February 07, 2015 – Recently, Team Canada riders Evan Guthrie (Norco Factory Team) and Sandra Walter (Liv Canada) received some good news from Cycling Canada. Since their Canadian teammates, Catharine Pendrel (Luna Pro Team) and Max Plaxton (Sho-Air/Cannondale) voluntarily declined the lucrative and hard-to-come-by Sport Canada Athletes Assistance Program (AAP) funding (also known as “carding”), as alternates, they would be the next in line to benefit.
The AAP is a monthly stipend that amateur athletes in Olympic sports can apply for. The National Sport Organization (NSO), in this case Cycling Canada, determines who will receive it through their selection procedure. Cards are very limited in number and tough to get, but receiving non-taxable assistance of up to $18,000 per year (depending on the level of carding), can make or break an athlete’s career.
Pendrel declined her card last year as well and pro road racer Svein Tuft (Orica-GreenEdge) has also done so in the past. He is no longer eligible, however, due to a new rule in the criteria that states road racers employed by UCI Pro Continental or WorldTour teams are exempt from carding.
“Being a part of the national team, I see how hard everyone works to succeed, how much each athlete devotes of themselves towards the goal of being the best athlete they can be,” said Pendrel. “Sport Canada Carding helped me bridge the gap between racing as a privateer and becoming a successful and supported professional racer. There are so few Senior cards (6) that I feel it is critical to our sport’s development to pass along this support when you are no longer reliant on it to perform at your best for Canada at the World Championships or a Games event.”
After declining her card, Plaxton was next in line as first alternate. After giving it some thought, however, Plaxton himself took Pendrel’s example to heart and declined as well.
“For me personally I think I am at a point in my career I feel I need to start giving back to such an amazing sport that’s given me so much. I’ve been fortunate enough to have received carding funding for numerous years and from a financial standpoint I feel some of my national team MTB peers could be benefit far more then I could,” commented Plaxton.
Next up was second alternate Guthrie, who had never received carding before, despite a long career that has seen him climb steadily through the ranks from Junior to Elite. This past season, Guthrie won the Canada Cup series, finished a personal-best fifth at the Canadian Championships, and represented Canada at the World Championships.
“Seeing Max and Catharine both decline their Sport Canada AAP funding this season is an act that is hard to put words to. Being one of the athletes that is directly benefitted from this wonderful scenario that will be highly beneficial to my 2015 race season is just phenomenal,” said Guthrie.
With some funding leftover, Cycling Canada was then able to allocate four months of Senior Level carding to the next alternate, Walter, who has won the Canada Cup Series for three consecutive years, earned Bronze at both the Canadian MTB and CX Championships, and scored a personal best World Cup finish – 13th – at Mont-Sainte-Anne last August, followed by her best World Championship placing to date.
“For Catharine and Max to voluntarily give up their carding means a lot to me as an athlete and it means that I’ll be able to pursue my season goals with less financial stress. When you’re worried about money and how you’ll get to the next race, or if you’re agonizing about when you’ll be able to pay off your credit card bills, you’re not focused on training and being your best,” said Walter.
“The extra funds will get me to Europe in the spring to do World Cups, which I haven’t been in a position to do for the past few seasons. I’m really excited about 2015 and I think through Max and Catharine’s generousity, I’m better equipped for success,” added Walter.
Canadian MTB Head Coach Dan Proulx sees the value of Plaxton’s and Pendrel’s act as much more than a financial boost to their teammates.
“Catharine and Max are both leading by example. I’m so happy to see athletes giving back and supporting each other. The extra funding will allow Evan and Sandra to pursue their goals more fully. Their generosity speaks volumes about the sense of team spirit that has developed in the mountain bike program,” said Proulx.
Guthrie and Walter also see the significance of their teammates’ actions beyond the money.
“I consider both Catharine and Max good friends and mentors to look up to in our sport. … It goes to show how amazing our group of Canadian cyclists are. These two have gone above and beyond, as they give back in more ways than this. Max and Catharine have both helped me out in many ways before this,” said Guthrie.
Walter agreed: “Max and Catharine are setting an example to the entire sport in Canada. It’s an incredible display of leadership, vision, and teamwork. They’re setting a precedent for the future, not only to be good athletes, but to be better teammates. They recognize the importance of AAP funding, because they benefited from it in the past when they really needed it. Perhaps it was the extra piece of the puzzle that helped them make it to the next level. I think the entire Canadian MTB program will gain through their example in many ways. I’m incredibly proud to be on Team Canada with such talented riders and awesome people.”