January 5, 2006 – Here is the conclusion to our two earlier interviews with Symmetrics team co-owner, Kevin Cunningham, who has provided us with a candid and in-depth overview of the team – past, present and future. Today, Cunningham speaks more about the ins and outs of the squad, and about some of his recommendations and hopes for road cycling in Canada.
Pedal readers are interested to know about the team’s inner workings – can you explain how such a large successful squad operates?
KC: Well like any business (or team) many people spend numerous hours getting things done. Most might not realize it but the financial running of a team like this is significant. Essentially it is a business with 23 employees. We have payroll every month along with all the expenses that are incurred. All of this work is done by the administative staff of Westlam Industries. They also handle all of the normal corporate obligations any company may have. Where we are different than many North American teams is this work is done for no charge to the team. This helps tremendously as it allows us to take our budget and use it for essentially two main areas: getting to races and paying our athletes.
Our (my) philosophy for the team has been evolving over the last few years but the fundamental reason why I wanted to get this team going was to provide Canada’s cyclists with a team that they could race on and make a living while doing it. I don’t believe our taxes should support sport but rather private enterprise should. Over the last two years I have realized this team can also offer great value to all of the stakeholders including sponsors. Now our philosophy is to try and bring together the best Canadian athletes that fit our culture to win races.
In doing this sponsors win and the program grows, and the result is Canadian athlete’s get a team that can support them. I would say that when we look at potential athletes for the team the character of the cyclist is as important as the physical talent because teammates need to believe in each other to be successful. We are doing our very best with what we have and in general I believe we have been successful. As with any venture there are successes and failures and it is how we learn from the mistakes that make us more effective for the future. So for me the future lies is our ability to be successful in all aspects of what a cycling team is.
You touched earlier on the future of the team and Canadian cycling in general. Can you elaborate on this and where you see Symmetrics going?
KC: Wow this is a big question! For me I believe our future is bright as we definitely have a clear focus of where we want to go. As I have said before so much of this depends on our ability to secure additional sponsor’s to layer on top of our current sponsorships and I am very optimistic we will be successful. The sport of pro cycling in North America is definitely growing. I was fortunate to go to the Dodge Tour of Georgia last spring and see first hand what a race like this can do for the sport and the community that hosts it. The government agencies in Georgia did an economic impact study of the event and it was a large benefit to their economy, which is why we see that race growing in stature. When communities start to see the benefits of sports like cycling we will see more growth for our sport.
I think this is where the CCA should be spending most of their time. If I was running the CCA I would spend more time selling our sport in Canada and do everything possible to help race organizers make their events more successful. If we have more races in Canada at an elite level we can develop more athletes and it also nurtures the recruitment of new potential cyclists into the sport. If kids watch racing they will want to participate and the more this happens the more young talented athletes will be able to reach elite levels of racing.
I have also seen how an event like BC Superweek has grown to the extent that it is a significant sporting event in the Vancouver region. It is getting more and more media attention every year and when you have a chance to race in front of 60-70,000 fans it has great opportunities for sponsors. I can tell you that if BC Superweek wasn’t operating this team would have never got started. It is for these reasons I feel strongly that what Canadian cycling needs is more elite level racing in our country. If you look at a race like the Tour de Delta in B.C. it should be the model of how to get races off the ground in this country. The whole community embraces this event and it’s very similar to the support by the community in Georgia for their race.
If I had more time I would love to organize a significant race in Western Canada in the month of August that is at the same level of GP Beauce. If Canadian cycling lost a race like Beauce it would be a large blow to our program and other Canadian teams. It also provides an opportunity for many Canadian teams to race against a high level of competition. I believe that in North America the “pro” teams would welcome such an event and we could have another high level race to give Canadian athletes a chance to race in their own country. I see little value in projects that send small National teams to races around the world with little reason or thought. As I have said in the past, the best cycling nation’s develop their athletes through a great trade team system, not through National teams. More elite racing in Canada would assist in developing more teams.
Did BC Superweek factor into you and your brother Mark getting into cycling from the start?
KC: Yes! Absolutely. It was due to the creation and revival of those races – Delta, White Rock and Gastown – that we got into it. That’s how the sport has to grow, by more races. We need to take the existing races and make them bigger, and create more venues that are similar. I really feel that a race out here – a Tour of Western Canada staged in August (when the NRC Calendar is dry) and a similar one in Ontario in September, would be great. The weather is great then, and the US pros would come up. I think races like this can showcase existing Canadian teams such as Symmetrics, Italpasta, and Jet Fuel, who can reap the rewards through developing their riders and the sport. We need to work together – teams like Ital have been around forever and should stay around forever. I don’t want Jet Fuel to go the way of the dodo, and we need to make sure our riders are supported. I make sure to purchase Italpasta pasta, and if there were a Jet Fuel coffeeshop out here, I’d go there. Our new rider, Andrew Randell sent me some, by the way, and it was great. We all need to do our part to make the cycling community thrive and grow. That means big races with lots of spectators where all of our riders can shine. Why send six guys to a race with the National team to get UCI points in Europe when we can have 60 or 70 guys racing in this country against 60 Euros? More riders benefit when international racing is in our backyard. BC Superweek is a great example of an event with support from the community, and interest outside of the community in cycling. Look, it’s a healthy, pollution-free, spectator-friendly and positive sport – we need to sell that to corporations who need to get involved as sponsors – we can’t rely solely on the government.
So apart from Canada and the USA will Symmetrics race abroad in 2006?
KC: Well we will race extensively thoughout North America in 2006. We will be going overseas in 2006 as we have accepted an invitation to race at the Tour of Quinghai Lake in China, a UCI stage race in July. We are also working on other races that suit the level of our team in Europe and South America and we hope to find events to provide our team with the exposure it needs.
Thanks very much Kevin, and best of luck.
KC: Thank you!