I can’t say that I follow professional cycling too closely, other than occasionally looking through results and race reports on Monday morning. Watching races cuts into my riding and sleeping time. And it’s easy to become jaded after your former favourite athlete gets caught doping. Some argue that ALL cyclists at that level are doing it, or that the cyclists are forced to if they want to keep their job. But that’s not true. And we have perfect example in a Canadian cyclist.
Canada was a mountain biking powerhouse in the early part of the 21st century with world championship medals and multiple riders capable of finishing in the top 10. Geoff Kabush, who finished 9th at Sydney was ultimately not fast enough to qualify for Canada’s 2 Athens spots. Ryder Hesjedal and Seamus Mcgrath ultimately got the nod for Canada. Ryder quit the race and Seamus was unable to work his way up through the field. Seamus and Ryder got called out for doping leading up to the Athens selection by Michael Rasmussen in 2013. They weren’t racing for some road squad with a systematic doping program. They doped on their own will to stay ahead of the game. Go far enough down the 2004 Olympic selection pool and you will find a clean athlete, like Kabush who lost prize and sponsorship money because his competitors chose to dope.
Cycling Canada’s Olympic road cycling selection criteria is purposefully vague. Road racing is too variable to for some objective measure (such as UCI points) alone to select the team most capable of medalling. A medal for Cycling Canada would go a long way to secure additional government funding.
And medalling is important. But the field for the hilly Rio parcours will be deep and skilled. Contador isn’t going to give Hesjedal the leash that he enjoyed to secure 2nd place on two 2015 Giro stages. His 2012 Giro, which still resonates in the mainstream as Canada’s only grand tour victory came an Olympiad ago and was overshadowed by a much more competitive Tour de France that same year. Not to discredit Ryder’s results, but at 46th on the UCI world tour ranking (2015), even he is an extremely long shot for a medal.
So with no guaranteed medal, why should Cycling Canada select a confessed doper who once cheated others out of their Olympic dream? Canada has three spots for Rio, riding largely on the success of our cyclists on the UCI Americas Tour. Michael Woods, Guillaume Boivin, and Rob Britton all meet the selection criteria pool for Americas Tour points. Hugo Houle threw down at the Pan Am games and at World Championships in the time trial, with the only caveat that he would boot one of the previously mentioned riders out of their road race spot (the time trialist must race the road race as well). Olympic cycling has been marred by doping (the reigning Olympic champion is one of the sketchiest dopers of all time) and Canada can make a statement by bringing a team with a clean record to Rio. Either Ryder can race to a forgettable 22nd place finish, or we can inspire our current and next generation cyclists.