Pro Tips by Nic Hamiton: The Road to Becoming a Pro
The road to becoming a professional cyclist in Canada is remarkably challenging. With slightly over 90% of North American professional teams residing in the US, the main difficulty that aspiring canucks face is exposure. In fact, one of our countries top pros, Rob Britton, had to win literally every race in the Pacific Northwest to simply garner a reply to a voice mail from a potential boss. “I’d had conversations with directors of other teams after a good results and they had told me to get in touch, but the replies never came.” Britton explained, “It was nearly impossible to gain their attention”. While Rob was not alone in this struggle, his generation of riders has done well to pave the way for the next. Currently, this situation is much improved and Canada has more pro riders than ever before. The focus of this piece is to illustrate what it takes to become a pro rider in Canada and how the Tour of Alberta presented by ATB Financial is playing a huge part in facilitating that journey.
I am often asked how I cracked the pro ranks and ended up on an American team. The same people that ask the questions are amazed when I tell them I started when I was 19, and in fact, had no idea cycling was a pro sport until I began University. The truth is, while it helps immensely to have an early start in a sport and fall into the pre-set pathways to the National team there is something to be said about beginning a little more, let’s say, mature. I had several solid years of “tom foolery” in me so when I set to task cycling and made the financial and time intensive commitment, I was able to achieve more in my first two years than I ever could have in all my junior years combined. In cycling, comparable to most endurance sports, talent or physiology alone is not enough to distinguish you from the rest. You need focused, hard work, and you need someone of persuasion to notice that.
I personally got my break from another Canadian, Will Routley, who put a good word in for me on the Jelly Belly Team. I had done enough to impress Will, and Will had done enough to impressive my potential boss- so the right sequences of events unfurled before me. Similarly, the Tour of Alberta provides this platform. It allows developing racers to compete amongst proven professionals and hopefully after the dust settles that developing rider’s name has a story or a result attached to it. Getting a job in cycling is very similar to getting a job in “the real world”: You have to have a race resume, pivotal references, and more than anything, a great network.
Another barrier Canadians face, aside from exposure, are the rules set by the international governing body, the UCI. The UCI states that every team must have a minimum of 60% of the riders of the same nationality as the team is registered, as well as a majority of the team must be younger than 28. Given that over 90% of North American teams are from the USA it leaves a finite number of roster positions available for Canadians. That said there is a silver lining. The Tour of Alberta presented by ATB Financial attracts fans from all over Canada as well as the rest of the globe, which provides a reason for Canadian companies to support and sponsor Canadian cycling since the marketing returns are increasingly more viable. With the addition of top-level pro races across Canada combined with our current top athletes performing well internationally the number of Pro Teams in Canada is at an all time high.
Lastly, with an increase in the number of Canadian pro teams that leaves several new roster spots open for a Canadian National composite team. With a large majority of our nations proven professionals already committed to teams potentially racing it leaves the door open for the developing athletes on the cusp of inking their first big deal. As an example, Ben Perry and Adam De Vos were both a part of the National team in the 2014 edition. Based on good performances and a chance to interact and network with other pros and directors helped pace the way for them to sign to division 3 teams. Without their chance to race in Alberta with the Canadian program they likely wouldn’t have made the jump to the next level. As you can see the trickle down for increasing riders’ exposure and the opportunity to sign professional contracts is a product of the trickle down from our cycling infrastructure in Canada.
The Tour of Alberta is a fantastic event and part of a massive growth of cycling in our Country. With the above mentioned changes there are much more direct pathways for Canadians to become pro. There are companies stepping up across the country (like Global Relay and the Bridge The Gap Program and new professional teams working hard to establish themselves and keep our talent at home. Stay tuned for the team announcements coming up and find your favorite Canadian team to cheer for. The athletes work 24-7-365 to get a start at this race and guaranteed they will give everything they have come race day. If you have time and they are willing ask them about their “road to becoming a pro”. You’ll discover no one ever gets there the same way but the one commonality in all the stories will be that it was never easy.
Thanks for reading!