When he first heard the news that his team, Symmetrics Cycling, would not be racing next year, Whistler’s Will Routley admits that he started to feel nervous.
The all-Canadian Symmetrics team had evolved into one of the top road cycling teams in North America over just three season, and leader Svein Tuft won the overall North American tour title in 2007 on the basis of a strong team performance. Two Symmetrics athletes were on the three-member Olympic team, with Tuft and Zach Bell earning seventh place finishes in the time trial and road race respectively.
However, the lack of a title sponsor meant the team could only afford to compete in a handful of races this past season. With no sponsor on the horizon for next season, athletes were forced to find other teams.
For some racers it was relatively easy — a few were immediately picked up by top U.S. teams and will have a shot at racing the Tour de France in 2009.
For Routley, who often sacrificed himself in international races to help teammates get to the podium and focused on winning provincial and regional races — and had fewer races this year to prove himself — it was a little tougher to get noticed.
That changed last week in Australia at the Jayco Herald Sun Tour, where Routley placed ninth overall in a strong international field that including the top Aussie riders. He might have placed top-three but lost valuable time in the time trial, which he has acknowledged is his weakest event.
Still, the cycling world sat up and took notice of Routley, who attacked and chased with the best of them over six hard days.
“The pressure was on,” said Routley. “I didn’t have anything that significant or official lined up before Australia, I basically needed a good result at the 11 th hour. I knew with the current financial situation it would be tough. There are a lot of good riders out there on the market, but only so many spots on teams.”
Routley is now preparing to sign on with U.S.-based Team Jelly Belly, which also took part in the Jayco Herald Sun Tour. For Routley that means racing in more premiere U.S. and international events, and relocating to California for a few months this winter to train.
“Jelly Belly is now the longest running American pro team, they’ve been around a while and they’re in all the good races in the States like the Tour of California, the Tour de Missouri, the Philly Week races. I’ll also be able to compete in the early NRC races in the U.S. like Redland, which will be easy if I’m based in California. I’ll also be home in the summer competing in a lot of regional events.”
Routley says it was tough to say goodbye to his Symmetrics teammates, and he hopes another Canadian team steps up. The good news is he will see a lot of his teammates at events in the U.S. with their new teams, “but we won’t be helping each other out anymore,” he said. “I think we all want to be able to race together again, and it could happen. We all want to have a Canadian team competing at all the high level events in the U.S. and Europe.
“We’ve never been this strong. Canada has more riders now on European and pro American teams than ever before, like three times as many as before. But I’m content to be the only Canadian guy on an American team if it means getting into more premiere events and getting a chance to compete for the overall.”
Routley credits Symmetrics for launching so many careers, including his own.
“There’s no question that Symmetrics raised the level of cycling in Canada, which I think is pretty awesome, and I’m definitely thankful the team was around to get where I am in road racing,” he said.
This winter Routley will also continue with post-secondary education, taking business courses by correspondence. It’s a slow process, he says, but it allows him to focus on riding for years to come.