Interview: Ryan Cousineau on Vancouver's WTNC Crit Series

Posted by Born North America Admin on

At BORN North America we’re very proud of our local cycling scene. We’re headquartered in Vancouver BC, Canada and so lucky to be able to be involved in the deep racing scene in the Pacific Northwest. It’s so often that we look forward to travelling to stage races up and down our coast but it’s great to look at and acknowledge how great the cycle racing culture existing in our own backyard is.

We really don’t have to look that far to find the generators that power our racing. The summer-long weekly crit series is no stranger to any urban city in North America, but we like to think that ours in Vancouver is particularly special. Tuesday night racing in Vancouver has been happening in one form or another since the early 80s which is nearly 40 years of weekly racing in Vancouver, which is pretty dang good! Weekly turnout is regularly over 100 athletes, some weeks peaking out in numbers over 150!

The World Tuesday Night Championships (WTNC’s) as they’re known now are run by the integral Escape Velocity Cycling Club, we had the chance to ask Ryan Cousineau some questions about our favourite race series. If you’ve never met Ryan, show up at one of our local races (it doesn’t have to be one of EV’s races, he’s a fixture across the board in our scene here) and introduce yourself, he’ll be eager to get you sorted with what you need to get into racing that night and likely he’ll have some other anecdote relevant to whatever else interests you outside of bike racing. Beware though, he’ll give you some kind of nickname. We’re glad his personality shone through in his answers to our questions though, his character and role in our cycling scene is one of the reasons the scene is so vibrant and constantly growing.

So read on and get to know Ryan and Vancouver’s WTNC a little closer. And if you’re close enough to Vancouver, come into town and toss it up in the racing! We’re always pumped to see new faces in the peloton.

Alright, first of all, how old is the WTNC? When did it start?

Start with a hard question, why don’t you? Organized bike racing on Tuesday nights in the “Summer” (using Escape Velocity’s controversial, not to say reckless, definitions of the seasons) stretches back to the mists of time, back before even the founding of EV in 1989. It was a simpler time, when your favourite movies and music came on cassette tapes, mobile phones wouldn’t fit on your bicycle, like, at all, and a twelve-speed bicycle had six cogs on the rear wheel.

With the bike racing history in Vancouver, there's been a lot of big-name cyclists and racers come through the WTNC, want to drop some names of notable athletes you're aware of having competed in the WTNC?

There are so many to pick from. Olympic medalist Jasmin Duehring, back when she was still wee Jasmin Glaesser, probably half of the athletes who have been part of the women’s national Team Pursuit squad during its recent successful period, Sara Bergen, Svein Tuft in 1999, before he was cool and riding the Tour de France, Mandy Poitras, Leah Goldstein, Leslie Tomlinson, Brian Walton, Alex Murison, and we think Alex Stieda, the first Canadian to wear the maillot jaune, probably showed up back in the day, but our club historian Joe Tam declares that happened "before his time." Kirk O'Bee? You did say notable....

But two names stand out. The most accomplished bike racer has to be Alison Sydor, thrice world champion in mountain biking, Olympic medalist, and a top-level roadie in her spare time. However, she has competition for the title of "most famous athlete to race WTNC," because in 2010, not too long after he retired as a hockey player, local legend Trevor Linden entered one of our races.

I know that when I started racing the WTNCs, UBC was the only course being used. Were there any courses in use before the UBC course? Or courses other than Glenlyon and UBC?

Bike racing in the late 80s was an innocent affair, even then located at UBC, but on a simple loop up and down West 16th Avenue, with u-turns at each end. Sometime in the 1990s, the course switched to a "Stadium Super" version: similar to the present course, but at the time Main Mall was a paved road, not the cobbled walkway it is now, and we went along there as part of a larger loop. There were a few variations on that course we also used, offering steeper or less steep parcours. After Main Mall became unavailable, somewhere around the start of the 21st century, we settled on the Thunderbird Stadium circuit we still use today.

When construction drove us off the Thunderbird course for a year, we looked around for an alternative, and found the Glenlyon course in Burnaby. The city was very supportive, and riders liked Burnaby so much that after UBC became an option again, we decided to split our time between both circuits.

We know that the future of the UBC course is uncertain with the amount of growth and development in the area, any chance there's a hint at possible future courses?

We’re worried about growth and the future of racing at both of our current courses. We’re conscious of the long and glorious heritage of racing at UBC, too, and we’re committed to being on that campus as long as it is technically feasible. There are ongoing conversations among the organizers about possible future circuits either at UBC or elsewhere.

We also have a keen desire to find a race circuit we can fully close to traffic. The other great midweek crits on this continent have that, and we don’t. But we’re looking.

So if you’re reading this and think you know where there’s a closed or close-able circuit suitable for crit racing, or better yet, you’re a venue owner or civic decision-maker who can make this happen, please get in touch! Meanwhile, we’re scouring the region, as well as examining how we operate on our current courses, with an eye to that goal.

Community run racing is super important to develop the local talent (which feeds up to the National level), with so many moving parts to the WTNCs; many categories, every week, with chip timing, series points, leaders jerseys, traffic management.... there’s a lot of stuff, how did you get a pool of volunteers that keeps everything turning? the WTNC really is community run.

Social pressure, gentle wheedling, and to be frank, we are not above blackmail if that’s what it takes. I kid! The Escape Velocity Cycling Club wants me to make it clear that NONE of our activities around volunteer recruitment are legally construable as blackmail, and to imply otherwise is to court a libel suit. You hear me, Gastown Cycling?

Ahem. Slightly more seriously, the community, by which I mean all the other bike clubs that somehow manage to not be EV, has been very supportive of these races, and that really matters. For ages, Joe Tam, who is the eminence grise of WTNC, ran the event from end to end, using a small crew of volunteers, all taken from within our own club. But burnout and ever increasing logistical demands (most notably more professional traffic management) made that in-house model unsustainable. But to this day, we rely on a core team inside of our club for key jobs. In particular, I have to praise Mark Wan, our current volunteer coordinator, who is responsible for reaching out to all the other clubs, and scheduling teams for each week of the WTNC.

We have also found that paying people is a way to get them to show up. Ha, not you, bike racers! I mean of course, our professional traffic control crews, who are worth every penny, and our first aid team. And we’re greatly relieved as a club that this year we’ve finally hired an Executive Director, Heather Kay, who also doubles as our club’s tame racing commissaire. Some say she can pick the top ten riders at a sprint finish by eyeball...and that’s because they’re right, she really can do that.

But of course, the logistical maniac at the heart of WTNC is Stuart Lynne. Whatever amount of credit he gets for running operations for this race (and most of our other events), it isn’t enough. I’d say more, but he prefers to cultivate an aura of mystery about his affairs.

We know that Escape Velocity's pride is the DEVO program. What role does the WTNC play in DEVO? Tell us a bit about the 'COACH' bibs we've seen on course.

WTNC is for the children! According to the dictionary, a “coach” is a person who assists, supports, or guides another, usually an athlete, in matters of strategy, tactics, technique, or training.

Just kidding, I didn’t check a dictionary, I just made that up. But it sounds better if it’s attributed. Anyway, we are super proud of the 20-years-and-going DEVO and Cannondale program, dedicated to making kids into the best bike racers they can be. As part of their induction into bike racing, various members of the green team race at WTNC, and their coaches (and vetted coaches from other clubs) are allowed to ride along in the lower categories. We think this reinforces the mission of the WTNC, as a grassroots series that focuses on developing bike racers into better bike racers.

What gets you more excited at the finish line, bunch sprint? Or solo breakaway?

Let’s just admit reality: bunch sprints are the only true finish. Sprinters are great, breakaways are like some kind of effort to turn a bike race into an especially painful time trial. I respect those who feel they must, though. On the other hand, I haven’t seen a solo breakaway end in crashes and recriminations, so I guess, yay breakaways?

I asked Joe [Tam] this, and he had a really nice answer, so I'll quote that, and maybe you can use it instead: "Personally, I am gratified when a newcomer finds an activity they really enjoy, or a participant goes on to achieve success beyond what they thought possible. I've seen maybe a quarter of a century's worth of WTNCs, and it's nice when someone, at some point, gets their place in the sun."

When will the Beaver get a bib number? Tell us a bit more about how the WTNC became maybe the most Canadian weekly series with an unofficial beaver mascot.

Ah yes, the beaver...Glenlyon is a lovely course, with a bucolic site adjacent to the Fraser River and charming Foreshore Park. Indeed, the park and its backwaters and estuaries are so appealing that at least one local beaver has made its home there in recent years, not far from our finish line. Life is apparently good, because the beaver is...pretty big. He’s around 20 kg, I’d guess. That’s a lot of animal.

One Tuesday evening, the beaver had apparently become weary of its waterlogged adventures, and popped up on the sidewalk, ambled across the street (aka, “our race course”), and, well, hung out. He was completely unperturbed by the large crowd milling about, the many deferential-but-excited attempts to take pictures of the beaver, and, ahem, the oncoming bike race, which we had to briefly neutralize to allow the beaver’s safe passage....

Anyway, the beaver went on with his business, doing whatever it is a beaver does, and disappeared into the bushes. His appearance launched a thousand Instagram posts, and last I heard, at least two local teams have sent recruitment letters. And that’s the story of the most absurdly Canadian-cliche bike race disruption anyone will ever witness.

Mr. Beaver, if you can read this: please report to registration any time for a complimentary race entry, but no more jumping in, ok?

Since you've been with Escape Velocity, what do you think the biggest improvement to the organization of the WTNCs has been?

Obviously, recruiting me to help out was the single greatest decision the powers that be at EV ever made. My humility, charm, and...what was the question?

The biggest improvement has been professionalization, in all ways, but a lot of that was forced upon us. As rules about road usage for special events changed in BC, we had to pedal desperately (tortured metaphor alert) to keep up. In short order we added massive amounts of new signage, professional traffic control, and many other process changes. We keep focusing on continuous improvement of the organization to this day, for WTNC and all our other races.

We also pulled off the parallel trick of being at the right time and place to make chip timing as cheap as, um, some sort of immortalized-in-simile inexpensive snack food. Anyway, Stuart (see above) was the one who figured the details out, and while the whole story is too long to tell here, he’s why we have chip timing (and the attendant excellent results and registration system) today.

What has been the biggest roadblock to speak of? How did EV overcome it?

The very biggest roadblock was definitely that time construction at UBC actually BLOCKED THE ROADS. We didn’t overcome it, we “temporarily” moved to Burnaby. But, you know, it’s just the ongoing challenge of managing new requirements, busier roads, more equipment, and more money. Fortunately, I'm able to dump much of that work on smarter, more diligent people within the club, freeing me up to yell at bike racers with a megaphone.

What do you think are the next steps in the weekly crit scene?

I hope everyone else is as excited as I am about our new e-bike category. Just kidding! Probably kidding...

Real answer: I’ve already said “closed course someday” about five times, and it’s still true! But we also struggle with...success! It’s the best possible problem, but we bump against field limits on our busiest days, and I wonder about how to accommodate more riders, if that becomes necessary. If the sport grew any, we’d have to seriously look at field limits, and the hard restriction on our race night is the setting of the sun, so we can’t add much more racing. We continuously worry about safety: it’s just an ongoing conversation about how to make sure the races are as safe as possible, and so we take baby steps towards that, including trying to influence the local culture of bike racing, in terms of what qualifies as acceptable behavior in a grassroots mid-week crit.

And, I know you don’t want to hear it, but the War on Supertucking continues.

Last, I want to give a shout-out to the Wednesday Nighters (all the way out in Mission) and Todd’s Thursday Nighter in Richmond. These are great events that are still going strong, and I actively enjoy participating in both. If you race in only one midweek crit series, you should make it WTNC. But if you do two, then check out one of those!

Without naming names, has there been any bike racing dramatics that have been fun to watch over the years?

It never gets tiresome watching a sprint royale swallow up the hopes and dreams of a breakaway mere inches from the line. And honestly, hapless souls trying to hang on to the back of the pack going up the climb at UBC is the source of some of the finest pathos I have ever witnessed.

Joe Tam remembers a notorious fee jumper (never paid, just jumped in to race) who got called out by Joe and ejected. His mother (!!) intervened, and it ended with her shouting "I'm not your woman! Don't tell me what to do!", much to the amusement of all present.

But that time I induced David Gerth to race one lap of Glenlyon with the Cat 1/2 pack while riding my incredibly clunky vintage folding bike? That, sir, was the finest $20 I have ever spent.

Maybe not so dramatic, but what has been your favourite rivalry to watch over the years? Team vs Team, rider vs rider ect.

Kinney vs. Murison has been a rivalry for the ages. If we change Al’s nickname to “Spinny,” we could call them "Kinney versus Spinny" and that's a pretty obscure pop-culture reference, think we can make that happen?

Elsewhere, I love watching the development of women’s racing at WTNC, as it has really flourished in the last few years. The teams within the local community that have made that happen are stars. I'm going to mention Pender, Glotman-Simpson, and Fluevog Crit Nasty by name, but I'm sure I'm leaving some other worthies out.

Finally, the rivalry of most personal interest has been Ryan’s desire to win bike races competing with Ryan’s desire to eat donuts. Donuts are on an unbroken winning streak that started in 2006, but this could be the comeback year!

I'll end with some final thoughts: the World Tuesday Night Championships are a team effort. The organizers within the club (some named above, many more not) generously donate the time and energy that make this event possible. The volunteers from all across the local road racing community are also crucial to making these races endure and thrive. And I honour the racers who, by their actions, have created a respectful but highly competitive culture in the local bike racing scene. WTNC is a bunch of cool people doing a thing well for a good reason, and really, what more can you ask for?

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