It was after the podium celebration for the resurrected Gastown Grand Prix when Shannon Rogers, the president of Global Relay, the company that put $1 million to relaunch the defunct criterium, asked what more her company could do for the sport of cycling.
It was a serendipitous, generous question, Andrew Pinfold told the Courier, and one he and other Canadian riders could only dream about. But dream they did. Pinfold and three other teammates from Symmetrics, one of Canada’s few professional cycling teams before it folded in 2008, pitched Global Relay on a nation-wide development program for emerging talent.
Global Relay said yes and committed $400,000 over four years to the Bridge the Gap Fund, a treasure trove of resources, mentorship and funding for promising cyclists. Announced on Wednesday, the program will be managed by Canadian professional cyclists Pinfold, Svein Tuft, Will Routley and Ryan Anderson, all four of whom raced for Symmetrics in B.C., along with Webcor team member Erinne Willock.
“We’re not used to these things happening,” said Pinfold, a four-time national team cyclist appointed head coach of the North Vancouver youth development team dEVo in April. “We’re used to just banging on doors and having them, most of the time, closed in our faces. This is just the opposite.”
The Bridge the Gap Fund will support 14 riders in its first year, including seven athletes from B.C. The intention is to help amateur riders aged 19 to 25 make the leap to professional status and, ultimately, represent their teams and the country on the international circuit.
Trek Red Truck rider Jenny Lehmann, 25, was selected as a promising competitor and said she will use funding to pay for coaching and to travel to more races in Eastern Canada and the U.S.
That she was selected is also a vote of confidence, said the East Side resident. “It’s huge to have the support of other people who believe in you.”
The under-developed sport of women’s cycling will also benefit, she said.
“There is a real gap that we’ve all faced coming through our careers,” said Pinfold, who noted the dearth of professional teams in Canada. “When you’re an amateur team, just to move to the next level is a real challenge. It’s a big hurdle, coming from Canada where it’s a small market.”
Symmetrics was vital to Pinfold’s development, but is no longer active. Toronto-based Spider Tech — for which Anderson raced and finished second at the Gastown Grand Prix this summer — also recently folded.
Cyclists fill the financial gaps on their own by working, fundraising or going into debt, explained Pinfold. “At the end of the day, a lot of them will use their own network to find funds and resources to continue on. In the worst case scenario, they’re using their credit card.”
When he raced for Symmetrics, which served as one model for the Bridge the Gap Fund, Pinfold was paid $6,000 his first year as a rider. His bicycle, which would have retailed for $4,500 was also on loan from the team. “It sounds like just a tiny amount, but that made the world,” he said. “My living expenses were covered.”
He said Global Relay has offered cyclists more than cash. “We’re good at pedaling bicycles but we don’t have a history in running foundations or establishing teams. They have been instrumental in helping us hone our operation and really giving us tones of resource. The money aside, the resources and the guidance they’ve given us has been instrumental and we couldn’t have done it without them.”
Beneficiaries of the Bridge the Gap Fund were selected by the five board members with input from national and provincial team coaches. In the future, they will introduce a formal selection process. Athletes were selected based on their potential to turn pro within two years and were considered for attitude, work ethic and results in addition to their need.
The fund fulfills a dream, one Pinfold, 33, would like to live out himself.
“The only thing I wish is that I could turn back time and be a beneficiary back in the day,” he said, “but I’m really pleased we can do our part right now.”