean and Devaney Collier, Silver medalist at the Junior Worlds this year are also recent graduates of the Juventus program.

Our next mission is to build an indoor velodrome in Edmonton. Again, it’s another group of volunteers who have dedicated years of their time to coordinate this construction. In 2020, there will be another facility in Canada, similar to this one, ready to host an aspiring group of young people, who are trying to be the best athletes and build the best characters that they can be.

Of course, there are many other club-based programs and individuals across Canada doing great work. I believe that this is the core of how cycling will grow in our great country. I urge you all to continue, lias with your Provincial cycling organizations as well as the National program, many of whom are here today.

Again, thank you for the honour of this special moment, something my family and I will treasure for many years to come.

Do Your Part – No Matter How Big or Small

It doesn’t seem like 37 years ago but as I look back, time has certainly flown by. I started cycling seriously as a fledgling junior by joining the masters 10 mile time trial at UBC. Soon, I was asked to join a crew of like minded riders at the China Creek outdoor velodrome in Vancouver. Little did I realize the impact of the track on my life.

There happened to be a coach at the track who knew a thing or two about racing on a banked oval. Our coach just happened to be Barry “Baz” Lycett. He was a cycling genius who could spot talent and could train them in a specific way in order to get the most out of them. He had come over from England where he had raced on grass tracks and every other type of two wheeled ‘push bike”. Whenever I went to the track to train or race, he was there, offering strategic advice for that evening’s session or for next year’s goals. I had no idea how fortunate we were to have Baz there as our guiding light, opening our eyes to the world of bike racing. Baz continues to share his knowledge out of his home base in Victoria.

I was also very fortunate to have a mentor in Ron Hayman. Ron had grown up with us in the Vancouver Lower Mainland and we saw how hard he trained each Winter as he prepared for the pro season in Europe during the late 70’s. The offer to join the 7-Eleven team came to him in 1980 and in the Fall of 1981, Ron suggested that the team take me on as a Stagiare (that’s what they call it now – coming from hockey, I thought it was just a  ‘try-out’). It was an opportunity that came about again, by being in the right place and persevering through many cold, nasty races, holding onto Ron’s wheel! All of this help was provided at no charge, simply volunteers who loved the sport and wanted to help.

Fast forward to 2015. Living in Edmonton has provided me with the opportunity to become involved with the Juventus Cycling Club. Juventus has built an incredible network of volunteers who work tirelessly to promote the sport and help young cycling athletes reach their goals. A structured system has been put in place starting with 8-10 year olds and introducing them to mountain bike skills and the culture of our world. Next, the LAMP program takes 11-14 year olds through a series of skill development sessions on the track, road and mountain bike much like the Nancy Greene program does for downhill skiing (we are fortunate to have an outdoor velodrome in Edmonton, a legacy from the 1978 Commonwealth Games). Next, we have coaches programming Junior racing for track, road and mountain, allowing the young adults to find their strength and focus on being their best. In 2015, 3 juniors from Juventus qualified for the Junior World Track Championships in Kazakhstan. $9,000 was privately raised by the club to assist these juniors with their expenses as the National program only covers ‘on the ground’ expenses.

In recent years, other clubs and teams have blossomed, allowing club level riders to spread their wings to the next level. U23 club team Trek Red Truck in Vancouver is a great example. They take promising juniors to the regional U23 races, only if they continue their post-secondary education. The Norco H&R Block race team grown by moving to the Continental level giving their riders the opportunity to race against the big pros in events such as Tour of Alberta. Axel Merckx, based in Kelowna has started a Youth Development Foundation which hosts youth cycling races, one of which is run by my good friend, Ron Hayman. In short, many people are doing good things for the sport and the list is growing.

I’ve been privileged to have so many people help me over the years, in so many different ways. I know that I would never have become a cyclist (and stayed a cyclist) if it had not been for this assistance, especially at crucial points when I was not sure about what was coming next. For this reason, I decided to double down on my efforts as a volunteer coach with the LAMP program at Juventus this last season. Sharing the tips and tricks that I learned from mentors like Baz and Ron has providing me with a sense of accomplishment that I’d have to say has probably been one of the most memorable periods of my cycling career.  The Juventus club is full of parents giving back in any way that they can. Web sites need to be built and maintained, accounting needs to be done, money raised, kids coached, first aiders trained, bikes repaired, the list goes on. That family atmosphere has simply raised the bar and built an incredible sense of momentum that will only grow stronger over the years.

In every Canadian community, there are cycling clubs working tirelessly to build a legacy for the next generation. All it will take is for you to seek one out and lend your expertise, in one way or another. Who knows, maybe one day someone you know from your community will stand on a podium, raised by their cycling family back home.