"CANADA IS BACK!", exclaimed a very excited Hugo Barrette after delivering the fastest standing lap on the Velo Sports Center since 2008.
And back they most certainly are. While the Canadian endurance program has been full gas in recent years with their women's team pursuit medaling at the London Olympics and medaling at the every world championships in team pursuit since. The men's sprint program however has been a different story. After narrowly missing qualifying a team sprint team for London, Canada was left with a sole entry in the keirin as their only male sprint position. With the majority of the sprint riders moving on to other ventures after London, Canada was left nearly empty handed. But not for much longer.
Just before the end of 2013 the Canadian cycling hired a new track sprint coach, multi time world and Olympic medalist: Erin Hartwell. With Canada set to host the 2015 Pan American Games as a prelude to the 2016 Olympics, Erin was charged with finding and continuing to develop Canadian sprinter athletes for 2015 and beyond. Already having Hugo Barrette and Joseph Veloce at the world cup level, a 3rd rider for team sprint was a top priority. And so began the talent identification sessions in Canada looking for crossover athletes from other sports with desirable sprinter traits. After dozens of athletes, both cyclists and non-cyclists, having their go on a ergo to test power outputs it was time to see how the riders would perform on a velodrome.
Because Canada is currently without a world class indoor 250m velodrome, the 20+ athletes headed down to the Velo Sports Center in Carson, CA to get some time on the boards. Knowing Erin and having worked with a few of the athletes present at the camp before, I was asked to help with the execution of the 7 day long camp to which I graciously accepted.
Day 1 went straight for the gold standard of a sprinter's worth: a flying 200m TT. Riders arrived the day before and had zero time on the velodrome before they would get up to do their 200m. An extensive roller warm up followed by gear and equipment changes then straight to the track for their flying 200m. This gave us as coaches very clear insight to who had good knowledge of a flying 200 approach on a 250m track and who did not. After each round the riders would get a chance to recap with the coaching staff on how to better improve their 200m TT on the day through gear changes, approach technique and entry line. After a few rounds of TT's the riders were paired up and given the task of conducting lead outs. A lead out is simply 1 rider going as fast as they can for a flying 100m and then getting out of the way as the second rider takes a "run" at the lead riders wheel to increase their overall and max speed for the effort. When executed properly a full gas lead out is like poetry in motion. A controlled delivery or two dragsters ripping down the track in a relay of sorts breaking speed records every step of the way. Some of these lead outs were not quite as poetic as they could have been... But with step by step instruction and immediate track side feedback, by the end of the day the general delivery of a properly executed lead out began to surface. After half a dozen+ full out efforts on the day it was a wrap for day 1 and on to day 2.
Day 2 began like day 1, Roller warm up, gear change, straight to the efforts. Only today was standing start day. With team sprint being they key element of Olympic qualification over the last 4 Olympic cycles, the standing start has become an art form in itself and along with it, countless technique and form attributes beyond just the raw physical necessitates. Similarly to the day before, each athlete performed their individual efforts under the watchful eyes of coaches Erin, Travis Smith and myself. This way each coach could focus on a few elements of the technique to watch and then communicate each riders strengths as well as areas for improvement following each effort. The ability to work in such a seamless and smooth rolling fashion is absolutely paramount to developing athletes to their full potential. Long gone are the days of elite training sessions being conducted by a single coach with a occasionally present mechanic and soigneur. Now a days the top nations have not only a full multi level coaching staff present at each session, but also a team of sport scientists, engineers, mechanics and soigneurs at a minimum. To assure that every detail is covered and improved upon for every athlete on every effort, this really is the only means by which to do so. Yes it is a large investment, but the type of payoff possible was evident in what happened next.
One of the top performing riders from the previous day's TT's was identified as a possible match for the man 3 position in the team sprint event behind riders Hugo and Joseph. After a few mock starts to shake out the cobwebs and get the general formation going, a full distance team sprint effort out of the starting blocks on race wheels was on the event card for the day. The athletes took to the starting line in formation and after a few shouts and yells of encouragement, it was time for the countdown. 5... 4... 3... 2... 1... GO! Hugo blasted out of the starting gate and immediately got out in front to lead his team around the track and up to 70+ kph. Joseph then took over and did his lap right on pace with the speed that Hugo had dropped him off at. The final rider Vince then hung on for the final lap and brought home the team in a time of:
Now hold on, you didn't really think I was just going to go and put their time out there for the whole world to know did you??? No way. What I will say is that their time was quite impressive and by far one of the fastest team sprint efforts to have been delivered around the boards on the Velo Sports Center any time in recent memory. But really what's more impressive is what cycling Canada got for their time and money that was invested not only into the top level riders to allow them to do freely what they needed to do to better themselves. But also the talent that was identified and the investment that was put forth to make sure a impressive performance in such a little amount of time. No I am not implying that the team sprint came together off of 48 hours of time at camp. But rather that an shown interest in supporting athletes that are deserving of the support leads to the necessary motivation to get on the pathway to be at a level competitive with the rest of the world. I feel very privileged to have had even a small part in the execution of this development camp and look forward to watching an investment such as Canada's grow into a international result. Thank you Erin and the rest of the members of the camp for this opportunity and I wish you the best of luck in the upcoming Commonwealth Games and world cup season!