Will Routley’s experience growing up mountain biking in Whistler came in handy during his first taste of professional road racing in Europe this season.
It seems all those lengthy climbs made it easier to ascend – and descend – a steep learning curve against the best cyclists in the world as part of SpiderTech, a team founded by Canadian cycling legend Steve Bauer with the goal of one day competing at Grand Tour level, including the prestigious Tour de France.
For Routley, who cut his teeth as a road racer at BC Superweek and won the Canadian National Road Racing championship last season, it was a chance to finally experience world class racing on the other side of the Atlantic.
“I’ve been over at mountain bike World Championships as a junior and a couple national team events as an under-23, but never any real pro events so this was the first taste of the pro European peloton and it has been a steep learning curve to say the least,” said Routley, who is back training in Whistler for the summer, and planning to make his 2011 BC Superweek debut Thursday night at the Giro di Burnaby, and then race all of the historic 32nd Tour de White Rock.
“The biggest difference is racing here in North America, fitness and race tactics are 90 per cent of it, but over in Europe you have to have skills because it is just that much more aggressive and technical, and you have to have experience because the courses and the competition are just that much tougher and more difficult. We’d turn onto tiny, narrow roads that were only two riders wide, and the descents were so much faster. I’ve never descended so fast in my life, so it’s a little bit scary. Everything is more difficult. There’s not much room for error.”
Maybe all that time racing down Whistler mountains paid off, or maybe Routley is just a really fast learner, because he was the only Team SpiderTech rider to reach the podium during their inaugural spring schedule in Europe, finishing second at the 206-kilometer Tro Bro Leon race in France in mid-April.
“It’s a challenge but I got a little taste of success,” said Routley, now 28 but just seven years into road racing. “It’s like golf – you play a whole round and only have that one perfect shot but you get a taste of it and you want more.”
Routley will get that chance with SpiderTech, which is powered by C10, a group of 10 Canadian companies backing Bauer’s attempts to build a domestic squad capable of competing with, and ultimately beating, the world’s best cyclists on the world’s biggest stage. He is scheduled to compete at a pair of big ProTour races in Quebec in September before returning to Europe next spring, and also has his sights on a spot with Team Canada at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. A second place finish as part of a SpiderTech sweep at the Canadian Road Race National Championships last week certainly can’t hurt Routley’s cause.
Routley finished between SpiderTech’s Svein Tuft and Zach Bell, both former Olympians expected to represent Canada again in 2012, and both graduates of the lower mainland racing scene and the BC Superweek racing series.
“The Olympics are a goal – there’s no reason I shouldn’t be on the short list,” said Routley, who may have to overcome attempts to build a Canadian squad specific to a London course expected to be flat and better suited to bigger riders. “I may be a tough spot as more of an all-around rider, but if it’s a tough, aggressive race then it’s perfect for me, flat or not. I love that classic style aggressive road racing and I want to go. Certainly I want to compete at the next couple of Olympics.”
In the meantime, Routley will spend the summer training in Whistler and the fall in the Fraser Valley before returning to Europe. Included in his plans are stops at some of the BC Superweek races along with SpiderTech teammate Ryan Anderson, who is home in Vancouver for the summer.
The duo plans to ride the BC Superweek races in part because they know how well the eight-race series is run, and partly because the $65,000 in prize money ranks up there with purses at the biggest events in North America. But mostly Routley says they realize how important it was to their development.
“Over the last few years we’ve all tried to do it as much as we can in order to try and pay it back,” said Routley, who lost a spirited battle to Tuft at last year’s Tour de White Rock Road Race. “These events did a lot for me coming up and getting to race pros from the US as a local guy, that meant a lot. In terms of Canadian cycling it is some of the better racing we have, if not the best. Certainly it is run the best, has better prize purses, and gets quality fields consistently.
“It’s really important to the development of cycling in Canada.”