ROAD magazine - Jan/Feb 2014

Quebec / Montreal

Zach Bell 2013-11-12 04:01:06

If you have never come to see the Pro Tour races in Canada, you should. This is what the UCI is talking about when they say things like, “The globalization of cycling.” The races in Quebec City and Montreal are examples of how the European cycling idealists would like to see the sport spread around the world. Quebec City in particular has that European feel, probably because it goes through one of the only old world neighborhoods in the country. The fight for tight little corners on to pitchy hills that spring up past old stone buildings is something that could be pulled out of any high level race in Northern France. I can’t help but question whether that is what the sport needs though. Don’t take this the wrong way, I think the races in Quebec are bang on, and I wouldn’t change a thing about them. I think they give North American cycling fans a chance to experience the flavors of authentic European racing. But should they be the model for how all races around the world should be? I would imagine many at the UCI likely think so. After all, they are beautiful events being won by the bike riders that deserve to win bike races. I think that each part of the world has developed its own style, and those styles are all equally valid and should be championed by the top tiers of the sport. The European model is what gave birth to the sport as we know it, and I think every event needs to recognize and respect that.But we are not all our parents, and I think race organizers around the world need the freedom to be able to grow their events within the constraints and variables that they have before them. After all, organizing a race in Chicago has a whole different set of logistical requirements than putting on a race in Bruges. If you look close, I think the argument for this is right there in the Quebec and Montreal races. As a big picture, these races in Quebec are very European in style, but they have established their own little niche of identity. Take the Sprint Challenge for example. You could not introduce the teams in a way that breaks with tradition more than that little event does. Yeah, it means nothing, and maybe some riders see it as a hassle, but it gets the fans in Canada excited straight away. It appeals to the North American sports fan that may not have the patience to wait six hours to see ‘the exciting bit’. As a result, it helps to broaden the appeal of the sport. Isn’t that what the globalization of the sport is all about? It should be less of a, “Here, like this sport the way we like it,” and more of a, “What do you like about the sport,” kind of conversation. It’s like Canadian and American football. They have different rules, but no one would argue they are a different sport altogether. They just have their own identity that allows them to work in their respective venues. I understood why this was important in Montreal. I was in the breakaway all day with six World Tour riders, but I was wearing the Canadian National Champion jersey.I am pretty sure that over the course of the whole day there may have been one or two people on the course that said the name of one of my breakaway companions.Everyone else was cheering for me. Aside from being one of the best sporting experiences of my life, it taught me something about the sport. If the sport is going to truly become global, then people need to be able to identify with it everywhere it goes. If you ask motor sports fans around the world where the best track is, or who their favorite driver is, I bet a large number of them would pick locals over others. People like to be proud of what they have and what they can offer. If races are not allowed to develop their own identity based on the conditions in which they exist, then local riders will not have as great of a chance to show off their stuff on home turf. If everyone is forced to do it the exact same way it is done over in Europe, then the globalization of cycling just becomes a way of rubbing everyone else’s nose in it. Of all the races I have done outside of Europe, I think the ones in Quebec are the only ones that are getting it a hundred percent right. No one would argue that they are so drastically different from European racing that they are not the same sport. But they have certainly carved out their own unique identity, both in the eyes of Canadian fans, and I think in the eyes of the racers as well. Almost all Canadians want to race them because there is something for everyone to showcase their stuff ; others want to race them because they are a prestigious win. Sure, they are pretty close to what you would find in Europe, but they are not the same thing. They have been able to step away and create their own identity. I think other events can take even larger steps away from the European traditions and establish similar types of successful identities. For that to happen, Dad has to be willing to let go, and the kids need to remember where they came from. In the end, we will all be a stronger cycling family for it, each with our own unique place. In the end, we might be able to have the world’s first truly globalized dynamic sport.

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